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A Note to Parents About Protecting Their Children
October 2, 2002

"Today the real test of power is not to make war but capacity to prevent it." —Anne O’Hare McCormack

Jim Greenman, Senior Vice President of Education and Program Development for Bright Horizons Family Solutions recently sent the following letter to all the parents in Bright Horizon's centers:

Dear Parents and Teachers,

The past few weeks has seen a huge amount of publicity about child abduction by strangers. Two cases in Southern California, one in Utah, one in Florida and one or two others have received multiple headlines and 24-hour coverage. These horrible stories strike fear in the heart of every parent and shake our sense of security. In trying to decide what to tell and do with our children, it is important to remember that the actual threat is very, very, small:

· The rate of incidence of stranger abduction of children is actually slightly down this year at this time from the usual 200 – 300 cases, out of 58 million children in the United States.

The odds of a child being abducted by a stranger are less than 1 in 200,000. The chance of almost any other harmful occurrence is higher. We want our children to learn sensible precautions without scaring them to death with a view of the world based on our fear and horror of the moment. Helping our children feel safe begins with helping ourselves feel safer. And that begins with us being thoughtful, rational, and appropriately careful.

To protect your children, consider the following basic guidelines:

· If you have concerns about your neighborhood, insist that your school age children be with a friend, sibling or trusted adult when outside.

· Make sure children know their own name, phone number, and address and how to reach you using cell phone or pager numbers.

· Tell them what to do if they're scared or if there is an emergency. Suggest a neighbor or another trusted adult to call if they cannot reach you.
· Make sure they know they can tell you about anything that makes them uncomfortable.

· Teach your children to get out of dangerous or uncomfortable situations quickly. Tell children its OK to scream and run away to a trusted adult if they are scared of the situation or a stranger.

· Tell children if a stranger asks for help of any kind to run and find an adult to help them. Asking for directions, "I'm hurt, please help me", “I lost my puppy”, "Your mom/brother/friend is hurt and told me to get you" are all statements that have been used by child abductors.

· Caution children never to approach a car, occupied or not, unless accompanied by a trusted adult.

· Tell children never to accept a ride from a stranger. Tell them in whose cars they may ride.

· Tell children not to accept any food or gift from a stranger when you are not present.

· Don't drop younger children off at malls, movies, parks or arcades. An adult should always supervise.

· Caution children home alone to keep the door locked and not to open it or talk to anyone who comes to the door that they do not know and trust. If they answer the telephone, they should never give out information that lets the caller know they are alone.

Always remember that we are feeling much more insecure than we actually are. We live in a time where the most sensational threats are thrust to the forefront of our consciousness. These may well be real, ongoing threats, but the likelihood of any one of them impacting any of our lives directly is very, very small – although it may not feel that way because it might happen to any of us. Yes, there are horrible acts against children, but the odds of it being your child or mine are very, very unlikely, and our children need to know and feel that. Crossing the street, riding in automobiles, fire, drowning, and household accidents pose far more threat to our safety than the acts of horrible strangers. Those threats are not sensational: there are no headlines, breathless news stories, daily procession of experts making a living sensationalizing those threats, or sharing those fears around the water cooler, but they are also very real.  One step in helping our children feeling safer is to limit their exposure to the ongoing sensational coverage, (it has a similar effect on us as well).

Some of us may choose to be more protective and to take more precautions; some of us will take less. Each of us has to calculate what are our own necessary steps to take to feel secure about our children and ourselves. We go about our lives despite all the more realistic threats in our daily life. By assessing our own situation and helping our children to be thoughtful and competent about the unlikely threat of harm by a stranger, we can help our families adjust to the world around us.

Check out the latest new service from Exchange: Parenting Exchange. Sign up to receive one message to share with your parents every month about raising young children in today's world. For details, go to www.ChildCareExchange.com


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