Monday, December 25, 2017

Not Always!

Not Always!

“You will fall to ruin because you believe that exceptions to the rule make new rules.”
― Pierce Brown, Golden Son

Every single one of the fifty states has some type of law that require children to be using a seatbelt while riding in a car. All but one state requires that the driver of a car be using a seatbelt while operating the vehicle. The reason for these laws are quite simple. Seatbelts keep the occupants restrained in their seats. This greatly reduces the risk of such dangerous incidents like blunt force trauma and being ejected from the vehicle. Due to these and other safety reasons, in addition to the laws mandating seatbelt usage and fines for violating these laws, states are also using media campaigns to educate the public about the safety benefits of seatbelts.

Just because seatbelts have saved so many lives and just because of all the legislation mandating their usage, doesn’t mean there aren’t times when it would be more advantageous had the occupant not been using a seatbelt.

In August of this year a 38-year-old businessman in India was charred to death when a car he was driving caught fire. The man died inside the car as he could not unlock the seatbelt and escape. - (full article:

I am using seatbelts to try to make the following point. All too often people believe that an exception to the rule either disproves the rule or creates a new rule. Very rarely will there be a rule that applies 100% of the time. Many have driven drunk without causing harm to themselves or others. I also personally know someone who not only survived a fall from a height of four stories, but he did so without sustaining any injuries. Neither disprove the fact that both are extremely dangerous. Likewise the case of the seatbelt trapping the Indian man inside his burning car doesn’t prove that seatbelts shouldn’t be worn. While these are exceptions, neither change their respective rule.

So how does one properly educate their child, or anyone else, that the exception doesn’t alter the rule?
A common mistake that I often see people make is that they deny the existence of the exception. The better method is to give validity to the exception. If you aren’t acknowledging what the other party is bringing to the discussion, don’t expect them to give validity to that which you are bringing to the discussion. By showing that you are listening to them, you have a greater chance that they will be listening to you. Once you have given the validity to the exception, here are two suggested methods of how to approach the subject: statistical based and risk vs. reward.

With the seatbelt example above, the best approach would be the statistical based approach. Yes, this man in India died because he was wearing his seatbelt, no one is denying that. It is an occurrence that can and does happen. But such a situation is a statistical anomaly. There are two main situations when the seatbelt would be more hindrance than help, a car fire and a car getting submerged in water. Using statistics from 2015, less than 0.01% of accidents resulted in a vehicle catching fire, and less than 0.003% of accidents ended with a vehicle being submerged under water. Deciding not to buckle a seatbelt because of possibilities that are less than 0.01% and less than 0.003% is not a wise decision.

The risk vs. reward method is also a useful approach. What is especially helpful about the risk vs. reward approach is that it doesn’t require that the statistics be in your favor (unlike the statistical based approach). All you have to show is that the reward that will potentially be earned isn’t worth the potential risk. In these cases, the risk might only be a very low percentage risk, but all that needs to be accomplished is to show that the risk outweighs the reward. For example: I need to park my car and run into the store for only a few minutes. Do I pay the fifty cents for parking or do I risk receiving a $75 ticket for non-payment?

Both risk vs. rewards and statistical based are rational approaches. They will have tremendous success when having a rational debate. They will be much less effective when the other party is having an emotional discussion. It is very difficult, if not impossible, to argue rationale when the other side is arguing emotion. Example: It would be very difficult to debate the need to buckle a seatbelt with the sister of this Indian man who died in the above mentioned car fire. His sister would be arguing not from logic, but from emotion.

Statistical and Risk vs. Reward are great tools for the parent to use when speaking with their child. By using these methods, the parent will be able to convey not only the “what”, but the “why” as well. People, not just children, are more likely to follow the “what” when they have an understanding of the “why”. Being able to speak these things out with your child, and having them listen is wonderful, but it still isn't the ideal goal. The ideal goal should be giving the child these tools to use within their own thought process, educating them to recognize how and when to use each of these tools.

Yisroel Picker is a Social Worker who lives in Jerusalem. He has a private practice which specializes in working with people of all ages who are looking to improve their awareness and their social skills. He also lectures on the topics of communication and child safety.  You can email Yisroel at

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Know Your Enemy

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”  
― Sun Tzu, The Art of War

In July of 1996, the festive nature of the Olympic games in Atlanta was ground to a halt by a pipe bomb. The attack left two dead and injured over 100. Just as the eyes of the world were on the Olympic games, so too the eyes of the world would be focused on the investigation. The police and FBI were under tremendous pressure to not only find the culprit, but also to locate them quickly. At the same time, there was tremendous pressure on the journalists there to be the first to “break the story”. Very quickly, it was learned, that the FBI was focusing on a security guard named Richard Jewell. Once a local Atlanta newspaper said that Mr. Jewell "fits the profile of a lone bomber”, many other news outlets followed. News organizations all over started interviewing their experts who all said that Mr. Jewell fit the profile of a “lone bomber”.

There was only one problem. Mr. Jewell was an innocent man. The FBI and the media got so caught up in this concept of a profile, this concept of “what the bomber should look like, what his background should be”, that it distracted them from analyzing the evidence. Years later a man by the name of Eric Rudolph was arrested and confessed to the crime, but not before he bombed three other locations.

A person having an incorrect perception of who is and who isn’t a child molester, based upon their profile, can be a very dangerous thing. It causes undue harm on those innocent individuals who are viewed negatively, simply because they fit one’s profile or perception of what a child molester looks like. Additionally, and more importantly, it enables those who are harming children to keep harming them. People mistakenly think “Such a person could never harm a child!”.

So who is the enemy? What type of person molests a child?

Firstly, you may have noticed that I did not use the term pedophile. I specifically stay away from that term because it is misleading. Not all pedophiles sexually abuse children, and not all people who sexually abuse children are pedophiles. I will not go further into this point as the focus of this article is on the safety of the child, not the psychological diagnosis of the abuser.

People who sexually abuse children usually fall into one of two categories, Situational and Preferential.

Preferential: The preferential abuser abuses because they have a sexual attraction to children. They will make life decisions in order to gain access to children (e.g. job, residence, marrying someone to gain access to their children). The preferential abuser may spend years working up to a position of authority and trust within a shul, school, or youth organization in order to have access to children. They often won’t abuse until they feel that they have gained that trust. The majority of their victims are vulnerable children whom they court or groom for the purpose of victimization.

Situational:  The situational abuser does not display any distinguishable sexual preference for children yet they will engage in the sexual exploitation of children if and when they find
themselves in situations where a child is readily available for sexual use. Even though the situational abuser does not have a sexual preference towards children, they molest children for other reasons. They include, but are not limited to curiosity, manipulation, control, desire to harm the loved one of the molested child, poor self-esteem, and to escape feelings of powerlessness and loneliness.

From a victim’s perspective, the above differentiation is irrelevant. Both do serious harm to their victim. There is no correlation between type of abuser and nature of the abuse committed. However, these distinctions do come in hand when planning intervention and prevention. It also enables us to realize that we really shouldn’t have a “profile” in our mind as to who a child molester is. They could be the strange person who lives alone and they could be the outgoing community leader who is respected by all. Age, gender and marital status also play no role in determining who is and who isn’t a child molester.

Since the child abuser comes in so many different forms, the duty of the parent is to always remain vigilant, trying hard to be consistent with the rules of child safety (i.e. don’t have different rules when the child’s uncle is watching them vs. a babysitter). A parent must also always try to ensure that there is an open line of communication between the parent and the child, so that the child feels safe enough to report any incidents to their parent. 

Yisroel Picker is a Social Worker who lives in Jerusalem. He has a private practice which specializes in working with people of all ages helping them understand their own thought processes, enabling them to improve their level of functioning, awareness, social skills and more. He also lectures on the topics of communication and child safety.  
You can email Yisroel at
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Thursday, December 7, 2017

Do the Rules Always Apply?

“Beginner knows rules, but veterans know exceptions.” 
- Amit Kalantri

There are rules and there are exceptions to the rules. The difficulty lies in knowing when the rule applies and when the exception to the rule applies. This is something that adults struggle with, yet adults often forget that kids have a more difficult time with this struggle than their elders do.

I’d like to share two stories about how kids applied the rule when the correct choice was to apply the exception:

The first story is a famous story.  In April of 2004 a man calls a McDonald's restaurant in Kentucky claiming to be a police officer. The caller asks the employee who answers the phone if there is a “slightly built young white woman with blonde hair” in the restaurant. He says that person is suspected of theft. Acting on the commands of the caller, the McDonald’s employee who answered the call locates a woman who matches the description. The woman matching the description is 18 years old, her name is Louise Ogborn. Ms Ogborn is taken to a back room, her clothes are removed and she is assaulted. All by well meaning people, who are following the orders of a man on the phone who they, incorrectly, believe to be a policeman.

Much has been discussed about the above story. Why did simple, law-abiding people do such a horrible act, just because of a phone call? How easy is it to fool good people to do such horrible things, just because they believe they are following orders? Personally, there was one thing about the story that stuck out more than anything else.
Here is a transcript of Ms. Ogborn’s interview with ABC:

Reporter: Why did you go along with their instructions?
Louise Ogborn: My parents taught me that when an adult tells you to do something, that’s what you do. You don’t argue.

How absolutely sad. This victim, even though she was already 18 and legally considered an adult, wasn’t yet aware that this lesson that her parents taught her many years ago didn’t apply in this case. She applied the rule of following the orders of an adult, when the correct choice was not agreeing to removing her clothes.

The second story is not as famous as the first story. About ten years ago a group went on a hike. This group included a boy who was 10 years old. During the hike, the boy got separated from the group and was declared lost. Searching parties were called to find this lost boy, but their two days of searching were fruitless. On the third day the boy was located by the rescue dogs, he was weak and dehydrated, but alive. The head of the rescue efforts was perplexed. The dogs found him, not too far from where many of his rescuers had been the two days prior. Why hadn’t any of the members of the rescue team had success in finding the lost boy? The boy later told his parents that he was taught to “Never speak with strangers”, and that, “even if they knew his name, that should not be confused for a sign that they aren’t a stranger”. Therefore, the boy explained, he went to hide anytime he heard his name being called by someone who he didn’t know. This boy ended up in much more danger because he followed the rule.

Obviously the Ogborns didn’t tell their daughter that she needed to comply with the instructions that led to her being undressed and abused, and obviously this boy wasn’t told that rescue workers are dangerous when you are lost and alone. Both were told generic rules, and by both it was assumed that they would know the exception. Perhaps the Ogborns even taught their daughter about her body being hers, but Louise saw these as conflicting rules (always listen to adults vs. my body is mine) and was unsure as to how to navigate this contradiction.

When speaking with children about child safety, it is important that parents convey both the rules and possible exceptions. Special effort should also be made so that the child recognizes that these are exceptions to the rule, not two conflicting rules. This is a bit more complicated in the latter case, but it is still doable.

The following lesson should be given to children: There are good strangers and there are bad strangers, and we don’t know which is which, therefore we are extra careful. However, there are certain times when we need to seek the help of strangers because we need help. Parents can also tell their child what type of stranger they would ideally like them to seek help from in a time of need e.g. a mother with her children.

Yisroel Picker is a Social Worker who lives in Jerusalem. He has a private practice which specializes in working with people of all ages helping them understand their own thought processes, enabling them to improve their level of functioning, awareness, social skills and more. He also lectures on the topics of communication and child safety.

You can email Yisroel at
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