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At the airport with kids: Are they really going to pat down little Sally?

As holiday travel ramps up, so does controversy over body scanners and pat-downs at the nation's airports.

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 25, 2010; 9:29 PM

Over the river and through the body scanner to Grandmother's house we go!

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What a fun, new twist on traveling with the kids this year. And you thought getting them to take their shoes off and let Bunky the Bear go through the dark tunnel was hard.

For this holiday season, parents get to choose between a scanner that will generate portraits of your kids looking like nude ghosts and, according to some reports, give off questionable levels of radiation, or they can take the little ones for a rubber-glove pat down that will upend years of stranger-danger training.

After the Transportation Security Administration announced these more invasive pat-downs as an alternative and sometimes in addition to the body scanners, dozens of stories of groping and humiliation have surfaced online from adults.

Upon hearing these stories, parentworld, predictably, went bananas. On playgrounds, at playdates and across e-mail groups, parents railed against the TSA, wondering whether its personnel are pedophiles with badges. Many even canceled their holiday travel plans with righteous indignation. (This had NOTHING to do with that spat over the health-care debate with Aunt Edna last year, right?)

This is fertile ground for a millennial mom and dad's worst fears.

The TSA backpedaled after that first wave of parental blowback. Not long after the "don't touch my junk" dude dethroned JetBlue flight attendant Steven Slater in air travel folklore, the TSA announced that children who didn't go through the body scanners would undergo "modified" pat-downs. Officials provided limited detail - for security reasons - of just what that means.

Without those details, parents were left to imagine that kids will be fondled and groped in the same way that author Dave Barry described his intimate pat-down. How do you tell your kids that it's now okay for people with a blue uniform and a badge to touch them in any kind of an intimate way?

"People should refuse to be molested. And NEVER permit your child to be molested," one poster railed on Flyertalk. That was one of the few, fulminating comments that was clean enough to print.

Talking about touching a child and generating images that show him or her nude is radioactive, no matter how you tackle it.

The folks at child abuse prevention organizations are fielding questions about what to do, and it's making people queasy.

"You need to have a conversation with your child based on what is going to happen," said Nancy McBride, a spokeswoman for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in Alexandria. "Tell them they have to conduct this examination and they have to do it to be safe. This is just something that has to be done."


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