Preventing Child Abduction
by Dr. Dale V. Atkins, April 2013
Child abduction is rare, but it does happen. According to the FBI National Crime Information Center, every 40 seconds in the United States, a child becomes missing or is abducted. Fortunately, the majority of missing persons cases are resolved within hours, but many are not.
One of the challenges of being a parent is teaching our children to be alert and cautious as a way of being safe in all aspects of their lives, WITHOUT filling them with fear or anxiety. Just as we talk about water, fire, traffic, vehicle, and physical safety, we need to talk about neighborhood safety.
Although there are always dangers that exist, we lessen the chances that our children will be abducted if we have ONGOING discussions and offer opportunities to practice reinforcing specific guidelines in the context of their overall safety and well being. In doing so, we can teach our children how to be safe in general, and how to help safeguard themselves against abduction.
Sometimes a news report, a story, a TV show, or a neighborhood event will be the catalyst for beginning the conversation, calmly, yet seriously. Or, we may just feel it is the appropriate time.
We can begin the discussion with basic reminder points such as:
-- approach a car they don't know;
-- accept candy or gifts from people they don't know;
-- go with a person who asks for the child's help to find a lost dog or another child;
-- go with a person they don't know EVEN if the person calls them by name or indicates they know the child's address;
-- go with a person who says that the child's parent is ill and asked this person to bring the child to them;
Additionally, we can teach children to inform their parents or caregivers where they are going, where they are, and whom they are with; as well as emphasizing the importance of being with a "buddy" when they are in public and to avoid telling strangers their name, address, or personal information.
Some less obvious discussion points have to do with suggestions for what to do if a child is lost. Ask for your child's input and validate his or her ideas whenever possible. Emphasize that if they get lost in a public place, e.g., a store or a mall, they should stay where they are and ask someone who works there to help find their parents. Additionally, we need to tell our children to avoid telling strangers their name or where they live.
In the event that someone makes them feel uncomfortable, teach them to tell an adult they trust, whether a parent, teacher or neighbor. If the situation escalates to where they feel they are being followed, teach them to think about getting away as quickly as possible. Suggest they find places where they know an adult or where there are a lot of people.
If they are being followed by a car, suggest they turn to to run in the opposite direction the car is traveling. If someone tries to lead them away, tell them, to scream "Help!", "I don't know you!", or "Stranger!" You can practice role playing with your children. Suggest that the child do anything to get away. That includes biting, kicking, or punching.
As parents, we must do our best to keep lines of communication open with our children. Regularly, without panic, talk with children about issues related to safety precautions they need to be aware of while at home and in public.
Children are at highest risk of abduction before and after school, which are usually the times when they have least adult supervision. It is important to listen to what our children have to say, because they might not always know how to communicate to us about when they have felt in danger. Finally, If a child does report any suspicious behavior, alert your neighbors and your local authorities immediately.