Now’s the Best Time To Talk To Your Kids About Abductionby Carissa Andrews - October 5th, 2015
This scenario is a parent’s worst nightmare, for sure. But how many of us have sat down to have an honest conversation with our kids about the dangers of going with strangers? What about giving them the tools and actionable items to feel empowered and safe? I’ll be honest, I’ve talked with my kids, but it’s been a while since we talked about what they should do if the need arises. Researching this article was a great excuse to open the dialogue again and remind them (and me!) of the ways kids can stay safe.
Did you know approximately 2,100 kids are reported missing every day? That number alone is enough to scare the pants off a parent, trust me. However, upon deeper investigation, the majority of these cases are due to miscommunication between caregivers and their kids and could be solved pretty quickly if parents are prepared. This isn’t to say that abductions aren’t real and the threat is irrelevant.
Here are some of the realities about child abduction to be aware of:
• Most kids who are reported missing have either run away, or there has been a misunderstanding about where they were supposed to be.
• Of the children and teens who are truly abducted, a scary fact is most are taken by a family member or an acquaintance; only 25% of kids are taken by strangers.
• Children are rarely abducted from school grounds.
• Almost all children who have been kidnapped by strangers are taken by men, and about two thirds of involve female children or teens.
• Which brings us to: most abducted kids are in their teens.
What do you tell your kids?
We know there are some great resources out there, but here are some of the best discussion points for talking about the dangers of strangers and child abduction to your kids. I’ve used these personally with my children, and even refreshed them on it again recently (because it’s never a bad idea to cover your bases frequently.)
• Reiterate to your kids to always ask permission from a parent to leave the house, yard, or play area, or to go into someone's home. It’s never okay to stray without first notifying or getting approval from your parent or trusted adult.
• Remind your kids to never accept candy or gifts from a stranger – no matter how nice they seem.
• Remind kids to never go anywhere with a stranger, even if it sounds like fun. Predators can lure kids with questions like "Can you help me find my lost puppy?" or "Do you want to see some cute kittens in my car?" Explain to your kids that adults they don't know should never ask kids to help or to do things for them.
• Explain they are always allowed to say no to anyone who tries to make them do something you've said is wrong or touch them in a way that makes them feel uncomfortable. Remind them they don’t need to be polite, especially if they feel their boundaries have been violated.
• Let your children know it’s okay to run away and scream if someone follows them or tries to force them into a car.
• Remind kids to always tell you (or another trusted adult) if a stranger asks personal questions, exposes themselves in an inappropriate way, or otherwise makes them feel uneasy. Reassure your children it's okay to tell you, even if the other person made them promise not to or threatened them in some way.
• In the case of split families (like mine), where my children are picked up by multiple people, I always remind my kiddos who will be picking them up, or how they are meant to get home (walk, ride bus, etc.). If someone shows up without prior discussion from the parent/guardian for the week, I’ve taught my kids they always need to check in with that parent before going with them. As stated, 75% of abductions occur with someone the child already knows and trusts. A quick phone call is all it takes.
• Make sure your children know their, address(es), phone number(s) including area code, and who to call in case of an emergency.
• Teach your kids a special code word only trusted adults will know. Discuss with them that they are not to go with anyone who doesn't know the code word.
• If your kids are old enough to stay home alone, make sure they keep the door locked and never tell anyone who knocks or calls they are home alone.
How can you prepare for the worst, even while hoping for the best?
There is nothing quite like walking down the alley of your darkest fears; and preparing in the event your child is abducted is definitely a deep, dark fear. However, there’s a catharsis in meandering down a road like that: you find the areas where you have control and even a little bit of leverage.
• For divorced, or separated parents: make sure you always know where your custody documents are, should you need to provide them as proof.
• Take good quality digital ID-like photos of your kids every 6 months and possibly even go as far as having them fingerprinted. Many local police departments sponsor fingerprinting programs.
• Keep your kids' medical and dental records up to date.
• Each day, make a mental note of what your kids are wearing.
• Every couple of months, it’s a smart idea to note your children’s height and weight – in case you ever need to provide those details.
• Never leave kids alone in a car or stroller, even for a minute.
• If you have customized clothing for your kids, avoid having them dress in those outfits when out in public. Children tend to trust adults who know their names.
• Make a big deal about online safety. Help your kids understand the Internet is a great tool, but it's also a place to exercise caution. As parents, we should be aware of our kids' Internet activities and online friends. When they enter the realm of having friends online, we need to remind our kids never to give out personal information unless you all know them in person.
• If you believe your child has been abducted, the first few hours are the most critical in missing-child cases. It's important to contact local law enforcement right away. They'll ask you for a recent picture of your child and will probably ask you many questions about where and when you last saw your child, what they were wearing, how tall they are and how much they weigh. This is why all those details are important to have.
• You may also request to enter your children into the National Crime and Information Center (NCIC). Other clearinghouses such as the Child Protection Education of America ( USA-CHILD) and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children ( 843-5678) can offer information and support during your search.
• After notifying the authorities, remember to try to stay calm. Being able to stop and think rationally will help you communicate with the authorities and hopefully get your child back quickly.
After talking with my kids about the dangers of abduction, it was interesting to hear the questions they had and how matter of fact they were. At ten and six years old, they were able to understand, digest, and communicate any issues our talk brought up. Parents, these talks can be done without scaring the ever-living life out of your kids, but still providing them with the actionable steps and information they need. Try it today; you never know if tomorrow it may come in handy.
Carissa Andrews is an passionate author and freelancer from Minnesotan with a focus in creative writing.