Friday 9 October 2015

We're too busy being paranoid to help a child in distress

Published 28/03/2014 | 02:30

We are now wary of strangers, no matter how small
We are now wary of strangers, no matter how small
More than 600 people ignored a lost child in a TV experiment
An experiment in Norway did find that people gave their jackets to a freezing child at a bus stop

What would you do if you saw a little girl alone in a shopping centre? Would you approach her? Would you walk by her? Would you even notice she was there? The UK's Channel 5 has filmed a programme called 'Little Girl Lost', to show how we have become a 'walk-on-by' society.

During the social experiment, a five-year-old girl was placed in a crowded shopping centre clutching her doll, looking lost and asking for help. Over 600 people walked by until eventually a grandmother stopped to help her.

It seems cold and callous that she was ignored by so many. In a way, the most shocking thing about the programme was that most people didn't even seem to notice the child. They were far too busy talking into phones, checking e-mails or rushing around. The girl's mother, who was watching from a distance, was shocked to see her daughter ignored.

"It's shocking that people noticed a child on her own and just walked past, whether it's through fear or because they don't care or because they didn't notice ... it's heart-breaking."

It certainly seems deplorable but we now live in a society where everyone is suspicious. We're wary of strangers, no matter how small they are. We've all heard stories about crime gangs using children to distract you while they nick your bag or your jewellery.

Tourists looking for directions could be criminals in disguise. A car breakdown could be a set up so they can carjack you if you stop to help. We're afraid of our own shadow and mistrustful of everyone.

Men are scared to look sideways at any child, that is not their own, for fear of their help being misinterpreted.

Aside from fear, we're all too 'busy' to help people. Nurses are too busy to talk to patients, couples are too busy to get married, children are too busy to call their parents, we're too busy to call in on the pensioner next door we're all so busy rushing about being busy that we never stop to think, listen or talk.

Commenting on the Channel 5 programme, a spokesperson for the NSPCC noted that a child's welfare is more important than worrying about being labelled a 'stranger danger'. "We have got to get the message out to adults that they have a responsibility to protect children and that must supersede any concern you have for other people's perception of why you are reaching out to help that child."

That's easier said than done. In the last few years society has become completely paranoid about paedophiles and child kidnappers. It affects how we behave towards other people's children and how we overprotect our own.

We are so afraid of strangers hurting our children that we have lost sight of the sad reality that most of the violence and sexual abuse towards children happens within their own home, by people they know.

We spend so much time and energy drilling our children on the dangers of talking to strangers, taking sweets from strangers or, God forbid, going anywhere with a stranger that it is then difficult to add: "But if you get lost you must stop a stranger and ask for help."

But that's the reality of life. If your child does get lost they do need to ask a stranger for help. But the stranger is now so paranoid about being labelled 'sinister' that they are often afraid to help.

And so the cycle continues. We live in fear of almost everything and everyone.

The only person brave enough and kind enough to help the little girl in the programme was a concerned pensioner. She was the only person who was not too busy or too afraid of being judged. We could take a leaf out of her book.

Before we lose all hope for society, let us take heart from a different experiment carried out in Norway. This social experiment was set up by the SOS Mayday action network to raise awareness about the thousands of children suffering in Syria. In the video, 11-year-old actor Johannes sits alone at a bus stop in Oslo, shivering. It's freezing cold and he is only wearing a long-sleeved T-shirt and jeans. He tells passers-by who ask that his coat was stolen and he is waiting for his teacher.

People immediately start handing the boy their coats, scarves and gloves. One man takes off his coat, covers the boy with it and sits on the bench beside him with just a T-shirt on.

It's a moving, uplifting and heartening scene to watch. There is still good in the world. People can still be kind, generous and caring ... in Norway at any rate!

Irish Independent

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