How Safe Are Your Kids?

I remember, while in high school hearing about the disappearance of Dail Dinwiddie. She was a 23 year old college student who disappeared one night in downtown Columbia, SC after getting separated from her friends at a bar. She was last seen walking home around 2 am. I remember the searches done on her behalf, seeing her parents pleading for anyone with any info to come forward, and seeing her face plastered on flyers, even where I lived an hour away. That was over 16 years ago and she has never been found. She just vanished, into thin air, without a trace.
Are you a little on edge now? If your 6 year old came up and asked if he could go outside and play alone, would you let him? We’ve all heard of Elizabeth Smart, Natalee Holloway, Destiny Norton, Lindsey Baum, Adam Walsh, Polly Klaas, and this week Kyron Horman disappeared from the school science fair.
You’ve seen the statistics, 85% to 90% of the US’s 876,213 missing person reports are children. That’s over 2000 A DAY. (yep- that’s 2000 kids yesterday, 2000 kids today and 2000 kids tomorrow). And that number is an increase by 500% from the number of reported missing in the 1980s. (OMGosh!!!) Now, I am NOT down playing the trauma suffered by the family of a truly missing person. My heart aches for the parents of Lindsey Baum and Kyron Horman and I pray, earnestly, for their safe return (and I pray just as earnestly that I will NEVER be in their shoes). But, what this statistic doesn’t tell you, is that the VAST MAJORITY of these children missing persons reports are family member abductions, runaways, thrown away kids (seriously- thay's what it said- shocking, I know)and miscommunications. Actually according to a study done by NISMART (the government agency who studies missing person reports) in 2002, around 85% of children missing person reports are family abductions, throw aways, runaways and miscommunications. That leaves about 80,000ish missing person reports a year that are kids who have really gone missing, been injured or are what you typically imagine when you hear the word “kidnap”. Upon further study, NISMART also determined that among the 80,000 missing kids, the number of stereotypical kidnappings was 115 (wow, did we really just go from 800,000 to 115? Ok- I’m feeling a little better.) Here’s some facts:
Of the 115 stereotypical kidnappings in the study
71% of those were taken from an outdoor area
16% the victim’s home or yard
7% a mall or store
49% were taken for sexual purposes
74% of them were girls

I know these numbers are scary, but look at the reality. Your child is 20 times more likely to die in a car crash. Yet, childhood abductions continue to be one of our biggest fears as parents and it causes us to go to extreme measures and do crazy things. Why is this? Is it because all of the tragedies of the world are so vividly expressed in the media? You can’t check your email anymore without seeing the latest headlines. How fast did you find out about the balloon boy? Probably when it was still up in the air. The fact that you know who the Balloon Boy is, and the name most likely causes some kind of emotion; anger, disgust, etc) proves that the media has a major play in our psyche. Not bashing the media here, they serve a great purpose, but the real question here is, are our children really more at risk than we were as kids? I used to run all over my neighborhood as a child and return in time for dinner. Once I ran away. For hours. No one noticed. I came home when my snacks ran out and unpacked my backpack. Once I got lost *gasp* while I was all alone *gasp* and I asked the mailman to help me find my way home. (I know, kinda smart huh? I told him my address and I walked behind his truck while he showed me the way home). He didn’t kidnap me, rape me or lead me astray. Actually, we became friends. My parents never knew. That was back in the 80’s, when the stereotypical kidnapping rate hovered around 200 a year. Yep- you heard me, the rate of kidnappings has decreased by half in the last 20-30 years, yet we remain terrified. As a parent, are you more likely to let your kids walk home alone from the bus stop or sleepover at a school friend’s house? How well do you know Sally’s parents? Did you know that 3 MILLION children are molested each year? Maybe we are overly cautious about the wrong things...
How well do you know your neighbors, children’s teachers or soccer coaches. Maybe we should spend a little more time making sure our schools and little leagues have strict rules for job and volunteer applicants and less time worrying about our children playing in the backyard (because yes- the broken arm will heal, believe me, much easier than I imagine the molested child will recover). Maybe a better approach is to work on a sense of community. MEET your neighbors, volunteer at the school and get to KNOW their teachers. Build a community so that your village really can help raise your child. Then you will know Sally’s parents.
We’ve spent so much time keeping them safe that sometimes we fail to see what they are capable of, which leaves us with children who lack self confidence. A trait that CAN keep them safe. Our children CAN be responsible for getting their homework done, they CAN work a toaster/microwave/vacuum cleaner, the CAN make their own lunches and they CAN scramble eggs. We’ve (and I include myself here) been so afraid of our children getting hurt or kidnapped that we have failed to let them know of all the amazing things they are capable of. When your child was born, did you think of all the things that they could contribute to your family/society or did you think of all the things you could provide for them?
I hope this article doesn’t jinx me (thanks a lot Mr. Whaddya Shay- he said it might) and please don’t start doing stupid things, but maybe it’s time to re-evaluate what is really a danger in our kids lives and protect them against that. But, most of all, maybe we should just chill a little.

Whaddya think?

6/14 update:
I rarely have time to watch the Oprah show. I like her, but I usually have too many things to do. But, today, I turned it on as I paid the bills. In her show, Oprah interviewed four child molesters and talked to them about why they chose the kids they did and how they got away with it. I knew that 90% of kids who are molested are done so by someone they trust, but one thing I learned today, is that those kids don't tell because it feels good to them. That confuses them and makes them feel like they are to blame. The kids want it to stop, but then again, they don't. The child molesters know this and they use this in their devious tactics. So, don't freak out, but protect your kids. Be open about the subject. Teach them to not be a victim. Watch Oprah. See what you can learn.


  1. When I was six years old, my Mom left me home for 40 minutes with my sleeping baby sister, while she attended choir practice in our neighborhood church. I don't recall the event, but as the story goes, I wanted to be at the church, not at home. So I woke up my baby sister, put her in the stroller and walked to the church. We all lived to tell about it. I am sure I was in trouble for disobeying, but I am equally sure my Mom continued to leave me home for short periods of time. By age 9 I was babysitting my 2 younger siblings for longer stretches. My Mom, who is disorganized, dyslexic and slightly ADD always said we were given so much responsibility, not because it was a parenting philosophy she came to, but out of pure necessity. However, looking back, she lauds her weakness at being a "helicopter mom" as one of her greatest gifts to us. We were self reliant, capable and confident of our own abilities. We cooked, cleaned and took care of all our school papers and homework from a very early age (we would fill all field trip forms out and bring anything that required a signature to her with with a pen, she signed without ever reading a single word). My mother was loving and very involved in our lives, had very strong interpersonal relationship skills- she just simply never did for us what we could do for ourselves- and it was amazing all that we could do for ourselves and how early we could do it. I think it is amazing now, I never did then, it just seemed normal. Now I have my own kids and I am astonished at how little my parenting peers think there kids are capable of. This is in part due to the culture of fear we raise our kids in today, with sensational stories of child kidnappings etc. I find myself keeping it a secret from friends and neighbors that I leave my 8 year old home alone when I run an errand and my 10 year old is capable of watching her three younger siblings (and does while my husband and I enjoy a dinner at a restaurant near our home). When I do leak this information to friends I get one of two reactions 1-shock and horror or 2-a whispered "I leave my kids home alone too" clearly meant to be kept a secret. Now, what I am comfortable with may not be what another mother is comfortable with and that is fine. My 10 year old is unusually responsible for her age (I am pretty sure she is more capable then I am at just about everything). But couldn't we as parents, communities and neighborhoods ban together a little more and judge one another a little less? Wouldn't my child be safer at home if I could mention to a trusted neighbor that I would be gone for the afternoon, and could my kids call if they need anything. Perhaps we could all chill a little as "whaddyashay" suggests. But if we can't quite manage to chill as much as another mother has, at least we can support her instead of defaming her for her efforts to give her kids independence and responsibility. In return, I will try not to smirk when your child calls from his dorm room asking how to fry an egg. After all, my kids have been cooking their own eggs for breakfast since they were six.

  2. Shay I really enjoyed reading this post. I think that you may have definitly hit one of my fears on the head. I am the over-protective mother who doesn't allow her son to play on the other side of the playground. Infact I don't even let him play outside unless I'm sitting RIGHT there. I know I've been hindering his growth and have been trying to figure out HOW to let him gain his independence with out having him dive straight into some predators way. Thank you for your brutal honesty here! :)