By LENNOX FARRELL
Right off, you are the first line of defence protecting your child. Second, things unravel rapidly, moreso than you might anticipate…even when they end well. And third, no matter how they end, if you’ve never had a child go missing – even for a minute – for example, in a mall or park, you absolutely do not yet know what hell on earth is. And with children, loss can occur within seconds of inattention. Or distraction. My family knows that. Four decades ago, when our eldest son was a three-year-old in daycare, and both of us at University, I arrived to take him up.
Then, the daycare staff usually had the children awaiting out in the foyer, winter clothing on, with parents rushing in and out picking each child up. He couldn’t be found. The staff couldn’t account for him. Unknown to us, he had meanwhile thought to find his way home, about two blocks away, along a route we’d usually walk him to and from.
Numbed, every minute timeless, I ran. Walked. Ran and re-walked the neighbourhood. Inexpressibly terrified, I then raced home and called the police. Thankfully, some kind soul had bumped into him on the track behind the apartment. Had taken him in. Had called the police.
I can still recall in heart-wrenching detail, the utter sense of despair, fright, loss, and guilt that cascaded over me. Then relief! Oh! When I realized that he was safe! With her presence of mind, Joan had previously taught him his name, and ours. And had also pinned on his coat, our phone number, address, etc. The police had already called. Again, you do not know what hell on earth is until you have a child, grandchild or other dependent relative go missing.
These are not the most pleasant of themes. For that, while being as sensitive as possible, I apologize. However, it were better a child remaining safe if it also meant sharing info that might rub sensibilities rough; yet prove invaluable in need; but hopefully never needed. Again, if you’re a parent, guardian or else, you are that child’s first line of defence. And its last.
Here are some stats. There are three types of kidnapping: Family/Acquaintance and Stranger. It’s estimated that someone goes missing every 30 seconds in Canada; 90 per cent children.
- Stranger kidnapping victimizes more females than males, occurs primarily at outdoor locations, victimizes both teenagers and school-age children, is primarily associated with sexual assaults in the case of girl victims and robberies in the case of boy victims, and is the type of kidnapping most likely to involve the use of a firearm.
- Using U.S. data, only about one child out of each 10,000 missing children reported to police is not found alive. However, about 20 per cent of those reported to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in nonfamily abductions are not found alive.
- In 80 per cent of abductions by strangers, the first contact between the child and the abductor occurs within a quarter mile of the child’s home. Most potential abductors grab their victims on the street or try to lure them into their vehicles. About 74 per cent of the victims of nonfamily child abduction are girls.
- Acting quickly is critical. 74 per cent of abducted children who are ultimately murdered are dead within three hours of the abduction. One in five children 10 to 17 years old receive unwanted sexual solicitations online.
For many parents, a child missing even for minutes is not uncommon; though nonetheless very upsetting. And dangerous. And speaking of danger, who are the young ones most at risk? Those from “troubled homes”. Homes where insecurity is rife. There, for example, a young girl could feel unwanted by her parents; living in conditions that are unwholesome. Citing the data, many – but not all – girls abducted usually come from “at risk” situations.
Such was the case with a teen, Kacie Woody from Arkansas, USA. In 2002, the 13-year-old met David Fuller online in a Christian chat room. Age 47, he tricked her into thinking he was 18. One night when she was home alone, he came into her house, covered her face with a chloroform-soaked rag, and dragged her into a minivan. He’d scouted her earlier, driving from California to stalk her before the abduction. He knew, for example, when she got home from school, when her father left for work, when she’d be at home alone.
Her friends had also been concerned about her freely giving out information to people she’d meet on the Internet. Here, a note of caution: more than for any other source where children are stalked, it is estimated that hourly, more than 50,000 predators troll on social media sites, hunting prey. Kacie’s friends had even spoken to a counselor at school about their concerns for her. It was, unfortunately, too late for her. Fuller kidnapped, raped and killed her.
The magazine, Canadian Living, has a timeless article worth discussing and sharing. Written by Sherryll Krazier, it is titled, “Keep your kids safe on the Internet”. The sub-heading is, “Learn nine ways to make sure your children practise Internet safety”. (http://www.canadianliving.com/relationships/family_connections/keep_your_kids_safe_on_the_internet.php)
There are many similarly helpful sites and links. One of these, parent-sensitive, child-friendly and award-winning is Adina’s Deck (http://adinasdeck.com/). “A series of technology and Internet safety videos for families, schools and organizations (it) helps pre-teens better understand the social side of technology. Designed for 9 to 14-year-olds, stories introduce cyber bullying, predators…with an approach that is suspenseful and impactful. Assessments have demonstrated significant results in educating pre-teens and teens about Internet Safety.”
First, educate yourself, then your child.
Banning a child from certain sites may only motivate them to spend more time on them, whereas educating your child on how to keep safe will give them the tools they need to navigate their online world without being hurt; from not posting personal information to a site to understanding that people they are talking to may not actually be who they are. If the parents know the dangers themselves, this sets an example to the child to understand them as well.
Teach children the obvious identity rules.
Tell your children NOT to put photos of themselves on the Internet or to give out their names, addresses, phone numbers, schools, or other personal information online.
Install an Internet filter or family safety software.
Family safety software is becoming extremely advanced and an effective way to filter dangerous content. Additionally, this software usually comes with tools like time management, remote monitoring and reporting, and keystroke recognition, giving families greater peace of mind and manageability.
Know the dangers associated with sites your children frequent.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Whether it’s MySpace, Facebook or another social networking site, by knowing what people are doing on your children’s favorite sites that could put them in harm’s way, parents can educate their children and show them the warning signs of potentially dangerous situations.
Teach children what to do if they encounter pornography on a home or public computer, such as at a school or a library.
In a similar fashion to the fire warning of “stop, drop and roll”, you can teach children to quickly turn off power to the computer monitor and go to get an adult. This can prevent a child from attempting to stop the situation by clicking more buttons (and thereby spreading the attack and being exposed to more porn).
Manage your children’s time on the Internet.
Scheduling times when a child can be on the Internet and the amount they can be online ensures that you know when they are on the Internet and how long. By not allowing them to have free reign reduces their chances of being exposed to inappropriate content.
Set specific Internet guidelines for your children to live by and consistently enforce consequences, if they are not being followed.
Giving your children specific guidelines to follow will ensure they know where they stand when it comes to how they use the Internet as well as the consequences when they breach the rules. If a parent enforces consequences consistently, their children will be more likely to follow the rules.
Keep computers out of children’s bedrooms and in open areas.
With PCs in the open, children will be less inclined to view and access unacceptable material.
Create a relationship with your children that is conducive to open communication.
Open communication and trust is extremely valuable. By letting children know what is expected from them and that their safety is a top priority, they will feel that if something happens – whether they are approached by a cyber-stranger or bully or receive an inappropriate e-mail – they can approach a parent to resolve the issue without feeling they are in trouble.
Understand Internet Privacy Policies as they apply to your child.
According to the FTC (www.ftc.gov/privacy/privacyinitiatives/childrens.html), parents should be aware of (protecting) the privacy of their children on the web.
To be continued: Europe defined, Bach with brass-knuckles.