You Never Know If Your Child Believes a Stranger
Although reports on missing children are down 40% since the time the last pertinent survey was conducted back in 1999, the problem is still there. Maybe, reassuring numbers are the reason why we grow more carefree, not to say careless. As rare as they are, child abductions by a non-family member are truly horrible, and we must do all we can to ensure our children are protected. According to the data collected via the aforementioned survey:
- 80% of stranger abductors make the first contact with the child within a quarter mile of the child’s home.
- 74% of the victims are girls.
- 2% of abducted children who are murdered are dead within three hours of the abduction.
- Nonfamily abductions take place mostly at outdoor locations, victimize both teenagers and school-age children, and are more often associated with sexual assaults and robberies (in the case of girl and boy victims respectively).
- Most potential abductors snatch their victims from the street or lure them into their cars.
- In 40% of stranger kidnappings, the child was killed.
This YouTube channel shares videos of various social experiments related to the topic of child abduction (stranger with a cute fluffy dog leading children away from the playground, offering them a ride in his flamboyant car or inviting trick-or-treaters to come into his house.)
These videos show how wrong we are while assuming that children understand the meaning of “stranger danger”. They are very susceptible and trusting, so it is important to ensure they will not do something similar to what the heroes of these experiments recklessly did.
What can you do to make your children safer and equip them against potential perpetrators? Here is some advice.
You most certainly noticed how sure the parents were before the experiment that their children would run back to them should a stranger try to make a contact, and how shocked they were by what actually happened. Here is the first lesson:
- If you tell your children not to talk to the strangers, that does not necessarily mean they understand you correctly. Help them getting a grasp of the concept. Ask them to describe who is the stranger and what do they look like. Probably you will find that your child imagines a stereotypical cartoonish villain or at least, someone who looks harsh and unpleasant.
It is important to make children understand that stranger is anyone they do not know. Even if it is a smiling young person with a cute puppy – you children must know not to follow this person under any circumstances.
Give the examples of lies such person may tell to lure a child away: puppies, candies, UFO landed on the other side of the park, Batman gives away free ice-creams around the corner, they need a “cute kid like you” to shoot a commercial. Whatever the case, you child must turn to you or another trusted person for the permission and counsel.
- Do not add gruesome details as incitement – instead, try reasoning: if a stranger seemingly needs urgent help or assistance, grown-ups can handle the situation better, so it will be only logical to call them for help either way.
- However, as the video suggests, it is important that your child be aware of possible consequences. In order to warn them without scaring to the extent where they will need therapy, put the implications mildly (“You will never see you mommy and daddy again”, “If they will be mean to you, we won’t know where to find you to protect you”, “You will never come home and your mommy will cry”).
You cannot always be around, so sometimes your child stays unattended (for example, on the way home from the school, playing in a park with their friends etc.) and cannot turn for your immediate help. What should they do if their gut instinct tells them the situation may present danger?
- Teach your children what to do if they think they are being followed. Tell them that it’s better to head to the nearest place where they can find help – their school, a shop, a café, instead of trying to get home through the deserted park.
- Tell them, that if they feel endangered, they must draw attention by screaming, even being destructive. Desperate times call for desperate measures: tell your children that they are allowed to kick, scream and make a mess and commotion (for example, knock down the trashcan in the street) if a stranger is trying to make a grab for them.
Use GPS tracking or similar monitoring software to know their location and teach them to inform you always, if they are going to deviate from their usual route. Also, teach your children the means of communication and emergency numbers.
The decline in abduction by a stranger may be partially due to the fact that predators chose social networks and other digital resources to make the first contact and gain child’s trust. This way they are “known” to their intended victim before they meet in person. So the perpetrators are moving from grabbing children on the streets to luring them out of the house.
In 2015 the CyberTipline received 4.4 million reports, related to child sexual abuse images, online enticement, “sextortion”, child sex trafficking and child sexual molestation.
The shocking truth is that one in five children 10 to 17 years old receives unwanted sexual solicitations online. To prevent this, check on your child’s cyber life, by either systematical physical access, or using monitoring software on your children’s devices.