Parents

How to prepare kids for an airport security 'groping'

April 13, 2011 at 3:32 PM ET

The full-body frisking of a 6-year-old girl, caught on videotape by her upset parents, is once again raising questions about airport security. If you have to fly, there are ways to make the experience less traumatic for kids. But how do you explain to children that no one should touch their bodies -- except for TSA screeners?

By Jennifer Langston, TODAY Moms contributor

Getting kids through airport security is challenging – from struggling with shoelaces to watching a teddy bear sail down the conveyor belt. But how do you explain to young children why an airport screener should be allowed to touch them in ways that no other stranger should?

That’s the icky question two parents faced as their 6-year-old daughter was pulled out of line for a head-to-toe pat-down at the New Orleans airport, which they videotaped. They asked if the child could simply be re-screened, but were refused. In the video, a female screener asks the little girl to put out her arms, pats her hair and neck, and runs gloved hands down her legs, across her belly and inside the waistband of her pants.

Parents may use different words to explain “good” and “bad” touching to their kids, but the basic message is that strangers shouldn’t be putting their fingers anywhere near their underwear. And any child has the power to say no to an adult who tries. Um, except when that person can kick you off the plane to Disneyland?

On the video, you can hear the screener gently explaining to the mom and the little girl the steps she’s taking, and the Transportation Security Administration said in a statement that the screener did nothing wrong. Though the agency maintains it’s not safe to exempt a class of people from scrutiny, the TSA says it’s exploring ways to revise airport screening for children, and may require them to undergo a “modified pat-down.”

(For more on the debate over whether it’s necessary to screen young children, check out these differing viewpoints from the ACLU and national security experts.)

But until screening policies change, it’s best for parents to be prepared. To start, here are the TSA’s official recommendations for traveling with children and tips on how to reduce stress for children during the screening process: 

  • Explain ahead of time what’s going to happen as you go through the line.
  • Warn them that blankets and stuffed animals need to go through the X-ray machine.
  • Volunteer to go first if your child is selected for a pat-down and let them watch.
  • Know your rights – no one should separate you from your child.

Other than that, what other options does a parent have? How strongly would you object if your child was subjected to an airport pat-down?

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