We never think it will happen to us but then we see yet another media report of a child missing and it begins to hit closer to home. These days we must take extra precautions to protect our precious children from being taken from us. Linda Sharp, author of Stretchmarks On My Sanity: The Growing Pains of Raising a Family, offers some tips in preventing child abduction.
It happened again
Another state, another bedroom, another innocent sleeping child abducted in the middle of the night. Another mother and father awakened from sweet dreams to be thrust into their worst nightmare.
It has happened again, this time in Utah.
Like every parent reading or watching the news that Thursday morning, my heart skipped a beat and my stomach began to ache as I learned of the abduction of 14-year-old Elizabeth Smart of Salt Lake City, Utah. Her younger sister, also in the room at the time, paralyzed into submission, both made mute by the threat of harm to Elizabeth.
Fear. The single most powerful weapon an abductor has on their side. Fear that buys them silence. Fear that buys them time.
We teach our children. We teach them to look both ways before crossing a street. We teach them how to dial 9-1-1 in emergencies. We warn them to “not take candy from or talk to strangers”. We police them as they chat on the Internet. We practice fire drills in our homes. We buy smoke detectors and security systems for our homes. We make them take vitamins. Make them eat right, sleep enough, brush their teeth. We do everything we can to educate them, keep them from harm. And then one four letter emotion renders all our efforts useless.
Fear. How can we combat such a deeply ingrained component of the human psyche? What tools or information can we teach our children that may well save their lives in the future?
Detective Ryan O’Connell, 30 year police veteran advises, “You have to drill into your children the fact that NOISE is their best defense in the face of abduction. Regardless of what threat is being made at them or their loved ones, they MUST raise an alarm, cause a commotion, put the fear of being caught into the bad person.”
Anecdotal research has shown that threatening to hurt the child or a loved one is the No.1 technique employed by abductors to buy silence. More menacing than the gun or knife they may be brandishing is the “What if” put before the child.
Public abductions happen quickly. Far too many parents have learned the lesson that in the blink of an eye, their child can be whisked away. Stores such as Walmart install video cameras, teach employees codes such as ADAM to be used in the case of a missing child. Yet even a lockdown code of ADAM is too little too late when no sound of distress has come from the child.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children offers these eight safety tips for children:
- I always check first with my parents or the person in charge before I go anywhere or get into a car, even with someone I know.
- I always check first with my parents or a trusted adult before I accept anything from anyone, even from someone I know.
- I always take a friend with me when I go places or play outside.
- I know my name, address, telephone number and my parents’ names.
- I say no LOUDLY if someone tries to touch me or treat me in a way that makes me feel scared, uncomfortable or confused.
- I know that I can tell my parents or a trusted adult if I feel scared, uncomfortable or confused.
- It’s OK to say no, and I know that there will always be someone who can help me.
- I am strong, smart and have the right to be safe.
As a parent of three young daughters, I make it a point to regularly go over these tips and stress how important it is to communicate any fear they may face. Of course I do not want them walking through life in a constant state of anxiety, but I also do not want them to be “easy targets” for someone who may want to harm them. They all know that their best moment for help is the moment something is happening. They are being taught that a stranger is not to be believed, that their safety is better ensured if they scare the stranger.
Talk to your children. Whatever their age, communicate to them that NOISE is their best defense. And as you tuck your child into bed tonight, checking the windows, checking the doors, know that you have armed them with a tool to combat fear and help ensure that their, and your, sweet dreams are not turned into nightmares.
The help you can offer a young child is somewhat different from what is useful for an older child. Here are some suggestions:
Young children should:
- Never say they are alone if they answer the phone: they can offer to take a message or say their parents will phone back.
- Never answer the door if they are alone.
- Not invite anyone in the house without the permission of a parent or babysitter.
- Not go into people’s houses without letting anyone know where they are.
- NEVER get into anyone’s car without permission.
- Do not take candy or other gifts from strangers or anyone else without asking a parent first.
- NEVER play in deserted buildings or isolated areas.
- Scream and scatter books and belongings if they are forced towards a building or car.
- Move away from a car that pulls up beside them if they do not know the driver.
- Be taught that it’s all right to say “no” to an adult if the person wants them to do something you’ve taught them is wrong.
- Know that no one has the right to touch any part of their bodies that a bathing suit would cover.
- Tell you, school authorities or a police officer about anyone who exposes private parts.
- Tell you if someone has asked them to keep a secret from you.
- Go to the nearest cashier if lost or separated from you in a store or mall.
Older children/teens should:
- Tell you where they are at all times or leave a written or recorded message at home.
- Never hitchhike.
- Avoid shortcuts through empty parks, fields, alleys.
- Run home or go to the nearest public place and yell for help if they are being followed.
- Learn to recognize suspicious behavior and remember a description of the person or vehicle to give you or the police. Write the plate number in the dirt or snow if nothing else is available.
- If attacked for money, jewelry or clothing give it up rather than risk injury.
- Feel that they can talk to you and call you to pick them up at any time, any place. Parents should:
- Avoid clothing and toys with your child’s name on it. A child is less likely to fear someone who knows his/her name.
- Check all potential babysitters and older friends of your child. NEVER leave your child alone in a public place, stroller or car. Not even for a minute.
- Always accompany young children to the bathroom in a public place and advise them never to play in or around the area.
- Always accompany your child on door-to-door activities, i.e. Halloween, school fundraising campaigns, etc.
- Point out safe houses or homes with the Block Parent sign where children can go if they are in trouble.
- Create an environment in which the child feels free to talk to you. Let him/her know that you are interested and sensitive to their fears.
- Teach them that the police are their friends and that they can rely on them if they are in trouble.
- Keep an up-to-date color photograph of your child, a medical and dental history and have your child fingerprinted.
- Watch Paul E. Jacobs, QualComm CEO, launch the AmberWatch Mobile Initiative at BREW 2008
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- The AmberWatch Mobile Initiative
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