Give Your Kids the Tools They Need to Stay Safe
By Lynda R. Exley
Another story of abduction has made headlines and captured the hearts of parents across the nation. This weekend, we learned of the tragic conclusion. While we cannot bring this child back to her parents, we can take action NOW to insure that our children and their friends have the tools and training they need to stay safe.
Give your kids the tools they need to stay safe!
According to the U.S. Department of Justice’s National Incidence Studies of Missing, Abducted, Runaway and Thrownaway Children (NISMART), an estimated 58,200 children were victims of non-family abduction in the
3 Smart Moves for
Give your kids the tools they need to stay safe!
Of the 58,200 abducted children, 115 were “serious crimes” entailing stereotypical kidnappings by complete strangers or slight acquaintances. These 115 were transported 50 or more miles away, detained overnight, held for ransom or with the intent to keep the child permanently, or in the case of 46 of these children, killed. In 1988, the estimated stereotypical kidnapping numbered more than 200 annually.
Although the number of abductions appears to have decreased over the years, the 1988 NISMART report is based upon victim and caretaker accounts in a national survey. Whereas, the 2002 report reflects only police records of reported child abductions. The current report acknowledges that many abductions go unreported, which may explain the numeric difference between the two NISMART reports.
Fortunately, parents can help prevent their children from becoming one of these frightening statistics. Experts agree that parents must not be reluctant about discussing the possibility of abduction with their children.
“Parents need to communicate with their children constantly and not be afraid to talk about this topic. Be proactive, look ahead and prepare your children for situations,” says Bill Malatin, a volunteer
According to crime prevention experts, there’s more to educating children these days than reviewing the once lauded “stranger danger” advice. Instead, parents must teach their kids how to identify and avoid dangerous behaviors and improper actions.
“We really don’t do the ‘stranger danger’ anymore, because a lot of the problems, especially recently, have come from people who the child is familiar with,” explains Mindy Marino, a crime prevention specialist for the Mesa Police Department.
She uses an example of a letter carrier: “Every day the same guy delivers the mail. And, at holiday time, mom bakes cookies and gives them to the postman as a thank-you because he is such a nice guy. Well, now the kid thinks that the postman is a friend because he’s not a stranger. He’s there every day. Mom even gave him a present. He’s a nice guy. But we don’t know that!” emphasizes Marino. “Parents have to let kids know who is a stranger and who is not . . . So anybody and everybody needs to be considered a ‘stranger’ until the family as a whole knows them, and mom or dad has given permission that this person is a friend of the family.”
The truth, according to Bob Stuber, a former police officer who developed the
Lt. Doug Kline, director of
What to Tell Children
Warn your children that adults should never ask kids for help with directions, finding a lost pet or mailing a letter. Tell them never to accept anything from someone who has not been formally acknowledged as a “family friend.” Older kids are especially vulnerable to abductors who use the ploy that they are a movie producer or magazine photographer who wants to take their picture and help them get “discovered.” This and other such tricks are demonstrated in the Yello Dyno’s Can’t Fool Me! video contained in the Smith & Wesson Kid Safe Kit.
Tell children that if they suspect someone in a car is following them, they should run in the opposite direction than the car is headed – even if the driver pulls out a gun.
“The person is not trying to hurt our child at that moment,” explains Marino. “But once an abduction happens, now they have a living witness, so it’s much easier to do something with that living witness than let them go.” Marino recommends that the child run as fast as possible in a serpentine, or snakelike, manner to make it more difficult for a bullet to strike. However, Marino again emphasizes that the likelihood of perpetrators shooting a gun is almost nil due to the perpetrator’s fear of being noticed.
It is also important to warn youths never to go anywhere with someone their parents haven’t specifically given them permission to accompany. Give children a code word that only you and they know. In this way, if someone unexpected shows up to pick him or her up from school or soccer practice, the adult has to say the code word. If the adult doesn’t know it, then the child should not leave with them.
Children should also be told to trust their inner feelings and run away from situations or people that make them feel nervous – even if it means being rude to an adult or authority figure.
Malatin advises telling children it’s okay to “break the rules,” in dangerous situations. For example, if someone is in their home, trying to take them away, it’s okay to break a window to get someone’s attention. Or, if someone is trying to drag them out of a store, it’s okay to knock things off the shelf and cause a scene to get help.
A few of the escape techniques Stuber developed for
It sounds extreme, but as Marino puts it, “I’d rather have my child in a car accident when the police are going to respond, somebody’s going to stop and help, or the car’s going to be disabled, than have my child disappear with a person.”
In his safety book, Stuber suggests showing children how they can disconnect any exposed wires in the trunk of a car should they be locked in by an abductor. This may cause the tail or break lights to fail, which might bring the police into the picture. If they can’t dislocate any wires, they may be able to kick at the section of the trunk where the lights are. The repetitious kicking might cause the lights to fail.
If a child is being pursued in a parking lot, it’s possible to bring someone to their aid by slamming their hands on the hoods of every car they pass. One car alarm won’t turn too many heads, but a parking lot full should.
Other abduction prevention techniques covered in
Precautions for Parents
Several resources suggest equipping children with identification bracelets they can discretely leave in a place where they know it will be found should they get abducted. Parents should avoid clothing or toys with their child’s name on it. They should never leave a child alone in a public place, stroller or car, not even for a minute. Young children should always be accompanied to public restrooms, on door-to-door activities such as school fundraisers, and in crowded public venues, such as baseball parks, malls and concert halls.
Parents need to share this information with their children, and share it often, but do it in a way that is empowering instead of frightening. Teach your children to think smart, not scared, just in case they ever find themselves in a dangerous situation with a possible kidnapper .
TIP: The next time you’re looking for a good topic for a mother’s club or PTO presentation, consider a child abduction prevention program. Call your local police department to learn of programs in your area.
Lynda Exley is calendar editor for Arizona Parenting, a United Parenting Publications.