The past four decades have been an almost perfect storm for the adult male role model.
Divorce has wreaked havoc upon the American father as families were broken and in many cases, the father was significantly – if not altogether – removed. Simultaneously, two organizations that could provide alternative solid male role models – the Boy Scouts and the Catholic Church – were beset by problems with pedophiles who preyed upon the now at-risk children. Within the span of about two decades, the sense of trust that had previously permeated middle-class America was shattered as male positions that had been respected were viewed with derision and mistrust.
In the ensuing years, litigation has been filed and settled and perpetrators have been locked away. The Scouts especially have taken child safety to heart and instituted criminal background checks of all volunteers with direct child/youth access, coupled with a serious effort to assure that the outrages of the 1960s and 1970s don’t reoccur. Although I’m not Catholic, my understanding is that there have been measures taken by the Church as well. Despite efforts to both improve the recruitment and training of volunteers, we now have the allegations about Jerry Sandusky to throw a dent into efforts. Apart from the entire Penn State administrative debacle, there are concerns and allegations that Sandusky used the The Second Mile Foundation, founded to help at-risk youth, as a personal game preserve during his involvement there. The effect will be an even greater effort to prevent these situations from recurring and, perhaps, another big hit on the adult male role model as childless men who are willing to volunteer steer clear for fear of automatic suspicion. If this occurs, then about the only group of men who aren’t under automatic suspicion will be those of us with skin in the game, our kids.
Children want and need men, and the positive models that they provide, in their lives. Likewise, the activities that benefit our kids don’t run themselves and need our involvement to function and thrive.
So if you’re thinking of becoming a volunteer, what are some points to consider?
- Does the organization have any requirements or guidelines on child safety? Most established organizations, such as the Boy Scouts/Girl Scouts and Big Brothers/Sisters, have established criteria for volunteering and guidelines for interactions with the kids. While I personally dislike having to submit to a criminal background check, it’s simply the cost of doing business in today’s society and ultimately serves to help protect both me and the kids. I’d frankly feel less inclined to volunteer with any group that didn’t have a vetting process and safety guidelines for fear of setting myself at risk.
- Are there other volunteers or are you carrying the load? Apart from the sheer equity of having others pitch in, are you going to be the only person who’s actually dealing with the kids? More than a few parents will dump their kids and run and if you’re the only adult present, then you are at risk for any sort of allegations. The true heart of a child-safety policy is the idea of "two-deep" leadership, meaning that there’s simply another adult present, and I’ve been fortunate to have parents and co-leaders who’ve been willing to stay behind with me and other kids whose parents are late to pick them up. I’ve actually cancelled meetings when the two-deep rule has fallen through.
- Are you prepared to control your speech? I’ve been described as "earthy" in my speech and I’ve had to make a conscious effort to monitor and control it. Like the language, I’ve had to learn to monitor the content. If you tend to run at the mouth or aren’t willing to exercise restraint, then you need to find another outlet.
- Are you prepared to control your physical conduct and mannerisms? Some men are naturally more affectionate than others or more physical in their displays of emotions. If you’re affectionate with your kids, understand that you have to curtail yourself with other children and especially in today’s environment. It’s fine to hug an upset child in the presence of other adults, but you have to be conscious of physically displaying affection with other people’s kids lest things be misconstrued.
- Are you aware enough to sense when a conversation or situation is about to go out of control? Do you think that you can manage to handle it if does? Couple spontaneity with poor self-control you’ve got the makings of a decent trainwreck. Can you sense when things are about to go wrong and can you also sense when to bring it to the attention of the parents? On more than one occasion, I’ve had to being situations under control and since it might involve a raised voice, I’ve let the parents know what occurred and what was said. It lets the parents know up front so that they can address things, and gets the facts out instead of the typically garbled walk-about story that kids and teens provide.
- Are you better with different age groups or different genders? Not all age groups are created equal and you need to consider the age level of the kids within that group. Likewise, do you relate better to girls or to boys? Except for coaching a sport, there are more opportunities for men to interact with boys and male teens than for girls. The Girl Scouts have strict criteria for the interaction of men and girls and even if you do well with those criteria, will the other parents be comfortable with a male Girl Scout leader? I was asked years ago to lead my daughter’s troop and when I discussed it with some female acquaintances, their comment was that they’d be comfortable with me as their daughters’ leader, but they’d be very wary of a man that they didn’t know. I declined to participate and found some involvement with my daughter via soccer and basketball.
The need is there and even with the increasing attention, the rewards outweigh the cost. But before you decide to throw your hat into the ring, take some time to consider these points so that your decision is the best for you, the kids and the organizations.