Friends, did you know? According to a recent report from the Department of Justice:
797,500 children under the age of 18 were reported missing in a one-year period, which included runaways, children who disappeared for a few hours or were late for custody delivery, etc.
203,900 of them were victims of family kidnappings;
58,200 of them were victims of kidnappings outside their family by someone whom the child knew at least partially;
115 children were victims of “stereotyped” abductions by a complete stranger.
I cited these numbers so as not to downplay the kidnappings in any way. My heart truly goes out to the victims and their families for having to live through a nightmare like this. However, these statistics helped clarify the reality of child abduction: “stereotypical” abductions do not happen as often as I feared.
In our house
Regardless of the often sensational reporting in the media, child abduction remains a very legitimate and open concern in our home. Although we closely monitor our young children, my wife and I began to periodically address kidnapping with my son when he was 4 years old. Simply put, this is how we discussed the kidnapping with my son:
Remind her that although it happens rarely, sometimes children take strangers;
Review your basic safety rules and why they are so important;
Talk and practice what to do if you ever feel threatened;
Ask him for his parents’ full names and full address;
Explain that we will never send a stranger to pick you up from preschool;
Assure him that it is our job as parents to protect him and his sister, and that he can tell us anything … we won’t get mad at him;
Encourage him to come to us with any questions or concerns, no matter what.
Top 10 Prevention Tips
The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) provides excellent resources to help us prevent abductions and harm. Here’s a very general synopsis of his advice …
Take a friend when you go places and stay with the group;
Take appropriate action if they approach or follow you;
It is more important to escape a threat than to be courteous;
Talk openly with your children about safety and encourage communication;
Practice basic safety skills;
Get involved in your children’s activities;
Never leave children unattended in cars, running or not;
Know where your children are and with whom;
Get to know your child care providers, friends, neighbors, etc .;
Remember that you are your best resource;
For some suggestions on how to start the conversation with your children, or how to create “teachable moments,” I highly recommend checking out NCMEC’s Take 25 initiative.
Operational security, or “OPSEC,” was originally a military term that describes the process of protecting small pieces of data that could be grouped together to provide a bigger picture. OPSEC can also be applied to the safety of your children, because their names on backpacks, jackets or lunch boxes could easily become a talking point for anyone who may be pointing at them. Ditto for stick figure “families”, honor roll, school names, and car vacation destination stickers, as well as personalized license plates … all little bits of information that someone you could use to build a false familiarity with your child.