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Protecting Our Youth
By Rich Largent, EAA 512497, Volunteer Advisory Committee
March 2016 - Growing up in the ’50s and ’60s as I did, many would say we lived in a simpler time—a time not complicated by the same challenges youth of today face. This electronic revolution that has seemingly swallowed up every instant of free time certainly presents a different experience than in my day. Back then, the kid who showed up with a seven-transistor pocket radio ruled. Museum pieces now! Certainly a culture that has seen the birth of the “latchkey kid” as both Mom and Dad took jobs outside the home. And there are many more single-parent households than we ever knew when I was young. It has made growing up a very different experience.
With those changes, yet another shift in our culture has also seemed to enter our midst. Activities like after-school sandlot pickup baseball games, playing in the backyard, riding your bike until the street lights came on, or walking to the drug store for a candy bar and soda have become, for many youngsters, an adventure fraught with more danger than getting a skinned knee or twisting an ankle sliding into second base. Sadly, as many of these activities have transitioned into more organized group activities, the challenges of keeping our children safe have not necessarily improved. It used to be if your child was reprimanded by a playmate’s parent, nothing much was thought of it, and we, as kids, knew any adult in our midst was in charge. Today, our children have more opportunities to go more places, do more things, interact with more people than we ever did, and, to that end, are exposed to more opportunities for inappropriate behavior than ever before.
As a Young Eagles pilot for nearly 20 years, with more than 1,200 youngsters going aloft with me, the notion that I could be accused of inappropriate behavior toward my charges has occupied little space in my flight awareness scenario. You name it, I’ve probably seen it—enthusiastic, shy, precocious, well-mannered, ill-mannered, respectful, disrespectful, happy, not-so-happy children climbing into the plane to go off flying. To them, they are going flying with a pilot; to their parents, a pilot, but also a stranger. With just a few exceptions, I think the flights experienced by these kids have been very rewarding, even life-changing for a few, for both pilot and passenger.
Several months ago, I was quite enthused when discussions with EAA staff revealed an EAA Youth Protection Policy was in the pipeline that would include a course on how to most appropriately interact with youth. Admittedly, the stipulation that key personnel, particularly all Young Eagles pilots, would be required to submit to a background check, at first, did not sit all that well. But upon further reflection, I realized that which we take for granted can do more harm than not. The course was described as an online tutorial with the background check sign-up at the end. As soon as it debuted, I went online, completed the course and sign-up, all in about 20 minutes, as advertised.
Entrusting a child to the care of others has to be one of the greatest, if not the greatest, challenges for a parent. For more than two decades, we in the Young Eagles community of EAA may have known and appreciated this far better than others. Not only are parents placing their children in the hands of a stranger, but they’re also extending their trust to allow their loved ones to be involved in an activity many of them have never experienced. Knowing that our organization recognizes this and has taken the time to implement a program that demonstrates our commitment to the well-being of their children, in my view, makes us all winners.
Rich Largent, EAA 512497
President, EAA Chapter 939Volunteer Advisory Committee