I got in trouble today. The principal from one of the local primary schools phoned to say he’d been approached by a concerned parent saying her son had been videoed by me without her permission and that’s just wrong.
You know the worst part? It was all true.
My son and I had gone to the footy ground with the kite, kite buggy, bike and camera, as we often do. My son videoed me trying to bust some moves on the buggy but the wind was unpredictable and it totally fizzed out when the groundsman started mowing. I turned the camera on my boy and his new bike. I caught him doing a series of lame stunts – no hands (for a total of one second), mono (for less than a second) and a wild downhill ride (over freshly mown grass down a slope of approximately three degrees). We were cacking ourselves at the stupidity of it all and my boy decided freerunning around the clubrooms would be cool.
Freerunning or parkour is a kind of mad mix between gymnastics and foot racing where participants use the elements of the (usually urban) landscape – poles, walls, fences, buildings, roofs, bridges – to bounce off. The opening scenes of the recent James Bond Casino Royale are an awesome example of extreme freerunning.
Anyway, continuing with our theme of lame stunts, the boy’s freerunning was more freewalking, jumping over lumps of grass, getting stuck on the bars while climbing through and leaping wildly from the bottom step. It was a great laugh and we were having a ball. Three other boys arrived across the oval from the tennis courts – mid- to upper-primary school age. They were up to mischief in a minute, carting around a fold of felt or something gleaned from the front of the clubrooms.
Here’s where I made my biggest mistake of the day: I saw what was going on and followed them when they ran off.
‘Hey! You guys want to join in? We’re doing stupid videos, lame stunts and that.’
When they realised I wasn’t about to chew them out about their mischief, they were smiling and only too keen to play freewalking follow-the-leader with my son while I filmed. One of the boys asked what we do with the films and my son explained that we’ve got a collection of silly stuff on You Tube. The boy’s eyes lit up – he was going to be a star! Explaining that I wouldn’t be using any video footage of him without a media release signed by his parents would have ruined the moment.
They hammed it up – totally natural over-actors who got right into it. We recorded some funny stuff. We were packing up ready to go home when a car arrived. One of the kids swore and started running. His mum had the window down.
‘Get in the car! Right now!’
That was when my adult brain should have engaged. That was when I should have gone running to the car and explained to the boy’s mum what we’d been doing, shown her the video. Another car arrived. More shouting. I didn’t think about it again until the principal phoned a couple of days later. It was a kick in the guts to realise he’d had to deal with the ‘situation’. He’s a good man, and that’s where the issue is for me. I felt sorry for the principal and I felt sorry for the mum but they’re familiar feelings. Blokes who work with kids are prone to looking over their shoulder at how their actions are being perceived. I should have been more sensitive to what those games would have looked like from the outside.
How was the mum to know that I spend half my year playing with other people’s kids? Just over twenty five thousand of them this year. I often have a video in my hand, or one of the kids does. Easy enough to assume the worst – that I was a perverted predator plying my trade. Her kid later mentions the Internet and You Tube and I’m the scourge of the earth. I don’t blame her – that confusion is a cultural thing and I should have been sensitive to that.
I wonder if it would have made any difference if it was a woman with the camera? I wonder if it would have made a difference if we were strangers kicking the footy with her son? Yeah, I think it’s the ‘bloke with a video camera’ that complicates the scenario.
I think I’ll get a t-shirt made – one that says ‘Kid Safe’ with a copy of my police check on the back. I’m not going to stop being innocent. I’m not going to stop playing spontaneously with kids. Contrary to what you might see on the news, there are good men in the world and the world and the kids in it need us.