Before our brief intermission in my series on child abductions, I promised to talk about some things your child needs to be able to do in order to be safer as they gain some independence. Essentially, it’s the same things anyone needs to have a handle on in order to keep themselves out of harm’s way.
My previous posts have focused on the danger posed to your child by someone specifically targeting them. Statistically, such a person won’t be a stranger who sweeps in out of the blue. While that does happen sometimes, it’s far, far more likely for your child to be victimized by someone known to them (and to you). As I argued before, trying to instill in your kid a fear of all strangers isn’t going to help them. Ideally, your child (and you) wouldn’t be afraid that he or she will be kidnapped or abused by every person they don’t know but would instead only be afraid of the people (whether familiar or not) who actually do mean them harm.
Right now, the fact that you’re even able to engage in the activity of reading a blog on the internet suggests that you’re very far removed from the sorts of life-or-death struggles faced by every human being who ever lived up until the last few generations. We can’t relate to the harsh realities of life on Earth that our modern civilization has been designed to insulate us from. Nevertheless, you wouldn’t be here to read these words if it wasn’t for the fact that every single direct ancestor of yours survived long enough to successfully reproduce, all the way back to either the first single-celled organism or to Adam and Eve, depending upon your point of view. Not one of your direct ancestors got eaten by a tiger or killed in a conflict or fell off a cliff — at least, not before having children (who were almost certainly raised by someone who was clearly good at surviving).
All of that is to say that human beings are actually really, really good at detecting potential threats. You wouldn’t be here if that wasn’t true. The real trick, in our modern society, is being able to stay in tune with that intuition and knowing how and when to act on it. People constantly ignore that inner voice when listening to it would be disruptive or might make them seem rude. It’s like if Spider-Man’s spidey-sense were to go off while he’s in his civilian clothes and he chose to ignore it because suddenly leaping or dodging away might freak people out. Don’t take my word for it, though. Go watch The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and you’ll see the killer telling James Bond the same thing. When people feel like they’re in a social situation, they won’t act like they are in a survival situation, even when it’s just them and their potential victimizer.
Children are even easier to manipulate into danger because they are inexperienced, easy to put pressure on, and they are accustomed to having to go along with what adults tell them. Imagine that someone who doesn’t have your kid’s best interest at heart is trying to get your child to do something when you aren’t around. Maybe it’s a stranger trying to lure your boy away from the playground or a teenager trying to convince your daughter to have a drink or whatever. What would your child need to be able to do to protect themselves? They’d have to understand that whatever’s going on isn’t right — that’s probably the easy part. Then, they’d have to be able to say no and insist on that. Maybe loudly and forcefully. If that didn’t work, they’d have to have the wherewithal to leave and seek help. Are they self-possessed enough to handle that? Can they be confident that you’ll support them after the fact?
Keep in mind, if they’ve successfully avoided trouble, it might not be clear that anything would have happened. Instead, it may appear that they’ve talked back to an adult, refused to go do the really fun thing, or come home earlier than arranged. It can be hard to support your kid when they can’t find the words to say, “Mr. Brown gives me the heebee-jeebees and he was at the park so I wanted to come home early from the playdate rather than be there.” Instead, you get a phone call from Mrs. Smith telling you your kid is already asking to go home and you are having your first few minutes of peaceful alone time in weeks. You talk to your kid and all they can say is, “Mom, I want to come home. Come get me. Please.”
It’s good if your child is able to make a scene and break away from someone who is, say, actively trying to touch them inappropriately. It’s best if that situation is avoided entirely before it ever arises. Managing that mostly requires diligence on the parents’ part. Does that daycare place actually do background checks on people before they’re hired? Did you call all of the references your babysitter listed? Have you checked to see if a sex offender is registered as living near any place your children spend a lot of time?
Heavy stuff! Next time, I will be reviewing a book the Wife and I like a lot that covers all these topics and more and is written by an actual, real-life expert. Then I’ll get back to lighter stuff, like cute things my kids say. Promise.