Have we compromised our children’s freedom because of fear? Nic Borain wonders.
I remember Jessie (now 14) as an exuberantly naked baby on the beach.
We spent so much time on Glen Beach in Cape Town when he was a baby and he was always naked - as were the regular group of babies and toddlers who seemed to live on that strip of sand and sea.
When you've got a little baby it doesn't matter that the Cape Town sea seems too cold to support life of any kind. What the baby wants to do is crawl around eating sand and being endlessly amused by bottle tops and bits of seaweed.
But the point I wanted to make was that I don't remember Tom (10) ever naked on the beach.
And here is why.
Do you think it’s wise?
I remember some person who probably believed she was well meaning coming up to me when Jessie was perhaps 3 and saying, out of the corner of her mouth: ‘Do you think it's wise to let your child be naked on the beach?’
‘Oh, I've drenched him in block-out, he'll be fine,’ I said, tone full of friendliness, trust and pride - as one is when one is basking in the public eye in the company of one's first child.
‘Oh, no, I'm not talking about the sun,’ she said, putting her hand up to her mouth as if embarrassed that she could have been thought to be referring to such a trivial matter as my son's delicate skin in such close proximity to the trillions of tons of nuclear holocaust in the sky.
‘I mean,’ she said, ‘that the people ... they're looking ...’
I stared at her for a moment and then looked around and at the people on the beach - the normal bunch of families, flirting teenagers and sun freaks frying themselves dark grey.
‘What do you mean?" I asked, now ever so slightly alarmed.
She hesitated and then her thin lipped mouth tightened further. ‘It's not safe,’ she said. ‘It's not safe for little children to be naked in public.’
She stared meaningfully at me for a few seconds and then, slowly and deliberately, continued: ‘There are many very sick people out there .... and you're a parent, you shouldn't be irresponsible.’
I remember turning away again to look at the faces of the people on the beach, my eyes searching for the hidden predators but seeing nothing that could alarm me, except the (now thankfully) retreating form of the woman who had accosted me.
The point for me is that I doubt, deeply and with conviction, that the modern age has brought on a new pandemic of child abuse and paedophilia.
I am starting to see the scaremongering about child pornography and child abuse justifying a range of government interventions into control of the media - from China to the United Kingdom.
Child abuse and child pornography is not a trump card that authoritarian governments or twisted little social busybodies can play to justify their authoritarian instincts.
Tom and millions of children lose a degree of freedom - and real exuberant joy - because of the growing public prohibition of the public nakedness of children.
I accept that being fully covered on the beach they gain a degree of protection from sun damage. But I think it is total rubbish that they are now any better protected from sexual predators - that's just a false front for various kinds of bullies.
Do you think that small children being naked on a public beach is acceptable?
Read more by Nic Borain
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