On Memorial Day, we take the time to honor our veterans, acknowledging the men and women who have risked and continue to risk their lives in order to provide a safer America. Coincidentally, this Memorial Day has fallen on National Missing Children's Day.
May 25th is the anniversary of the day in 1979 when 6-year-old Etan Patz disappeared from a New York street corner on his way to school and has been observed as National Missing Children's Day since 1983—when it was first dedicated by President Ronald Reagan. This day is a reminder to the nation to renew efforts to reunite missing children with their families and to make child protection a national priority. So how are we doing three decades after the still-unsolved Etan Patz case?
According the FBI's National Crime Information Center (NCIC) for 2000: 85% to 90% of the 876,213 persons reported missing to America’s law enforcement agencies were juveniles (persons under 18 years of age). That means that 2,100 times per day parents or primary caregivers felt the disappearance was serious enough to call law enforcement. Also, the number of missing persons reported to law enforcement has increased by 468% since 1982. If any other segment of our population were so impacted, we would declare an epidemic! The Center for Disease Control would fund a cure; we would pass and enforce legislation and increase private and public security. But, since it is only our children, many in our society accept these appalling numbers as status quo.
Although there are no quick fixes to the problems of child safety, there are many things that we can do as adults to address and positively impact the issue. So, like everything else, the lessons start at home and that means parents need a reality check—to make time to TALK to their kids, share with their kids, and communicate about how to be safe.
The key to keeping talks about Internet safety from being scary, for both parents and kids, is for the parent to take the position that discussions of this nature are nothing to be afraid of! Just because we, as adults, are nervous about “the world out there,” we needn’t transfer our fears to our children. However, there are things kids must know before they dive into the treacherous world of independent adults.As trite and over-used as the expression seems, “Knowledge is power.” I am not suggesting that parents need to tell kids about the gruesome details of every case in the news, or grill them with statistics. But youngsters need to have a solid understanding of how they can defend themselves in ways appropriate to their age. On its Web site, the California Department of Justice reminds parents that “we provide safety information to our children in a number of other areas that may seem pretty scary, such as “drop and roll” if your clothes catch on fire or “look both ways when you cross the street.” When it’s time to discuss potential or actual sexual abuse from online encounters, the best way to combat the fear associated with such talks is to just start talking! It’s never too early to begin to give children information that can help them stay safe. However, you need to treat personal safety like any other parenting lesson—finding appropriate times, not tackling too many lessons at a time, and considering the child’s personal development and ability to understand the discussion. When communicating with your child, watch for and avoid messages that are not realistic or don't make sense. Instincts rarely lie. When in doubt, trust your instincts.
A very important issue: parents must learn about and use social networking sites such as Facebook. Better yet, it’s a great idea for children to teach their parents how to navigate them, which naturally opens the communication process between parent and child or tween. Talk with them, learn what they know, have them educate you so you know where you need more knowledge.
May 25th is simply one day, one reminder about our children, but use this day to remind yourself that our children depend on us to empower them, honor them and especially protect them. And on this Memorial Day, I say thank you to the men and women who have and continue to serve our country. Thank you.