According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) kidnapping statistics, strangers kidnap about 300 American children every year.
Yet, the FBI also reports that there remains a prevalent attitude on the part of today’s parents that “it will never happen to my child.” This attitude causes parents – ironically enough – to avoid providing the tools children need to stay safe in situations both innocent and harmful.
According Middle Tennessee police statistics, more than 2,000 missing person reports are filed annually. This number includes runaways and kidnappers of both youth and adults, but it is the youngest among us who need to learn how to protect themselves from stranger abductions.
This is not meant to scare you.
Four years ago next month, 13-year-old Tabitha Tuders left her East Nashville home in the early morning to catch her school bus bound for Bailey Middle School. She never boarded the bus, and she’s not been seen since. Her parents, both at work during the school day, didn’t learn that she was gone until that evening when she failed to return home.
And because no credible leads pointed to child abduction, police first classified Tuders’ disappearance as a runaway, although her parents insisted that was not possible. Three months later, the police issued an Amber Alert for Tabitha. Still, on that April morning four years ago, in a neighborhood where homes stand very close together, no unusual sounds or sightings were reported. Did Tabitha willingly go with a stranger?
The FBI reports that most child abductions are done by luring children into a vehicle (rather than taking them by force), and 74 percent of child abductions are girls.
So, how can we better equip our children to fight back when they are in dangerous situations?
“The first rule to teach kids is that no one has the right to hurt you,” says child safety expert Don Hallowell, who uses radKIDS, a national child empowerment program that began in 1998, to teach kids how to protect themselves.
“You don’t have the right to hurt anyone else unless they physically hurt you, but if they do try, then you can stop them,” he says.
Locally, the only chapter for radKIDs can be found in La Vergne.
“We teach kids how to protect themselves from predators,” says Gerry Howse, a local radKIDS instructor and the executive director of the La Vergne Police Athletic League (PAL). “Basically, we help kids learn how to keep themselves out of harm’s way and how to get to a safe place,” he adds.
Some of what radKIDS teaches include basic guidelines for safety.
BASICS OF SAFETY
- Know the difference between a good adult and a bad adult
- Know your family password (a secret word known only to your family that indicates a difficult and potentially dangerous event is taking place)
- Understand the difference between a good touch, a bad touch and an uncomfortable touch
Confusion Over “Strangersâ€
Teaching young children to know the difference between good versus bad adults is tricky, and many parents have gone overboard to the extent that their young children won’t talk to adults at all.
“It’s a shame,” local grandmother Vicky Weathers says. “I love children, but many of them have been taught to be afraid of even good people. It’s a break down in society, and I hate to see it,” she adds.
So how do you teach your children the difference?
According to Child Watch of North America, a national missing children organization, advice to never talk to strangers is useless if an adult known to the child is the abductor. Parents can teach children the difference between a good stranger and a bad stranger by telling them what a good stranger would never do: 1) Ask for help of a child; 2) Harm a child in any way; 3) Try to trick a child by luring her with an enticement. Child Watch also says kids should learn that it’s OK to get help from a stranger if they are in danger and how to identify a good stranger (a police officer, store manager, someone in a uniform or in charge).
Your children should also know that they are NEVER to go anywhere with a stranger without asking for your permission.
According to Officer Demitri Carter of the Brentwood Police Department, in 2006 a stranger in a parked light blue minivan approached a 9-year-old Brentwood girl as she began to cross the street. The stranger opened his window and said to the little girl, “I have to ask you a question.” He then started slowly moving his car closer to the girl.
When the stranger asked, “I am looking for my 11-year-old daughter, can you help me?,” the 9-year-old remembered what she had learned from her parents and from a policeman at school. 1) Adults do not need help finding anything; 2) A person trying to kidnap you is always trying to find something; and 3) To run in the opposite direction of the car because it always takes time for a car to turn around. Luckly, she ran, and she got away.
Lately, experts advise parents to tell their children to yell and scream if someone is trying to grab them or lure them into a car. But many kids and parents are stumped by one question: What if the stranger has a gun? Yell, scream and run experts in child safety say.
“That’s not easy,” says Officer Carter. “But I think it’s a chance kids have to take.â€
The FBI also agrees that if a child’s life is endangered by an abductor with a gun, he should scream and run. As fast and as far away as possible.
Susan Day is editor-in-chief of this publication.
safety rules for children
- Learn to use the telephone including how and when to use 911. Memorize telephone number and area code.
- Agree on a family password.
- Always check with my parents first.
- Tell my parents if someone asks me to keep a secret.
- Don’t wear clothes with my name on them.
- Avoid shortcuts, and don’t play in isolated areas.
- Remember adults do not need my help. Ask my parents before helping.
- My parents allow me to do whatever it takes to protect myself.
- Develop an emergency plan. Establish a safe house for assistance.
- Most people are good and would not hurt me. Even so, I still have to be careful and protect myself.
Source: Federal Bureau of Investigation
helpful Web sites
Nationwide nonprofit missing children’s organization …
A safe streets for all kids initiative …
Personal empowerment safety education …
radKIDS class in La Vergne
The next radKIDS – Resist Aggression Defensively – class takes place March 1 – 3 (all dates should be attended) at the La Vergne Multipurpose Building located behind City Hall at 5093 Murfreesboro Road in La Vergne. Class times are Thu from 7 – 9 p.m., Fri 6 – 8:30 p.m. and Sat 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. The class is free. Call instructor Gerry Howse, executive director of the La Vergne Police Athletic League at 793-7744 or 287-8730 to sign-up or to arrange another class for your special group in Middle Tennessee.