Protecting Kids Today
New Skills for a New Generation
Copyright © 1999 by Paula Statman. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission from the author and the publisher, Piccolo Press Publishers.
Note: In 1999, On the Safe Side was updated and published under the new title, "Raising Careful, Confident Kids in a Crazy World"
If you're like most parents I talk to, you grew up with two or three very basic warnings. "Don't take candy from strangers," "Don't accept rides from strangers," and of course, "Don't talk to strangers." Discussions about molestation or abduction were almost unheard of.
Now here we are, the first generation of parents who is expected to safeguard our children with personal safety skills that are far beyond the scope of knowledge our own parents had. We have no role models and limited information. How, exactly, are we supposed to do our jobs? With support, information, and a practical approach that fits into our busy lives, that's how.
Myths and Realities
A parent's worst nightmare is stranger abduction. It may reassure you to know that stranger abduction is a relatively rare crime. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, only one child in 500,000 is abducted by a stranger. Most abductions, about 350,000 a year, are perpetrated by family members embroiled in custody battles. That means that only 1.4 percent of both attempted and successful abductions of children are committed by strangers. The majority of abductors are not strangers in the eyes and minds of the child.
Given these statistics, it behooves us to stop scaring our children with tales of "Stranger Danger." It is realistic and necessary, however, to teach them appropriate safety skills for dealing with all people, including people they know and trust, such as, "If any grownup-- no matter who it is -- tells you to do something that makes you uncomfortable or confused, say no. Then come tell me about it."
Many of us are shocked to learn that sexual abuse of children was as serious of a problem thirty, forty years ago as it is today. We now know that principal child abusers are often parents, stepparents, and live-in lovers, women as well as men. This betrayal of love and friendship angers us. We don't quite know how to explain this truth to our children, particularly when it wasn't something that was commonly discussed when we were growing up. It is an uncomfortable truth we'd prefer not to face.
Today we raise our children with more restrictions, structure and supervision than we grew up with. More children are enrolled in supervised after-school activities such as team sports, Scouting or latchkey programs. We impose strict curfews, forbid them from playing outside after dark and require our children to check in regularly when they are off with friends. Childhoods now--urban, suburban or rural--are neither the childhoods we had, nor the childhoods we would have invented for our children.