“Don’t talk to strangers,” and “Look both ways before crossing the street,” used to be the only two pieces of information our children needed before being sent out to school or to play. The world has changed a great deal since that was the case, however, and parents must do more to protect their families from the dangers posed by child predators.
Parenting is tougher now than at any other time in American history. Television, music, movies, and video games reinforce increasingly violent messages. In tough economic times, parents must often make do for their children. More single parents and dual-income often means less family time for children. So it is also a tough time in America to be a child.
New technologies such as the Internet, less parental supervision, and the busy lives we lead all contribute to increased risk for our children out in the world. The few child abductions that receive national media attention represent only a fraction of the incidents in which children are put at risk, or even lost, to criminals who select their targets from among the young and defenseless.
According to estimates by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, 800,000 children are reported missing every year. About 115 children are the subject of the most serious, long-term abductions. Child predators are an all-too-real threat to our children. These crimes are just as likely to occur in rural areas as in urban ones, and these criminals do not discriminate on the basis of anything but age.
There is no greater tragedy than the loss of a child, especially when it is potentially preventable.
As parents, there is a great deal we can do to minimize the possibility of our children becoming endangered.
Fingerprinting can drastically aid local authorities and national law enforcement in identifying children. Amber alerts and statewide notification systems are only one half of the equation when we respond to a report of an abduction. A reliable database of children’s fingerprints enables federal, state, and local authorities to all be on the same page when a suspected missing child is found.
Forensic quality fingerprints go into a national database, and in many cases, children can also be issued a fingerprint ID card which contains other critical information, such as a photo, full name, address, hair and eye color, and date of birth. Similar photo ID cards are available for minors in Missouri, and this means of identification can serve the same helpful purpose.
Make sure your children know vital information: including address and phone numbers. Walk them to the bus stop whenever possible, and make sure they know and follow their schedules both before and after school.
Also, be mindful of the access to dangerous situation available via the Internet. Show your children how to use what can be a valuable educational tool in a safe, responsible way. Utilize the parental controls on the Internet to block sexuality explicit sites and virtual “chat rooms,” the turf that child predators regularly use to hunt.
Neighborhood watches partnered with local police departments create safer environments for children. Participating in Safe House programs for children also creates opportunities for us to help one another in our communities. These programs supplement efforts to reduce all kinds of crime in our communities- not just crimes against the young.
But the single best thing we can do for our young children is to talk to them. Let them know that they are valued and loved. The stronger they identify with the family at an early age, the more likely our guidance is to sink in. Young children are impressionable, and that innocence we prize in them is the same weakness child predators set out to exploit.
Discuss safety issues with your children in an open, nonthreatening way, and remember to be specific about the definition of stranger. Children often do not have the same understanding of who a stranger is as an adult might.
As our children age, there will be plenty of other dangers about which to caution them. So set the precedent early, and keep the lines of communication open. Someday, they may even thank you for it.
Visit the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at www.missingkids.org and Project Safe Neighborhoods at www.psn.gov to learn ore about crime prevention in our communities.