Saturday, September 26, 2009


“Don’t talk to strangers” is one of the foremost practices that a lot of families try to instill in children when it comes to guarding personal safety. In recent times however, it has proven to be both inadequate and ineffective. As the world of strangers is becoming bigger these days, thanks to the internet and a host of other advanced technology, our children are more exposed and more vulnerable to predators than ever before. Kidnapping does not just stop at that. The more terrifying reality of it is that kids do not only go missing; they could be in danger of being victims of sexual abuse, human trafficking, or both.In a 2008 report the total number of missing children almost reached 3 million worldwide. What was interesting in the report was that only a very small percentage—less than 15%–fell prey to suspects unknown to the victims. This is extremely alarming because it shows that advising kids to simply not talk to strangers won’t protect them at all since predators anticipate this and are likely to befriend children before staging their attack.Good strangers, bad strangersFirst of all, the word “stranger” needs to be redefined so that both parents and children can be re-oriented as to who should be appropriately considered as such. The most common off-hand definition of “strangers” given to children is that these are people that they do not know.But out at the grocery store or at the gas station, kids see their parents talk to strangers all the time. This is especially confusing to little children and they will probably wonder why it’s okay for parents to talk to people they don’t know but it’s not okay for kids. Try clearing this out by saying there are good people and bad people out there, then follow up by explaining that parents can usually tell the good ones from the bad ones.It would be helpful to add that even nice-looking people can turn out to be bad. The challenge here is that it is nearly impossible to tell who can be trusted. Instead of trying to cover all possible stereotypes and breaking them up for your child, try to focus on tailoring your explanation to the personality of your child. An easily-terrified child should not be made even more wary of the world, while precocious and outgoing children should constantly be reminded to be careful with people they don’t know, whether good or bad.Run, yell, and tellDiana Jones, proponent of the stranger-danger program called Run, Yell and Tell, advises parents that it is good to teach children as early as the age of four about what to do when being attacked by a stranger. She advocates the method of running as the first step, then making noise, and then finding someone to tell the incident to. It is a good idea, according to her, to point to your children some “safety havens” along routes usually taken so they know where to seek help—a police station, fire station, church, and retail shops. It’s also a must to have your child keep money in his pockets at all times which will solely be used for telephone calls in case of an emergency.Be with a buddyAdvise children to always bring a buddy along when going to places such as a public bathroom or when walking home from school. It is even better to be with more than one friend, especially when going out by themselves to places such as the mall or the park. Remind them that there is safety in numbers.Knowing the enemyRemember that kidnappers, child molesters and their ilk know exactly where to find their victims. These places are the ones frequented most by families: shopping centers, playgrounds, amusement parks, fairs, and even school premises. Reminding yourself constantly that there might be a pedophile lurking in the corner will force you to keep your guard up the whole time you are in these places. Next, keep in mind that some predators take their time before attacking. They would go through deliberate lengths NOT to be the person parents tell their children to stay away from.Keeping secretsStart nurturing an open relationship with your children from a very young age. This way, they will learn to feel comfortable talking to you about almost anything because they feel confident and secure. Teach them about the idea of a “safe” secret versus an “unsafe” one. It’s okay to keep a secret about a birthday present, but definitely not about an online friend who is asking for personal details and even photos. Ask your children about their new friends, both young ones and especially the adults. Make them feel that you want to be involved in their social lives but restrain yourself from smothering them too much, or else they will hold back and this will just leave you in the dark about the relationships they have outside the home.Finding the balance here is critical or else they won’t be as open with you as their safety requires.Make room for mistakesDon’t expect your kids to remember every single precaution you outline for them as this is an impossible task even for a grown-up. If your child forgets that she was not supposed to accept a ride from anyone other than you without your permission, let it be a learning experience rather than a reason for punishment. Children are more likely to keep things to themselves when they know that they will be in trouble for something they did, no matter how innocent it was on their part.This is by no means a comprehensive list of how to keep children safe from predators. It is futile to try and cover all possible scenarios because there is just no way to do that without losing one’s head. Even if a parent does succeed in doing so, it will probably be too frightening for the poor child that he would not even dare go out at all. The important thing is that parents should be aware of new and more difficult challenges to the safety of children and that children in turn should be equipped with enough know-how to keep themselves away from harm.I look forward to your comments. This is an important issue so let me know what you think and please kick in any tips you have because you never know whether it could be the difference in saving a child’s life!

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