A recent article I wrote, titled "A Predator is Always a Predator," discussed the 750,000 registered sex offenders in the U.S., the thousands more unaccounted for, the thousands more who've never been caught, and the fact that predators live amongst us. In Cleveland, Ohio, the residents know this all too well. Shock and disbelief is the common vibe in reaction to the news that three evil men abducted three innocent teen girls and held them captive for roughly 10 years.
In a 2009 horror story also out of Cleveland, a convicted rapist lured a 21-year-old woman to his bedroom back in 1989, spent 15 years in jail and then got a free pass in 2005. And, of course, he did it again. Why? Because that's his brand of normal. It's not OK, but it's normal in that it's his nature. A psychologist said to me years ago, "You would be amazed at how many levels of normal there are."
A recent report of "Brooklyn Missing Boy: Police Arrest Man the Dismembered Child Had Asked for Directions" reminded us about how there always have been predators, there are predators today and there always will be predators-and we have to take steps to protect ourselves and those we care for.
When a true stranger-not a family member, not someone known to the child-steals a child, that child often won't survive beyond three hours.
No matter what the statistics are, child abductions are real-and they happen far too often.
The last thing you ever want to think about is your child getting taken away from you by a stranger or even someone you know. And while the statistics aren't nearly are bad as one would think, parents think about child abduction all the time.
The old-school training a lot of us received early on was, "Don't talk to strangers"-as if strangers were the dangerous ones. Actually, most abductions occur when a family member takes the child after winding up on the losing end of a custody battle.
Today, most so-called helicopter parents won't take their eyes off their kids-and I don't see that as a bad thing. I know many will argue that point, but I don't care.
Protecting yourself and your children begins with understanding basic security.
- As simple as it sounds, do not engage in behavior that creates an opportunity for the bad guy. Example: being too nice and accommodating. Recognize a potential lure.
- In the event that a child was to be approached, the best defense is a good offense. Resistance has often been a proven tactic for removing oneself from a dangerous situation. Running, screaming, biting, hitting, and kicking may feel unnatural to teach your kids, but they are certainly natural traits they possess. I say if they are good at it now, train them to do it better!
- As soon as your child is at an age where he or she can comprehend this issue, it's time to discuss it. By age four kids have a pretty good grasp, but age five they seem to be on solid footing.
- Roleplay with your kids. This is a delicate balance of awareness and play. Intellectually introduce scenarios for them to respond to. See how they articulate a response. Let them figure it out on their own. Then, if they don't give you the answer you were looking for, work with them to understand the nature of their choice and its negative impact.
- Be specific, but be careful how you associate your analogies. Example: "If a white van pulled up next to you" will freak your kid out every time he or she sees a white van and will only make the child wary of people in vans, as opposed to those in cars or on foot.
- Make sure to discuss the internet and online predators. I'll discuss this in-depth in a future post, but in the meantime, do your research and know what risks your kids face. Take control of their access to PCs and monitor everything they do.
- Most importantly, this kind of education is about empowerment. It's about taking control. It's a gentle awareness that can very well save their lives. Don't guilt them into making the right decisions and make them feel bad about not understanding the issue. If they aren't ready to comprehend the issue, then back off for now.
- Always keep an eye on people who look out of place. Don't take your eyes off the ones who belong, either. Predators often know their victims.
- And because your kids spend the majority of their time at home, do all the necessary things to strengthen your fort. Invest in home alarm systems. Install home security cameras inside and outside the home. Install proper fencing that keeps them in and others out.
- Finally, live in peace and harmony. The chances that something like this can happen are very, very slim. But there is a chance, so these are your options.
Here's more from Psychology Today on keeping your family safe.