They’re two of a parent’s worst nightmares… their child is abducted or sexually abused. To help prevent these tragedies, don’t rely on the old line “beware of strangers” — as you’ll see below, danger isn’t always lurking where we think it is.
When discussing abduction prevention with your children speak calmly and don’t try to instill fear. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), “Children do not need to be frightened to get the point across. Fear can actually work at cross-purposes to the safety message, because fear can be paralyzing to a child.”·
Communication is Key
Keep communication open between you and your children. Make sure they know they can talk to you about anything that is worrying them. Teach them that if someone touches them inappropriately or makes them feel uncomfortable that they should tell you immediately, even if the person threatens them.
For example, explain to them that after someone like that does something wrong to a child, they may lie to the child and say, “If you tell your parents I’ll hurt someone in your family,” or, “If you tell your Mom and Dad they’ll be mad and upset at you, so don’t tell.”
Set up family safety rules, such as children must always let you know when they are going somewhere, they must use the buddy system if unaccompanied by an adult, and they must never go anywhere with, or even approach the vehicle of, an adult they do not know. You may even want to set up a “family password” that an adult would need to know in order for your children to get into their car.
Beyond the Stranger
We’ve all heard the warning, “Don’t talk to strangers.” But on the contrary, NCMEC advises, “Do not confuse children with the concept of ‘strangers.’ Children do not have the same understanding of who a stranger is as an adult might. Talk more about the attitudes and actions of others that children should be aware of.
The ‘stranger-danger’ message is not 100 percent effective, because danger to children is actually much greater from someone you or they know than from a ‘stranger.’ In fact, some research says as many as 95% of sexual abuse cases involve a family member or family friend. These cases often involve extended family, adults they encounter in extra-curricular activities, or parents or siblings of their friends.
The NCMEC also says, “Be alert to a teenager or adult who is paying an unusual amount of attention to your children or giving them inappropriate or expensive gifts.” Again, these predators will try to put themselves in situations where they can be around children, and will likely be someone your child knows and trusts.
Here are some examples you might want to consider discussing with your children:
Your child is with a friend at the playground. An adult comes over and asks your child to help him look for his lost dog or cat. You might have taught your child to always be helpful, but let you child know that they should never go off with any adult without asking you first.
Another example of an unsafe situation is if an adult (even an adult they know) asks your child to keep a secret from you. Tell your child that anyone who tells them something like this is not a safe person, and that they should tell you immediately.
When in Danger…
Teach your children safety skills, such as yelling, “No!” or, “This is not my Mom/Dad!” and running away. Let them know that if an adult scares them or tries to get the child to go with them, it’s OK to yell.
Don’t let your children open the door at home, whether you are home or not. If your kids are home alone, make sure they know not to let someone in your house, no matter what the person may ask. If they person says they need medical help or emergency help, have your child dial 911 and wait until the professionals arrive.
If your children ever get lost or separated form you, tell them to seek help from a mother with children. Studies show that women with children offer the best chance for safe refuge if your child is in danger.
Finally, don’t forget your preteens and teenagers. They are still vulnerable, even though they are gaining independence. Be sure to involve them in safety discussions as well.