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Archive for Monday, December 20, 2010

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Screening stress: Taking kids through the new airport rules

Nine-year-old Walker Koberlein is pictured with his mother, Kelli Koberlein, at their Lawrence home. Walker and his mother were both patted down by security agents after the camera he is holding set off a chemical detector while going through screening. While many parents themselves are willing to participate in security screenings, some are concerned with allowing their children to go through the various processes.

Nine-year-old Walker Koberlein is pictured with his mother, Kelli Koberlein, at their Lawrence home. Walker and his mother were both patted down by security agents after the camera he is holding set off a chemical detector while going through screening. While many parents themselves are willing to participate in security screenings, some are concerned with allowing their children to go through the various processes.

December 20, 2010

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Kelli Koberlein never thought her 9-year-old son, Walker, could be a suspected terrorist.

Unfortunately for the Koberleins, the security agents at Kansas City International Airport had their suspicions.

The Lawrence family was flying to Tucson last month for Thanksgiving with relatives, and a camera Walker was carrying on set off a chemical detector at airport security. The next thing the family knew, both Kelli and Walker were being patted down by security agents.

The mother is quick to say that the agents were very professional and friendly. They explained what they were going to do and how they were going to do it. But it was still a little unnerving to watch as her son was being frisked.

“A little bit,” she says. “They were not nearly as thorough with him as they were with me. But who would have thought they’d be patting down a 9-year-old?”

The Koberleins’ experience underscores a predicament for some families traveling for the holidays: Should parents allow their children to undergo full-body scans, some of which expose children to radiation? Or should they opt for a pat-down from a security agent?

And, either way, how do they prepare their children for the airport security experience, which stresses out many adults?

Radiation concerns

Carrie Harmon, a spokeswoman for the Transportation Safety Administration, notes that only one of the two types of full-body scanners — the Backscatter version — uses X-Rays. (The other, Millimeter Wave, uses electromagnetic waves.)

Ruth Schukman-Dakotas, radiation safety officer at the University of Kansas Hospital, says the amount of radiation from the scanners is a small fraction — about half a percent — of what people are exposed to every day, which is called “background radiation.” The level of radiation from one scan equals the amount a person is exposed to during 2 minutes of flight time, and it would take 1,000 airport scans to equal the dose of radiation from a standard chest X-ray.

“If it were my children, with the occasional traveling we’re doing, I would have them go through the scanners,” she says.

Schukman-Dakotas notes that government agencies and independent expert groups who developed safety standards for the machines took into account that children would be the subject of some of the scans.

Lawrence father Raymond Munoz didn’t think twice about having his son, who is 5, go through a TSA scanner when they traveled in March to Corpus Christi.

“The experience we had with a scanner was pretty humdrum,” Munoz says. “TSA explained how the scanners worked, demonstrated what needed to be done, and then we went through without a hitch.”

Patdowns

Parents who still have concerns about the radiation should weigh the alternative of having their child be the subject of a pat-down, says Sara Minges, a child counselor and therapist who owns Playful Awareness LLC.

“Some kids could completely have a meltdown,” she says. “They learn the difference between good touch and bad touch, and that you get to choose who touches you. Having a stranger touch you can be stressful.”

Harmon, the TSA spokeswoman, says parents are never separated from their child if the child requires a pat-down, and that adults and children don’t receive the same scrutiny.

“TSA officers are trained to work with parents to ensure a respectful screening process for the entire family, while providing the best possible security for all travelers,” she says. “After a thorough risk assessment and after hearing concerns from parents, TSA made the decision that a modified pat-down would be used for children 12 years old and under who require extra screening.”

Yo Jackson, associate professor of child psychology at KU, says children will take their cues from their parents when it comes to handling the security process. If a parent is concerned about a pat-down, the child is more likely to as well.

“You want to minimize the amount of adult freak-out,” she says. “I don’t know if there’s any reason for concern, but you want to be observant. If you have a problem with how the child was treated, bring it up with the grown-ups and not the child.”

Preparation

Whether you’re opting for the scanner or the pat-down, Jackson and Minges say preparation is key for a successful experience, especially if you’re not frequent fliers.

“It’s not a good idea to do that at the airport,” Jackson says of explaining security measures. “Do this before you leave. It will add to the stress of the situation if the kid is in the dark up until that point. Explain the process: We’ll get a snack, check our bags, you’ll stay by mommy.”

And focusing on the positives — the child will get to look out the airplane window, or see grandma soon — can keep him or her focused on the excitement of the day.

Minges agrees, also suggesting parents role-play the situations with their children. She also suggests parents play off the superhero fascination that many children have.

“Tell them they’re helping the police officer,” Minges says. “And I would probably just say the police officers are there to help everybody be safe.”

Koberlein, the Lawrence mom, says that was basically the attitude her son, Walker, took when he was patted down.

“He was not intimidated,” she says.

She may have been lucky — she hadn’t prepared her little one for that experience because she never expected it to happen.

“We’d be prepared next time,” she says.

Comments

amyl 4 years ago

I would be very curious to know how the President would weigh in on this subject. Would he want some anonymous TSA agent (possible one of the criminal types we have been reading about lately) viewing his naked daughters, or would he choose to have them groped. The administration did not think things through when they implemented the new screening tactics without any public discussion whatsoever. Meanwhile the scanner companies are getting richer and we are losing our civil liberties, because of course, lawmakers don't have to go through scanners or receive pat downs. With all this security theater the TSA has yet to catch a single terrorist. They missed a loaded gun the other day. They fail security tests. FInally, they have yet to release the safety records on scanner machines that Congress has requested. It's shameful.

Flap Doodle 4 years ago

Dress your whole family in burqas.

pooter 4 years ago

If you must play their game then show them you have nothing to hide by wearing only a speedo, or jockstrap, or thong and pasties through the security checkpoint and then ask for the enhanced patdown.

*

Jonathan Kealing 4 years ago

They used the new scanners in Terminal B, where Southwest and Delta fly out of. And they only have a limited number.

Haiku 4 years ago

The TSA loves registered sex offenders. (Prior experience.)

d_prowess 4 years ago

People that want to do harm to US citizen are smart. If the TSA doesn't check little kids or the elderly then that is who they will recruit next.
I am tired of folks being shocked that they are subject to such security measures. Of course you don't think you look like a terrorist. No one thinks they do, unless they are!

Flap Doodle 4 years ago

I'm thinking AQ won't have much success recruiting grannies of Swedish extraction to be suicide bombers.

clovis_sangrail 4 years ago

"Ruth Schukman-Dakotas, radiation safety officer at the University of Kansas Hospital, says the amount of radiation from the scanners is a small fraction — about half a percent — of what people are exposed to every day, which is called “background radiation.” The level of radiation from one scan equals the amount a person is exposed to during 2 minutes of flight time, and it would take 1,000 airport scans to equal the dose of radiation from a standard chest X-ray."

Of course, that is assuming that it it calibrated correctly. At KCI, security operations are handled not by TSA employees, but by low-bid private security, which gives rise to the question "Who calibrates the x-ray machines?" Is it a trained technician, as you would find in a hospital, or is it a low-paid, no-benefits rent-a-cop who was given the two-hour training session just that morning?

kristyj 4 years ago

Not so sure about the "role-playing" philosophy suggested here. Uncle Creepy could take advantage. At least the TSA agent won't show up to your next birthday party (probably...)

gphawk89 4 years ago

We're working on having another kid and both our well-respected OB and very-well-respected fertility specialist said we should absolutely avoid the scanners and opt for the patdown.

We recently flew to Orlando. Our 4yo boy barely made it through the patdown because he was giggling so much from being ticklish. I agree that if the parents are having a meltdown about being frisked, the kid probably will, too. We opted not to have a meltdown, told him ahead of time what would happen, and he was fine with it.

All that being said, frisking a 4yo kid is absurd.

compmd 4 years ago

This article inspired my avatar.

The fact that anyone justifies an agent of the government reaching into your pants or feeling your genitalia is revolting.

"Harmon, the TSA spokeswoman, says parents are never separated from their child if the child requires a pat-down,"

I dare that joker to give me one, just one reason why a child requires a pat-down.

TopJayhawk 4 years ago

So, we have gone from being mad about the Patriot Act, to whining about being frisked? I used to get frisked all the time back in the seventies when I had long hair. they say you can't do racial profiling but they do it all the time, to white folks. But heaven forbid they do it to anyone else. Example. Sir, this is a black neighborhood, why are you here? You must be here to buy drugs. So, what business do you have in this neighborhood?
Happens all the time.

chzypoof1 4 years ago

Good try TOP. Your hippy past of being "frisked" does not justify exposing children to unneeded radiation and groping. The groping of kids is to get you to give in and go through the scanner....

By the way, the scanners, that are "stopping terrorists" have failed over and over again. Gentleman the other day got on a plane with a loaded glock. And another with a large knife. All of these steps are to convince the population to be more submissive, and give up all of our rights.

To finish: just don't fly. If you hit the taxpayer subsidized pocket books of the airlines enough, they will stop this crap. Unfortunately, that won't happen. People will give in, and we will just move forward.

Jason

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