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Your Government TSA: Traumatizing 4 Year Olds in Kansas

Your Government TSA: Traumatizing 4 Year Olds in KansasThe U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) defended the actions of its agents yesterday, saying they were only following procedure when they insisted on doing a patdown on a traumatized 4-year old girl. I hope the family finds a way to sue the TSA for all of the psychological counseling this little girl is going to need in the future.

The girl, Isabella Brademeyer, had already successfully passed through the security checkpoint at the Wichita, Kansas airport. But then she went over to hug her grandmother — her grandmother — who was still being processed by the TSA. The TSA pulled the grandmother, Lori Croft, out for a pat-down because she apparently set off the metal detector.

But c’mon… the little girl? She’s 4. She didn’t know any better.

That set off a flurry of activity among the TSA agents, who then insisted that the 4-year old also needed to undergo a patdown. Again… because she hugged her grandmother.

This demonstrates that the TSA is, at least at some airports, lost all touch with reality and common sense. There’s a time for procedure, and there’s a time to allow some common sense to enter into your thinking. That’s why the TSA employs human beings — not automatons. To think. To use their experience and their common sense to understand that just because a 4-year old child hugs her grandmother, that’s not a justification for an additional pat-down.

We have to remember, even though most Americans have a healthy fear of the TSA — the TSA works for us. When the TSA abuses its authority in this sort of manner, it’s up to the American people to call for action.

Sadly, the TSA is apparently deaf when it comes to listening to the concerns the family raised at the checkpoint:

But she said the family’s main concern was the lack of understanding from TSA agents that they were dealing with a 4-year-old child, not a terror suspect.

“There was no common sense and there was no compassion,” Croft said. “That was our biggest fault with the whole thing — not that they are following security procedures, because I understand that they have to do that.” […]

Croft said Brademeyer tried to no avail to get TSA agents to use a wand on the frightened girl or allow her to walk through the metal detector again. She also said TSA agents wanted to screen her granddaughter alone in a separate room.

The TSA’s response? F*** compassion and common sense, we have our procedures to follow:

The TSA released a statement Tuesday saying it explained to the family why additional security procedures were necessary and that agents didn’t suspect or suggest the child was carrying a firearm.

“TSA has reviewed the incident and determined that our officers followed proper screening procedures in conducting a modified pat-down on the child,” the agency said.

Of course they did. If the question was, “Did the TSA follow its procedures in this incident,” the answer is always going to be, “Yes, we did.”

But that wasn’t the question. The question asked was, “Are these TSA procedures appropriate for children of all ages? Does the TSA allow their human being agents to use their experience, judgment and good common sense to override the procedure in cases where any objective observer would agree it would be appropriate to do so?”

The TSA doesn’t answer those questions because the answer is obviously, “No, the TSA does not allow TSA agents to substitute their good judgment and common sense for the procedures.”

Psychological Trauma Induced by the TSA Procedures, Agents

The problem is, when you set up an unbreakable set of procedures like this that nobody can question or substitute their own good judgment for, you’ve also set yourself up for abuses of common sense such as this.

And, just for good measure, you’ve ensured at least one 4-year old child is going to spend the next few weeks re-living the trauma your agents helped not only induce, but kept fanning:

“She was kicking and screaming and fighting and in hysterics,” Croft said. “At that point my daughter ran up to her against TSA’s orders because she said, ‘My daughter is terrified, I can’t leave her.'” […]

Croft said that for the first few nights after coming home, Isabelle had nightmares and talked about kidnappers. She said TSA agents had shouted at the girl, telling her to calm down and saying the suspect wasn’t cooperating.

“To a 4-year-old’s perspective that’s what it was to her because they didn’t explain anything and she did not know what was going on,” Croft said. “She saw people grabbing at her and raising their voices. To her, someone was trying to kidnap her or harm her in some way.”

The TSA should apologize for the way their agents acted in this incident, and reprimand the agents responsible. There is no excuse for putting a 4-year old child through the psychological trauma these agents put the girl through. None.

Young children who experience events such as this often have nightmares for days, and sometimes even weeks on end. Because there apparently was no TSA agent trained in child development or management issues, nobody apparently understood this was a child who was scared to death of the agents. The TSA agents apparently, instead, shouted at an emotionally-upset child to “calm down” — a strategy any parent knows is unlikely to be effective or helpful.

There has never been a single documented case of a 4-year old being involved in any terrorist activity, anywhere, much less on United States soil. There was zero likelihood or probability this child had any connection to anything linked to terrorism. Zero. Every agent there knew that.

The only reason the agents acted the way they did was because TSA procedures demanded they do it. The TSA apparently does not allow its agents to use their own judgment or common sense to countermand procedure. History is littered with cautionary tales on why is is never a good thing to put procedure above all else. Even the TSA manager who eventually came to the gate to help with the situation wasn’t empowered to do much about the procedure — he still had to insist the 4-year old be patted down. (I imagined he explained his actions, “Dem’s the rules, ma’am. Keeping us all safe from space aliens and 4-year old potential terrorists.”)

Despite the TSA’s faulty thinking, airports are not a police state where you must follow authority no matter what. I call on the TSA to allow their agents to use their own good judgment and common sense in future incidents like this involving young children. There’s no excuse for the TSA to act like its child citizens are putting anyone at risk when flying.

Read the Associated Press article on the incident: TSA defends pat-down of 4-year-old at Kan. airport

Your Government TSA: Traumatizing 4 Year Olds in Kansas

John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

Dr. John Grohol is the founder of Psych Central. He is a psychologist, author, researcher, and expert in mental health online, and has been writing about online behavior, mental health and psychology issues since 1995. Dr. Grohol has a Master's degree and doctorate in clinical psychology from Nova Southeastern University. Dr. Grohol sits on the editorial board of the journal Computers in Human Behavior and is a founding board member of the Society for Participatory Medicine. You can learn more about Dr. John Grohol here.

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APA Reference
Grohol, J. (2018). Your Government TSA: Traumatizing 4 Year Olds in Kansas. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 30, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 26 Apr 2012)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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