Families are often worried about the potential for kidnapping or abduction. Missing person cases are on the news and nothing is scarier than the thought of your family member being abducted, in someone else’s hands, and not knowing where they are or if they are okay. This fear doesn’t go away as your children grow, either. Teens and young adults are the most likely age range to be kidnapped or disappear for other reasons, such as in the case of Lauren Spierer, a college student who went missing at the age of 20.
While it is true that the thought of kidnapping is frightening, in reality, you have a very low chance of becoming a victim of abduction. However, there are things you can do to lower your risk even more, including self-education, talking with your children, and other simple steps. Here are some of the things that you can do to help protect your family against kidnapping.
Develop a Plan
Discuss potential abduction scenarios with your family and develop a plan of action. Young children should be taught what to do if they get separated from you in a store or park. Teach them how to find safe helpers when they are lost. Older children should also learn how to safely find help and how to know which adults are the most likely to be trustworthy. They should learn how to contact you in an emergency, and you should set up safe “meet-up” places when you go to amusement parks, the mall, and other large public areas.
Get Close to Your Kids
Be involved in your children’s lives and pay attention to any changes in behavior that may indicate they are being targeted or groomed by a kidnapper. This is also the best way to protect your teens and young adults from kidnapping, as well as help protect them from drugs, mental health problems, and dangerous friends. Changes in behavior can be a sign of dangerous situations, such as happened in the case of missing teen Bryce Laspisa who began acting strangely before disappearing on his way home from college.
Learn to Be Aware
Be aware of your surroundings and pay attention to anyone who may seem suspicious. Kidnappers take advantage of people who are distracted or distressed. Teach your teenage and young adult children to stay aware of their surroundings when they are out and about. This is especially important when they are in high-risk situations, such as when they have been drinking or are out late.
Use the Buddy System
Avoid going out alone in unfamiliar or high-risk areas. Your children should learn to use the buddy system when they are out in public, such as when on vacation, visiting attractions, or shopping. When they are young, they are unlikely to be alone without you but as they get older they will begin venturing out on their own. Teach them to take buddies when they leave you to visit the restroom or go shopping alone. Teens and young adults should always stay with friends when partying or going out at night.
Know When to Trust Your Gut
Teach your children to trust their instincts and leave a situation if they feel uncomfortable or threatened. In many cases, what we call “instinct” or “intuition” is actually our subconscious responding to threats or unusual situations that we haven’t registered yet. These subtle feelings of being unsafe or uncomfortable can help us be more aware and observant if we learn to listen to them.
Learn Online Safety
Don’t share personal information online or with strangers. Teach your children how to stay safe online, and don’t let them have access to forums and games where they can talk to strangers until they understand the risks and know what information is appropriate. Help them understand how easy it is for people to pretend to be someone else online to gain children’s or teens’ trust. Also, let them know that if someone online asks them to do anything that makes them uncomfortable (like sending pictures), they should tell you at once.
Memorize Important Information
Make sure your children know their full name, address, and phone number, as well as your contact information. When your children need to get help, for example, if they are separated from you in an amusement park, they will need your contact information. Help your children learn your phone number and, once they have that memorized, help them learn their address and your full name. It is a good idea to write your phone number on your children’s arms when you are going into busy areas with them, such as vacation venues or festivals.
Practice Basic Self-Defense
Learn self-defense techniques and carry a whistle or personal alarm. Parents can learn how to defend themselves during short self-defense sessions. Older children and teens can start taking self-defense classes once they are old enough. Children and teens can also learn to carry and use a personal alarm, especially once they are beginning to travel places alone, walk to school, or other similar situations. Make sure your children learn when and how to use the alarm and that it’s only to be used in a true emergency.
Use Your Phone
Keep your cell phone charged and with you at all times. As soon as your children get old enough for their own phone, teach them how to use it as a safety tool. They can learn to keep it charged and keep it available in their pocket or hand (rather than a backpack) when they are walking to and from school or another public area. Teens and young adults are especially vulnerable when they are going to college or out alone, and should always keep their phones nearby.
Teach children about stranger danger. In most cases, children aren’t kidnapped by strangers and it is very unlikely that your child will encounter a kidnapper in their day-to-day activities. However, it can and does happen. Teach your children how to recognize strange behavior in people they don’t know, and who to go to when they need help. For example, a mom with kids is probably a safe and reliable source of help. People in uniforms (public safety officers) are also safe places to go when you need help. On the other hand, teach your children to avoid “tricky people”, those who are acting strange, such as trying to get the kids to go with them or do something for them.
Keep in Touch
Once your kids are old enough to go places alone, teach them to let someone know where they are going and when they will return. The ability to keep in touch and inform their parents of their location should be directly proportional to the amount of trust they are given to be away from their parents. Teens and young adults can also stay safe by informing their parents or trusted friends about their whereabouts. If this habit is started young, it’s more likely that it will continue as they get older and are more at risk.
Be Realistic About the Risk
It’s important to note that kidnapping is relatively rare, and there is no reason to live in fear. Most children who are kidnapped are not taken by strangers. Stranger abductions, while scary, are not common. These safety tips can help reduce the risk of kidnapping, but it’s also essential to maintain a sense of perspective and enjoy life to the fullest.