Though sometimes it may seem it, the world we live in today probably isn't any less safe than the one we grew up in. We long to cling to the old days, with the idyllic settings and warped memories of how perfect it all was. We want to believe that the world has changed for the worse, when really it's probably marginally safer now than it really was back then.
The difference between then and now isn't the actual threat of danger in the world, it's the interconnectedness. It's the news coverage and the internet. There aren't any more serial killers, kidnappers and rapists than in prior years, we just know more about them. We are immersed in a world with 24/7 television coverage.
This week has been a rough one for parents in Colorado especially, though I am sure that parents nationwide have held onto their kids a little tighter too.
Are there monsters out there, walking around in this world around us, every day? Yes.
Are there monsters who prey on children? Yes.
Are there monsters suppressing their sick desires to hurt others right now? Yes.
Could that monster be your next door neighbor? Absolutely.
The thing we need to be conscious of, in the wake of this very real and tangible tragedy, is that cases like that of Jessica Ridgeway are very much the unusual. The chances of any dangerous stranger ever stealing your child are tiny. And yet when little girls disappear, people start preaching about ideas such as stranger danger.
My youngest child's preschool teacher this week taught the kids about stranger danger, and it's taking all I have to control my anger with her. I know her intentions were good, but that's not enough.
Stranger danger is misleading and can be dangerous for an entirely different set of reasons.
Most abductions are carried out by parents without legal custody.
Most cases of abuse, physical, sexual, emotional, carried out by close family members or friends, coaches or teachers. By the very people we are supposed to condition our children to trust.
Often the very people who could save our kids are the strangers. Those closest to them the one they should be afraid of.
Instead, as parents we need to start trusting that our children have instincts.
We need to sit them down and tell them that they already have all the tools to stay safe. That they have gut instincts. They know what feels right and what doesn't. They know that people aren't supposed to take them away, that people aren't supposed to touch them, that people aren't supposed to make them hurt.
They need to learn to trust those instincts, and to run and scream when something sets off that radar. They need to learn that it's okay to be rude. To say no. To talk back to adults. To hit and kick and bite when they feel physically threatened. They need to learn to run to the nearest adult, to the nearest house, to be safe.
They need to learn that they need to stay with their siblings and friends, that keeping a "buddy" helps keep them safe. They need to be told that anyone who offers them candy or balloons or needs to look for a lost dog is lying and that they can be dangerous.
They need to understand that just because they know someone doesn't make them safe, and just because someone is a stranger doesn't mean they are a threat. They need to tap into the survival instincts they already have, and they need to trust them.
As parents, we need to understand some things too.
A cell phone isn't going to protect your child from anything or anyone. It is a false sense of security, do not rely on it.
We need to have the hard conversations with our children, we need to sit them down and make sure they know how to keep themselves safe.
We need to stop telling kids that it's never okay to hit. Someday they may need to in order to survive.
We need to stop telling them that all strangers are dangerous. It gives them a false sense of security with the very people who are most likely to hurt them.
More than anything right now, we need to do all these things, and then we need to return to a normal life as quickly as possible. Living in fear isn't a way to live.
Ride bikes to school, play outside, walk to the bus. In groups. With adults supervising. Do not let fear keep you inside. Do not let fear rule your life. Do not let fear change how your kids live.
The more of us that are out there watching, the more sets of eyes, the more awareness, the safer we all are.
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