Tag Archives: safety

Reviewing the Book: Protecting the Gift

As a way to finally stop flogging the deceased equine I’ve been working on for the past two weeks, I’d like to review an excellent book on the topic: Protecting the Gift by Gavin De Becker.

Like Wonder Weeks, I knew when I started this blog that I wanted to write about this book. Given the topics I’ve been discussing lately, now seemed like the best time for it.

De Becker is an expert on threat assessment and predicting violent behavior. His firm has consulted for government agencies, high-placed officials, and corporations. From what he reveals in the book about his own childhood, De Becker became familiar with most of the threats children can face at an unfortunately early age. When he turns that expertise towards the dangers facing children the result is a book full of concrete, practical information… 

“Wait,” I say. “Won’t your readership think you are talking about safety like, don’t leave diaper pins on the floor and make sure slides are some mathematical equation high to prevent traumatic brain injury? Isn’t it important that first thing they understand that this is a book about keeping your kids safe from child predators and sexual abuse?”

So The Dad says, “While I finish the dishes will you write about Protecting the Gift?”

“I’ll try,” I say. That was 5 minutes ago.

About 2 hours ago LifeLock alerted me to the fact that a violent sexual offender has moved into our neighborhood about 2 blocks away.  Before I read this book, I might have been tempted to freak out silently and then pretend I didn’t know.  That is common.  That is being a “denier” and it is dangerous for kids.

People who fixate on the wrong issues pretend that sexual abuse could not happen to their child or a child they know, or think that their money, power, or religion make them immune to such awfulness are in denial.  Denial is dangerous.  It robs a person of knowledge and knowledge is power.  Protecting the Gift helps identify the real risks children face and how to navigate this world without being afraid.  As a bonus it helps teach parents, teachers, daycare workers, and anyone else who works with kids how to raise children to be confident and capable but also protected.

When we were young parents and needing to hire a babysitter for our precious first child we did not have the alacrity to look someone in the eye and ask, “what would you do if you realized the child you were minding was masturbating?” or “Have you ever suspected that a child in your care was being sexually abused?  What would you do if you suspected a child in your care was being sexually abused?”  Of course we wanted our darling to have an amazing caregiver but we had no idea how to get from home wanted ad to actual safe, reliable sitter.  De Becker’s book opened our eyes to the importance of discussing these taboo things with anyone who was going to be a consistent care giver for our children.  It also informed our process for referencing of babysitters.

De Becker also lays out all the prerequisite skills a kid needs to safely navigate the world alone.  How does one know that a kid is ready for the wide open world of shopping at the mall with friends at 12, going to a slumber party at 9, or being left at a playdate under the other parents’ supervision at 4?

Lastly, and most importantly, Protecting the Gift talks about intuition and instinct.  About honoring it and acting on it even when our societal preference for nicety and quiet have to be thrown out the window.  It gives a permission that is lacking for most people—the permission to actively and without hesitation act to keep children safe.

This should be required reading for every parent.  End of story.

(That was a million times better than my first crack at this. Thanks, Dear!)

James Bond Ignores His Spidey-Sense

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.

The Danger of Stranger Danger

Welcome back, Dear Reader, to our week-long discussion of child abductions. Last time, we looked at the Very Interesting World of Numbers and saw that while most parents fear that their child will be kidnapped by a stranger, the reality is that such a scenario is extremely rare. In most cases, a missing child hasn’t been taken by anyone — they are runaways, throwaways*, or their parents just don’t know where they are. In cases where a child has been taken, it’s far more likely to be by someone they know than by a stranger. Often, it’s a custodial interference situation where one parent has taken the child away from the other, or the child’s legal guardian.

Which isn’t to say that our children don’t face very real dangers from the big, bad world. So what’s a parent to do? What strategies can we employ and teach our kids that can help them be safer?

[Hang on. Speaking of child safety I just saw something tumble off the couch onto the floor near where little Z is… Okay, everyone’s off the baby now.]

Many of us fall back on the old “don’t talk to strangers” routine. If I’m not mistaken, the first mom in the video I discussed last time said she tells her daughter every day not to talk to strangers. It didn’t work for her, though, and it’s not likely to work for anyone else. After all, our kids see us break that rule every day, don’t they? And we encourage them to break it, too.

“Oh, she’s just being shy today,” we say. “Now, honey, the nice man/my friend from college/our minister/the grocery clerk we see every week/your sister’s teacher/our new neighbor/the policeman/that old woman/the cheerful waiter/my cousin who never visits/the vaguely creepy guy in line behind us asked you your name. Answer him, please; don’t be rude.”

All of those people are strangers to your child, even if they aren’t to you. (And, yes, any of those people might be capable of abusing or kidnapping your child, even the ones you already know.) Insisting that your child talks to some strangers while telling them not to talk to any strangers just confuses them and erodes your credibility. Anyhow, children learn from watching adults, and they can see that you don’t run away shouting “stranger danger!” whenever someone you don’t know talks to you. And why don’t you?

Seriously, think about it for a moment. Adults get assaulted and robbed and kidnapped by people they don’t know, right? Happens all the time. So the next time a stranger talks to you in the grocery, how to do know they aren’t about to pull out a weapon and ruin your day?

Well, you have several years of experience dealing with human beings that help you judge these things. Drawing upon your knowledge of body language, facial expression, and the context of your surroundings you decide that this guy isn’t about to pull out a trench knife and gut you like a fish in the middle of the store.

Though, if you’re a woman, you would probably have warning bells go off if you were to notice him following you out to your car. That’s because you know what behaviors might lead to danger and can take action before the danger happens. That is what will keep your child safe, too.

Kids don’t need to be afraid of all strangers, they need to be able to make accurate assessments of them and to be able to understand when something isn’t right. In order to do that, they need a baseline to know what “normal” is, which can only be gained by interacting with people. In fact, teaching your kids how to talk to strangers, rather than to always avoid them, is a better safety strategy, especially if they ever need help and you’re not around.

(By the way, in addition to “don’t talk to strangers” parents often tell their children to seek out a policeman if they are lost or need help. This is problematic for a number of reasons. Just to name one, where we live you almost never see a police officer just standing around, waiting for someone to come to him with a problem. In order to get help from the police, a kid would need to be able to dial 911 and then describe where they are — or approach an adult and ask them to do that for them, in which case we’re back to talking to strangers. Instead, teach your children that if they are separated from you and need help they should go find a woman. They’re much more likely to be able to locate one quickly and women are far more likely than men to stay with a child until they get the help they need.)

As a way to give her experience interacting with adults she doesn’t know, and because it’s a good way for her to learn important social skills, we will often let RU (and, more recently, even MeToo) tell the waiter her order at restaurants. After we’ve helped her decide what she’s having, of course. Every now and then we have her handle paying for something while we stand behind her and give her help if she needs it.

[Me: “Honey, what else do we do to help the kids get used to dealing with strangers? I’ve mentioned that we let them order their food and sometimes we let RU pay at a register. What else?”

The Wife: “We also model talking to strangers ourselves.”

MeToo: “RU not like strangers.”

The Wife: “RU doesn’t like strangers?”

MeToo: “No. I — I like strangers.”

The Wife: “You talk to them a lot don’t you?”

MeToo: “Yeah!”]

My kids are all under five, so they’re too young to be responsible for their own safety, anyway. It’s not their job to be on the lookout for possible kidnappers or other dangers, it’s mine. If I may return to the “social experiment” video I talked about last time, did those kids look old enough to be responsible for themselves? No, of course not. Had a similar situation happened to my child** and a stranger with a cute little dog started talking to her on the playground, I would not be worried for her. That’s not because I know she wouldn’t talk to a stranger but because if my child is at the park, I will be nearby where I can see her. If I’m sitting on a bench, it will be a bench that affords good sight lines and is between my child and the nearest exit. I’m not worried about any stranger approaching my child because I will be there to intervene (and may Mr. T have pity on them, because I sure won’t).

One day, my kids will be old enough to be an active partner in keeping them safe. I’m trying to raise them to become independent, confident, competent adults (ideally, adults who are better at life than those around them and who have an appreciation of the classics). The kinds of skills they will need for that are the same ones that will help them be safer in the world while they’re still young.

Which is what I want to talk about next (same Dad-time, same Dad-channel).

*This is not my word. It is apparently the term for kids whose parents threw them out of the house and have no place to go. Doesn’t that make you want to punch someone in the mouth?

**And if someone approaches me in public about letting my child be a part of their social experiment, I would turn them down. If I were to say yes, it would only be so that I could step in and put an end to it just as if it were the real thing. I’m not going to let anyone I don’t know and trust lead my kid away, even if it’s just for a social experiment or whatever. My kid doesn’t need to have that experience. Besides, if you’ll watch the video again, you’ll notice we never see the boy in the dark blue outfit with white stripes again after he’s lead away. We never see him being returned to his mom… Joey Salads claims another victim…

Child Abductions, Joey Salads, and Statistics

I’m sure you’ve seen the video that went around a couple of weeks ago where a man named Joey Salads conducts a “social experiment” (as opposed to his normal pranks) wherein he lures children away from a playground after using his cute, white puppy to break the ice (he got the parents’ permission first). It’s essentially the same “social experiment” that was done on the Oprah Winfrey show about thirteen years ago and it’s supposed to deliver the same message: don’t let your kids talk to strangers.

Yeah, I know. I may be Johnny-Come-Lately on this, since it was a whole two or three weeks ago that this came out. I was in the middle of transitioning to my current job, so when I caught a bit of it on the news, I just rolled my eyes and went on about my business. It wasn’t until this week that it occurred to me that the reason why it was being shown on the news for several days in a row and making the rounds on the Internet is because it successfully plays on so many peoples’ fears. Not everyone automatically dismisses the video and its message, and this was a good opportunity to give an opposing point of view and set some things straight.

What the video encourages us to be afraid of is what the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children calls “stereotypical kidnappings,” defined as a kidnapping involving a “stranger or slight acquaintance who detains the child overnight, transports the child at least 50 miles, holds the child for ransom, abducts the child with intent to keep the child permanently, or kills the child.” I guess they use this name because it’s what parents are stereotypically afraid of, because it isn’t a typical kidnapping at all. Out of the total number of 797,500 missing children (according to this 1999 study, which is where NCMEC gets their statistics) only 115 fall into this category. That’s 0.014 percent.

This is what we parents are supposed to be so overwhelmingly concerned about? Your child is more likely to be struck by lightning. Elephants kill about five times that many people annually! To give you a more serious comparison, more children are backed over by their own parents every month than are kidnapped by strangers in a year.

The biggest fear of many parents (and a close second for many more) is that their child might be kidnapped by a stranger. As the numbers show, however, no matter how scary that thought may be the reality is that it almost never happens.

Children are far, far more likely to be abducted by a parent or family member or someone they know well. Often, these are cases of “custodial interference” where one parent takes the child away from the other parent or a legal guardian. Unlike a creepy stranger with a cute puppy, this situation does not arise totally out of the blue. The NCMEC’s publication “Family Abduction: Prevention and Response (6th edition)” lists “red flag” indicators that your child may be taken by the other parent. These include such subtleties as they have threatened to abduct your child or have a history of marital instability, lack of cooperation with the other parent, domestic violence, or child abuse.

Let me hit this point one more time. Most children who are kidnapped are taken by someone they know, not a stranger. In fact, it’s often Mom or Dad.

Now, how many of them were told over and over never to talk to strangers? That it would be a weird person they don’t know who hurts them or takes them away? And how many parents worried about that scenario and ignored the real danger they were living with?

All of us are prone to exaggerate the dangers of things we’re afraid of. Instead, if we parents are going to actually make our children safer, we need to focus on the real situations that are likely to threaten them, not the ones in our nightmares.

In other words, you should stay awake at night worrying about car accidents, instead.

So if you’re rolling your eyes at me right now, please be patient. I plan to talk about this more this week, too, because it dovetails nicely with some other topics I’ve wanted to tackle.

In the meantime, though, let’s look at some facts and figures.

There are a lot to be found at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children but what I found most telling was listed here. According to their source (which is this study from 1999), around 800,000 children are abducted annually. That sounds like a whole lot, right? But what does that really mean?

The study gives an exact total of 797,500 children reported missing in 1999. But being reported missing isn’t the same as being kidnapped. Having someone entered into the National Crime Information Center’s database as “missing” doesn’t take much more than a police report. And, despite the impression people have gotten from TV and movies, you don’t have to wait for someone to be gone for 24 hours before you make a missing persons report (at least not where I live, your mileage may vary). If your teenager storms out of the house and starts walking to their friend’s place you can pick up the phone right then and dial the police to ask them to come and report your kid a runaway, even if you can still see them down the street. If your ex-husband is just five minutes late bringing the kids back from their weekend with him, you can start the process to report them — and you’d better believe that happens.

And when your lost child turns out to be hiding under the bed, or your teenager gets brought back home, or your lousy ex finally shows up, the system still remembers that somebody was reported missing. To get our data from another source for a minute, according to the National Crime Information Center, there were a total of 635,155 entries made into their missing person files in 2014 (and that’s total entries, not just juveniles) — and 634,367 entries were removed that same year (a difference of only 788). The raw data doesn’t differentiate between a real kidnapping victim who was safely returned home and a kid who was playing a joke on his parents and wasn’t really gone at all.

Looking at the 1999 study again, let’s go over all the reasons why children get reported missing, by percentages.

A huge 45% of the children who were reported missing were either runaways or “throwaways,” a term meaning the parent kicked the kid out of the house without making arrangements for them to have a place to go to.

Another 43% were classified as “Missing, Benign Explanation,” which means the caretaker couldn’t find them, got worried, and made a report but it turned out the kid wasn’t kidnapped or lost or hurt or a runaway — the caretaker just didn’t know where they were at the time.

“Missing Involuntary, Lost, or Injured” children make up the next 8%. These are unfortunate kids who got lost or hurt on the way home and either couldn’t or didn’t know how to contact their parents.

Family abductions make up 7% of missing children cases.

Non-family abductions, which includes “stereotypical” kidnappings, are only 2% of all missing children cases reported by caregivers.

Don’t worry, there’s no test later. Unless your name is Joey Salads, in which case it’s already in the mail. Use a No. 2 pencil only, please, Joey, and show your work!

Anybody know Joey's address?
Anybody know Joey’s address?