I posted and removed an article on keeping your children safe. I posted it because I had a few moments of inspiration that day, and removed the article the next day because it was so incomplete. This new offering is hardly complete, but the subject is complex. I feel this one is a much better starting point for the topic.
Every parent has, usually hidden somewhere in the back of their mind, something absolutely ghastly which must not happen to their child. Sometimes they get so caught up in the thoughts that they overlook some of the real dangers that kids face. I am going to make an overview of what most parents fear, and then take a look at some things that our attention might be better spent on, and hopefully this helps some people.
Manufactured Threats and Media Distortion
The number one concern that parents have is kidnapping. Classes on “Stranger Danger” can be found in most cities across the U.S. But the statistics paint a different picture.
About 200,000 kids are abducted each year. The overwhelming majority of these are taken by a family member, another big percentage by a person the child knows, and a tiny number (in the study I am looking at the number is 115) are taken by a stranger.
115 is too many, but it does make me wonder if we are doing as much for our kids as we think we are by promoting the stranger dangers. Our kids are in more danger from relatives and people known to them than from strangers. We should be making our kids aware of this as well.
The news media pounce on stories of strangers kidnapping children, because it makes for compelling stories and that equals ratings, which equals money. There are an overwhelming number of stories every single day that are ignored because they are deemed not newsworthy which is really a matter of them deciding what you will watch. They spin, and misrepresent facts, and this is when the facts even come into play!
Where this matters to the subject at hand is this; people think that strangers are the biggest threat to their kids because that is what we hear from the news media. And anytime thereafter when we hear anything about strangers taking kids, we solidify the idea in our mind. Eventually we may reach a point where we don’t realize that this threat to our children, while quite real, is less likely than a lot of other threats.
Definitely tell them about being aware of strangers, how to handle the different approaches a stranger might use and teach them to never go anywhere with a stranger. This is a no-brainer. But don’t obsess. There are bigger threats.
The Best Protection
Our kids face other threats. There is a greater risk of kidnapping and/or sexual assault from people our kids know and often trust than has ever been posed by a stranger. There is physical violence at school, and possibly at home. There is bullying, and cyber bullying. A well informed child will be a lot safer than a poorly or misinformed child.
Kids who live with this stuff going on are much more likely to commit suicide than other kids.
There are no simple solutions, but there is one simple thing you can do to help your kid be safe, or in the cases of bullying, at least minimize the negative impact on your child. And it is simple enough that any caring parent can do it.
Communicate with your kid.
In the cases of child abuse, your kid needs to know at their core that they can come to you with anything. If some subjects are taboo, they will very likely keep to themselves. And bad things happen when a person, child or adult, does not feel that they have anyone to turn to. In the cases of physical violence, bullying and cyber bullying the same holds true. It is easy to brush off cyber-bullying, but don’t do it. Remember that it is easy for a forty-something to ignore what people write about them on the internet or in emails. You have a lot more life experience than your kid. They are drawing on the few years that they have a memory of, and often nothing they experienced before prepared them for this type of behavior. When your kid is talking to you about these things, listen. On the subject of bullying, they do need to work a lot of it out themselves. This is how people learn conflict resolution skills. All you need to do is look around at some of the whiny adults out there who think the entire world needs to stop because someone hurt their widdle feelings to see what happens when a kid never has to face anything they don’t like and has their battles fought for them. Remember you are the parent, be there for them, but be a parent, not a friend. It is their friend’s job to threaten to kick the other kid’s butt. Your job is to teach your kid to make it in this world.
It is just my two cents, but I believe that energy spent on protecting our children should be spent wisely and that means spending it where it will do the most good.
I would be concerned with the hundreds of thousands of kids who end up missing each year that no one knows what happened to because they aren’t found. There are real boogie men out there. People who aren’t wired correctly. I am not saying that you are wrong, I am simply saying that there is a LARGE number that cannot be classified. Not too many family members are taking kids, raping them and then burying them in some secluded spot never to be seen again.
It is a major concern, yes. When you speak of missing vs. abducted, you are talking about a number closer to 800,000 than the 200,000 abducted I mention here (sourced from http://www.fbi.gov). When we speak of missing, then you have to enter in the unbelievable number that are runaways.
When we speak of child abduction murder, There is approximately one child abduction murder for every 10,000 reports of a missing child (www.pollyklaas.org).
Regarding the “not too many family members” comment, that is incorrect. In looking at children under age 5, from 1976 – 2005, 67% of the victims were killed by family members (31% by the Father, 29% by the Mother and 7% by another relative).
But out of the 800,000 reports of missing children, 115 is the average number of what the FBI terms “stereotypical kidnapping”, meaning a stranger took the child. When looking at those taken by family members, we are not only looking at cases of murder. There are many of these where a court has set custody of the child in a manner that one parent does not feel is right and takes the kid and leaves. Of the 800,000 children reported as missing, 90% return home within 24 hours and again, the overwhelming majority are runaways.
But in closing, yes, there are people who are not wired right and there are some very dangerous people out there. I do not dismiss that fact. I think kids need to be taught about stranger awareness, and I would suggest going even further than not getting in a car with a stranger, but not even getting close to one. I would like to see children taught that if a stranger tries to even talk to them, forget not getting in the car, don’t engage any interaction with them at all. Stranger starts talking, run away to a safe place and notify an adult to call the police. Immediately. There is no need to be paranoid, but there is also no need for a child to talk to a stranger at all.
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