It is undisputable that the greatest danger of child abuse comes from people the child knows and trusts — their father first of all, but also close relatives or authority figures. Although abduction and abuse by a stranger is a horrible tragedy, it happens very rarely. Thus it seems clear to me that efforts to target pedophile strangers — such as sex offender registries, or the more recent program in New York City whereby you can be ticketed if you’re near a playground unaccompanied by a child — are disproportionate.
Even worse, however, they put the child at even more danger of family abuse, as it has the effect of turning the family unit into a kind of fortress. Indeed, apart from the constant brainwashing to make sure children don’t talk to strangers, it seems to me that some adults may even try to avoid any direct interaction with children they don’t know, so as to avoid accusations of pedophilia.
Even if they’re not trying to escape abuse, children would definitely stand to benefit from more interaction with people who don’t believe (consciously or unconsciously) that they own them and don’t project all their hopes and dreams onto them. Cutting them off from all outside, unfiltered influences means treating them essentially as the property of their parents — as Justice Clarence Thomas apparently believes they should be.
We often tend to talk about the negative effects of overparenting on people’s adult lives, but this misses the point in two ways. First, it overstates the impact of parenting — in reality, children are separate people and are normally able to more or less get past whatever “issues” arose from their upbringing without any major problems. (Here I’m drawing on the Last Psychiatrist post I linked on the sidebar.) It sometimes takes a long time, but (outside exceptional circumstances) if you’re still shadow-boxing with your parents at age 30, there’s something wrong with how you’ve chosen to live your life that goes way beyond anything your parents have done.
Second, and perhaps more important, it ignores the fact that living in the pressure-cooker of an isolated nuclear family is no way to live for the child when they’re children. Even if they get over it when they grow up, it is still the case that living under constant surveillance (justified, in good totalitarian fashion, by profound love…) and being cut off from any meaningful contact with the outside world is miserable.