A year-and-a-half after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks,
my daughter Holly, then just 2 years old, was asked to take off her
Winnie the Pooh sneakers and stand, spread-eagle, for a female
Transportation Security Administration screener at Bangor
International Airport in Maine. She was scanned with a wand and
quickly patted down.
The uproar about a video recently posted on YouTube, which
depicts a TSA agent at a New Orleans airport giving a similar
pat-down to a 6-year-old girl, inspired me to recall this
experience, but don't expect me to get all fired up about it.
Sure, we were surprised that our daughter was selected for extra
screening - after all, most toddlers aren't terrorists (Yeah,
right. I'm guessing some of you would beg to differ) - but we were
grateful security was tight and happy to do our part.
The fuss generated by this YouTube video makes me wonder,
though, if we're alone with this attitude. In it, the TSA agent
calmly explains the procedure to the child and her mother and then
asks the child to spread her arms and legs for the pat-down. The
child apparently complains and her mother asks if she can just be
re-scanned instead. The agent says no, but does try to reassure the
child. It's evident to me that she conducted the pat-down in a
gentle and professional manner, using the back of her hand to pat
the child's backside and skimming her hand inside the top of her
neckline and waistband.
I can't deny that it's weird to have to submit to this
procedure. Nobody relishes the idea, but as long as people exist
who would do us harm - like the would-be "Christmas bomber" of
2009, the young man suspected of terrorist ties who managed to
board a plane bound for Detroit who then tried to blow it up on
Christmas Day by detonating explosives sewn into his underwear -
then it seems to me that we must do whatever it takes to foil their
To me, this means not advertising that whole categories of
travelers - young children, for example - are exempt from random
selection for extra security screening. I remember realizing, at
the time of my daughter's screening in Bangor, that terrorists look
for lapses in security and would see exempting a whole group as an
opportunity. But Marjorie Esman, the executive director of the ACLU
Louisiana, apparently isn't concerned about this possibility.
"A 6-year-old child shouldn't be subjected to this kind of
treatment in the first place if there's no reason to suspect her or
her parents of being criminals," she told CBS affiliate WWL in New
CBS News national security correspondent Bob Orr disagrees. He
was quoted as saying "You can't take kids out of the mix. The
exemption would point terrorists to a gaping hole in our security
... The bottom line is al-Qaeda is savvy, study our security system
and practices and it's not beyond al-Qaeda to use kids."
This may be hard for most parents to accept, but I'll pick my
poison and put up with a pat-down of my kid if it means one less
opportunity for terrorists to think they can take away our freedom
- for real.
In an interview with "Good Morning America," the father of the
child depicted in the YouTube video said that his daughter started
to cry after the pat-down. I'm sorry for her distress, but there is
a solution to this conundrum: don't fly.
If the prospect of having your child randomly selected for extra
screening makes you so uncomfortable that you cannot contain your
angst - for your child's sake - then I think you need to find
another way to get where you're going. If you interpret a security
pat-down to mean that the screener has decided that you are a
criminal, and might even derive some perverse pleasure from
the process, then it makes sense to me that you would have a hard
time with the whole thing.
But, on the other hand, if you approach the experience with a
spirit of adventure and tell your kids that the security agents'
job is to make sure that we have nothing in our clothing that could
interfere with a safe flight, they'll probably be OK with it. Our
children tend to take their cues from us about how to react to
things, after all.
Imagine how reassuring it would be for our kids if we not only
cooperated with the agents who do the screenings but actually
thanked them for working to protect us?
Staying one step ahead of forces who mean us harm isn't easy.
But do we really need to edit our "good-touch/bad-touch" lectures
and tell our children that no one's allowed to touch you "there"
but Mommy, Daddy, the doctor and the TSA agents at the airport?
Jennifer DuBose, M.S., C.A.S., is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in Batavia.
See more of Jennifer's stories here.
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