One of the most important things we should teach our children is how to take care of themselves when we're not with them. Children should be reminded often that their safety must be the primary consideration in every choice they make, especially when dealing with strangers.
In the past months, several Lawrence children have been approached by suspicious strangers.
Two girls were asked by a man holding a dog leash to go into a wooded area with him to look for his lost dog. An 11-year-old boy playing basketball in a friend's driveway was approached by a man in a car who tried to lure the child into the back seat with a hand-held video game. Several young children have been videotaped and harassed by a man driving a van near their school. And one girl was literally picked up off the street by a stranger who carried her into the basement of a nearby church. (She was rescued almost immediately by a group of adults.)
So what can parents do to prevent their child from becoming a target of dangerous predators? First of all, we must take this seriously. It's true that most child abductions involve family members. But each year in the United States, strangers attempt about 114,000 child abductions and successfully kidnap about 4,000 children.
Parents tend to let their guard down as their children get older. This is dangerous since most child abduction victims are 13 and over. The following guidelines may help prevent your child from becoming a victim:
- Instruct your child to never give out personal information to a stranger -- whether on the phone, in person or over the computer. Explain that even a small piece of personal information (such as the child's first name) could be used to trick him or her. And explain that a stranger is any person that you don't know well. Teach them that a stranger who acts nice and friendly is still a stranger, and people who want them to come closer or gain their trust will act very nice and friendly.
- By nature, children like to be helpful. Many strangers lure children by asking for help. (They may request assistance in getting directions or carrying a heavy bag to their car.) Remind your children that when dealing with strangers, they cannot be helpful and safe at the same time -- and safely always comes first.
- Remind you child that is is never OK for an adult to ask a child for help or directions. These strangers can always find other adults to assist them, and their problems are not your child's responsibility.
- Remind children that no matter how much they want that candy bar, soft drink, video game or money that a stranger is offering, they need to turn and walk away immediately. These items, as well as animals, are often used to lure children to abductors.
- This summer, do not permit your child to operate a lemonade stand -- even if it's in front of your house. This is not safe.
Many children who are approached by abductors are not only alone but also look neglected and are easily swayed by a stranger's affection and attention. Show your children your love and attention at home to help protect them from being easily seduced by a stranger. If possible, minimize the time your child must spend alone each day. Remember that Lawrence has many excellent and affordable supervised summer activities for children of all ages.
-- Jan Arado is the assistant director of development at Headquarters Counseling Center .