Learning the right lessons from the Cleveland tragedy: A parent sanity check

In the wake of the Cleveland tragedy, there has been a notable rise in articles in parenting forums to try and calm parental fears. While well-intentioned, parents are learning the wrong things.

This is an opportunity to make meaningful changes in how we can stay safer, so here are the real facts AND some easy steps parents can do to keep kids safer.

Brian Braiker’s “Parenting” article cites National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) data. This data pops up frequently in articles on missing kids. However, this is OLD data. There is newer data out there, which I’ll give in a moment. Also, about 500,000 kids don’t fit the categories highlighted by NCMEC, such as abductions by family or non-family members! Where are those kids and what happened to them? Finally, NCMEC notes that only 115 cases out of 800,000 meet the “stereotypical” kidnapping criteria. However, these criteria are NARROW. Stranger, held overnight, traveled over 50 miles, etcetera. This misses A LOT of cases. Including the one in Cleveland!

Here’s some other data to consider. It comes from the FBI and the National Crime Information Center (NCIC). It’s also 2012 data. The latest available. Notable findings include:

– There were 497,327 missing kids under age 18; that’s about 1363 each day

– 476,372 were considered juveniles who didn’t meet other criteria; that’s about 1305 each day

– 10,191 were endangered; that’s about 28 each day

– 4,547 were involuntary; that’s about 12 each day

– 3,570 suffered from physical or mental disabilities; that’s about 10 each day

In addition to the numbers issue is the focus on the stranger aspect of the Cleveland tragedy, such as in Risa Green’s Modern Mom post. Risa actually gives some great advice. However, the focus on stranger danger is problematic. It’s important to remember that the girls didn’t see Ariel Castro as a stranger when they got into his car! I’ve written about this in an earlier post on my blog.

Parents need to teach their kids – regardless of age – to look beyond the stranger mental short cut. Kids need tools that take into account how kids actually think in real world situations. Parents need to be confident that their kids can – and will – make the right decisions.

Here are three easy safety lessons you can teach your children.

– Adults don’t need help from a kid

– If something sounds too good to be true, beware

– Never go anywhere with anyone unless your parents know about it!

We need to make sure we learn the right lessons from Cleveland. Abduction happens. It doesn’t happen all the time and to everyone, but it certainly happens more than the “115” number that is thrown around.
Parents need to have a healthy respect for the dangers that exist but not to the point of paranoia.

Teaching kids – both able bodied and special needs – about less narrow safety lessons has the potential to keep kids safer. And parents saner.

Karla J. Cunningham, Ph.D. is a mom whose alter ego is a violence expert. She has worked in academics, government (law enforcement and intelligence), and at RAND. Karla contributes frequently to her blog – What Your Mother Hasn’t Told You About Safety – at and she tweets about safety issues at @CunninghamKarla.

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