The recent murders of two little girls within the past few days, one in Florida and the other, in Missouri, prompted me to share my thoughts on this subject.
Nothing brought the subject of missing children to the attention of parents everywhere, like the case of Adam Walsh. Adam went missing on July 27, 1981, from a department store in Florida, and a little more than two weeks later, found murdered. On the day Adam went missing, he was only out of his mother's site for a mere seven minutes. She allowed
Adam to stay with a group of children playing video games as he shopped a few aisles over. Security guards chased the boys for misbehaving and Adam followed the boys out of the store. Seven minutes was all the time a sex-offender needed to lure Adam away.
In the 1980's, authorities handled the case of a missing child differently than they do today. While exhausting theories of running away, hiding, and playing games to scare parents, authorities made parents wait before the real search got underway.
After Adam's case gained national attention, authorities began following different procedures when receiving reports of missing children. Adam's father, John Walsh, is responsible for co-founding the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children in 1984. In the last twenty-five years since the organization began, changes in ways authorities treat cases of missing children have saved countless lives. The center also gives advice to parents on keeping their children safe.
Parents teach their children not to talk to strangers. They inform them of what to do if approached by people on the street, in the playground, even in the schoolyard. They tell their children to let them know if someone makes them feel uneasy.
In recent years, parents started to explain to their children that people they know could be dangerous as well. Families put strategies in place that every member understood in case of an emergency. Children know what to do if they are lost, they know where to go for help, and parents equip their children with contact information of people they know and trust.
Adults even give children specific instructions for what to do if something happens, such as running in the opposite direction if a car stops and offers them a ride. Parents tell their children to run to the nearest home of a friend. They even go as far as taking their children to self-defense classes, but is all of this enough to keep the children safe.
New problems for parents have come up since the case of Adam Walsh made headlines. Along with the tougher laws for child-predators and sex-offenders, came the question of the violation of civil rights for those who prey on children. Because of this, children are in as much danger as they ever were. Parents still have much to do.
Even with all of the explaining, planning, and warnings, children still go missing. There are far too many children abducted, abused, and murdered despite the good intentions. Those that prey on children watch the same shows as parents do that tell them how to talk to their children about strangers. They are determined to stay ahead of parents and of the authorities. It is time for parents to face the reality of this grim situation.
Five things a parent must do to protect their child:
- Never let a young child walk to or from school by themselves
- Know where your child is at all times, before, during, and after school
- Never be distracted from keeping your eyes on your child at all times when not at home
- Never leave your child unattended in crowded areas such as stores, malls, or amusement parks
- Meet and get to know all family members of your child's friends
As children get older, it becomes harder for parents to do these things, but there are rules older children must follow. Parents should know where their teens and pre-teens are going, whom they will be with, and what they will be doing, at all times. If at any time the older child does not comply, grounding them might show them how serious you are.
Parents may believe it is difficult or almost impossible to be everywhere, all the time, with their children, if they both work outside the home. The solution to that would be for them to work different hours to ensure someone is home at all times for their children. If that is not possible, then parents have to decide whether having two incomes is more important than making sure their child does not become a victim.
The legal system does not come down hard enough on child-predators. States hesitate to pass laws to protect children, and civil rights groups advocate for these criminals. People who commit these crimes against children will never be upstanding citizens in any community. Parents, therefore, have to be the ones to protect their children against them. Teaching children about stranger danger is a good idea, but it is definitely not enough anymore.