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Taking Aim at Violence against Children—Part IV

Child Kidnapping

Recommendations to Combat Violence against Children

 

Introduction

As mentioned in Part I of this series, the journey children must make between infancy and adulthood may be their most difficult time of life. It is a journey fraught with many obstacles and dangers along the way.

While we all have to endure many inevitable difficulties growing up, no child growing up should ever be put unwittingly in serious danger of their health and well-being. While the nation comes to grips with the tragedy of Sandy Hooks Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, there must be recognition that mass murder is only the tip of the iceberg where violence against children is concerned.

Below is a reminder of the many sources of violence children too often confront in their long journey of growing up. Like an old, “salty” U.S. Navy Chief Boson’s Mate I want to “square away” my cyberspace audience with knowledge as to what these many dangers children potentially might face.

As a Reminder: Sources of Violence toward Children

During their formative years children can be victimized in a variety of ways including:

gun violence such as drive-by shootings, homicide and school shootings, physical child abuse, sexual abuse, emotional and psychological abuse, neglect and starvation, sibling abuse, criminal acts such as assault and battery by strangers, being drawn into the drug addiction world and victimized, child sex trafficking, kidnapping, bullying,  corporal punishment in schools (20 states still sanction acts of violence hurting children that they euphemistically rationalize as discipline), and finally—mass murder, the ultimate victimization.

 

Focus of Part IV

This is the last segment in my four-part series on Taking Aim at Violence against Children. In many ways this has been the most difficult to write in terms of generating new and innovative ways to deal with violence against children. Recommendations, policy directives and/or legislative proposals are needed that seriously address all of the subject matter mentioned or written about during this four-part series.

As a former researcher and criminologist, I wish I had all the answers and could give you original ideas for dealing with all the various aspects of violence against children. I don’t. But, I suggest that individuals or organizations concerned with these issues strongly consider a four-pronged strategic attack.

The four-prong strategic approach I recommend includes:

  • Encouragement (letter campaign) of political decision-makers to do their job and get involved with the issue one is concerned with
  • Education
  • Technology
  • Where applicable, development of powerful, hard hitting, no holds barred, legislation at  the federal, state and local levels

Change in society always takes courage and a tenacious attitude if anything is ever to get done. We are all drawn in so many different directions during our lives. Time can be our friend or our worst enemy; it’s always difficult to stay focused for any length of time. Once again everything comes down to values and the assumptions and decisions we make with scarce resources. It can all seem overwhelming at times—–but we must persevere.

What follows ahead after the segment on Kidnapping is an effort to bring, beyond generalizations, more specific recommendations, policy directives, and/or needed legislation to bear on many of the major categories of violence previously described.

Kidnapping

The National Incidence Studies of Missing, Abducted, Runaway, and Throwaway Children (NISMART) have placed cases into five categories:

1. Family Abductions – A child was taken in violation of a custody agreement or degree, failed to return a child at the end of a legal or agreed-upon visit, with the child being away at least overnight. An attempt was made to conceal the taking, or the whereabouts of a child, or to prevent contact with the child. The child is transported out of state, or there is evidence that the abductor had the intent to keep the child indefinitely, or to permanently alter custodial privileges.

2. Non-Family Abductions – Attempted abductions, for example luring of a child for the purposes of committing another crime. There is coercion and unauthorized taking of a child into a building, a vehicle, or a distance of more than 20 feet, and the detention of a child for a period of more than one hour.

3. Runaways – Children that have left home and stayed away overnight. These child runaways unquestionably expose themselves to harm at night in unfamiliar and therefore dangerous surroundings. These runaways also include those who have run away from a juvenile facility.

4. Throwaways – These are children who have experienced any of the following situations:

The child was told to leave the household.

The child was away from home and the parent/guardian refused to allow the child back.

The child ran away, but the parent/guardian made no effort to recover the child, or did not care whether or not the child returned.

The child was abandoned or deserted.

5. Lost, Injured, or Otherwise Missing:

This category relates to children missing for varying periods of time, depending on their age, disability, and whether the absence was due to an injury.

Statistics

The first step in protecting your child from potential abductors is to know what you’re dealing with. Here are some important, and potentially surprising, facts about child abductions in the United States:

  • Every 40 seconds in the United States, a child becomes missing or is abducted.
  • The FBI’s National Crime Information Center (NCIC) estimates that 85 to 90 percent of the 840,279 people reported as missing or abducted in 2001 were children. The vast majority of these cases are resolved within hours.  This amounted to about 2,000 a day.
  • Based on the identity of the perpetrator, there are three distinct types of kidnapping: kidnapping by a relative of the victim or “family kidnapping” (49 percent), kidnapping by an acquaintance of the victim or “acquaintance kidnapping” (27 percent), and kidnapping by a stranger to the victim or “stranger kidnapping” (24 percent).
  • Family kidnapping is committed primarily by parents, and  involves a larger percentage of female perpetrators (43 percent) than it does in other types of kidnapping offenses; It occurs more frequently to children under 6, equally victimizes juveniles of both sexes, and most often originates in the home.
  • Acquaintance kidnapping involves a comparatively high percentage of juvenile perpetrators, has the largest percentage of female and teenage victims, is more often associated with other crimes (especially sexual and physical assault), occurs at homes and residences, and has the highest percentage of injured victims.
  • Stranger kidnapping victimizes more females than males, occurs primarily at outdoor locations, victimizes both teenagers and school-age children, is associated with sexual assaults in the case of girl victims and robberies in the case of boy victims (although not exclusively so), and is the type of kidnapping most likely to involve the use of a firearm.
  • Only about one child out of each 10,000 missing children reported to the local police is not found alive. However, about 20 percent of the children reported to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in nonfamily abductions are not found alive.
  • In 80 percent of abductions by strangers, the first contact between the child and the abductor occurs within a quarter mile of the child’s home.
  • Most potential abductors grab their victims on the street or try to lure them into their vehicles.
  • About 74 percent of the victims of nonfamily child abduction are girls.
  • Acting quickly is critical. Seventy-four percent of abducted children who are ultimately murdered are dead within three hours of the abduction.
  • One in five children 10 to 17 years old receive online messages that involve un-wanted sexual solicitations.
  • In a 1998 study of parents’ worries by pediatricians at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, nearly three-quarters of parents said they feared their children might be abducted. One-third of parents said this was a frequent worry — a degree of fear greater than that held for any other concern, including car accidents, sports injuries, or drug addiction.

Sources: Federal Bureau of Investigation; National Crime Information Center; U.S. Justice Dept.; Vanished Children’s Alliance; Redbook, February 1998; State of Washington’s Office of the Attorney General; United States Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention Juvenile Justice Bulletin, June 2000

 

Recommendations to Combat Violence against Children

 

Gun Violence

 

The President’s comprehensive plan for stemming gun violence was presented in Part I of this series. The only type of recommendation missing seemed to be connected with mass shootings in a business or governmental office by a recently fired or terminated employee. It must be pointed out that often times a former employee who returns to the work site with a gun may have already killed family members. This would suggest that mass murder involving job sites is more than about just losing a job.  Rather, it is based on a complex set of psychiatric factors that predisposes someone to go over the edge and commit murder, regardless of setting.

Someone who is under pressure and loses a job just as easily might carry out mass murder in a bank, shopping mall, or a Coney Island setting. There is simply no way to predict in advance (even with patients being treated by clinicians, psychologists and/or psychiatrists) such acts of violence.

This does not mean however that there aren’t steps of a preventive nature that can be taken that can help alleviate, in business and governmental settings, pressures people experience from losing a job, regardless of reason for the termination.

Recommendation # 1

The federal government should make available very low interest loans to businesses to develop and/or augment existing Employee Assistance Programs (EAP’s). In all likelihood this would require legislation, primarily affecting the Small Business Administration. If a business is large enough, they should provide, upon termination of an employee, counseling and assistance to help them acquire unemployment compensation from their state’s Department of Employment. In addition, EAP programs in both the private and public sector need to start re-tooling.

Something new might include psychiatric services to all employees, and screening of new employees who might have family, psychiatric or mental health problems. A pro-active caring business just might develop loyalty that otherwise might not have ever developed. Businesses must tread lightly by protecting the confidentiality of every employee and offer such services on a voluntary basis. This will be fine for most employees. However, what does a business do with the “bad apples” among recalcitrant employees who appear to need such services, but whom refuse to take advantage of such services? For example, what does a manager do if an employee is bi-polar and can’t get along with anyone because of a brain that is not firing on all cylinders for sociability?  While only a small percentage of bi-polar individuals are ever given to violence, it’s not outside the realm of possibility that, given enough personal stresses, violence could occur by this type of person.

My recommendation is for a business to incorporate psychological services at some point in the “disciplinary process.” At this point such services would not be voluntary but required to keep one’s employment. This assumes that the offending employee has not committed so egregious an offense as to require immediate termination. If an employee needs to be summarily fired on the stop, then it is up to that business whether to “beef up” security services following such termination. If threats are made by the employee law enforcement should immediately be contacted.

 

Recommendation # 2

Small businesses might simply combine or pool their resources to make available psychiatric services to all employees working in any of the small businesses. At the very least, small businesses might create, for all employees, a pamphlet of information on where to go for help during a personal medical or psychiatric emergency.

Child Abuse

Prevention is the best hope for reducing child abuse and neglect and improving the lives of children and families. Strengthening families and preventing child abuse requires a shared commitment of individuals and organizations in every community. The following resources discuss the framework for child abuse and neglect prevention, provide information on what to do when children are at risk for abuse or neglect, and link to State, Federal, and national organizations that support prevention initiatives. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children & Families has put forth the following recommendations relating to prevention of child maltreatment:

Framework to Prevent Child Maltreatment

Professionals working to prevent child abuse and neglect have incorporated ideas and information from other disciplines, including public health, education, and mental health, to influence and guide practice. However, public health has had the greatest influence in organizing a framework of prevention services. That framework consists of three levels of services: primary prevention programs, directed at the general population (universal) in an effort to prevent maltreatment before it occurs; secondary prevention programs, targeted to individuals or families in which maltreatment is more likely (high risk); and tertiary prevention programs, targeted toward families in which abuse has already occurred (indicated).

Distinctions among primary, secondary, and tertiary prevention do not necessarily reflect the way prevention-related services are actually organized and provided. Rather than sorting prevention initiatives into mutually exclusive categories, prevention is increasingly recognized as occurring along a continuum. A comprehensive system of care for improving outcomes for children and family needs to include strategies that coordinate resources across the entire continuum, from primary to secondary to tertiary prevention.

  • Primary prevention
  • Secondary prevention
  • Tertiary prevention

The following pages provide more information on both an ecological framework and a protective factors framework for prevention.

  • Ecological framework for prevention
  • Protective factors framework

Primary prevention

Primary prevention activities are directed at the general population and attempt to stop maltreatment before it occurs. All members of the community have access to and may benefit from these services. Primary prevention activities with a universal focus seek to raise the awareness of the general public, service providers, and decision-makers about the scope and problems associated with child maltreatment. Universal approaches to primary prevention might include:

  • Public service announcements that encourage positive parenting
  • Parent education programs and support groups that focus on child development, age-appropriate expectations, and the roles and responsibilities of parenting
  • Family support and family strengthening programs that enhance the ability of families to access existing services, and resources to support positive interactions among family members
  • Public awareness campaigns that provide information on how and where to report suspected child abuse and neglect

Secondary prevention

Secondary prevention activities with a high-risk focus are offered to populations that have one or more risk factors associated with child maltreatment, such as poverty, parental substance abuse, young parental age, parental mental health concerns, and parental or child disabilities. Programs may target services for communities or neighborhoods that have a high incidence of any or all of these risk factors. Approaches to prevention programs that focus on high-risk populations might include:

  • Parent education programs located in high schools, focusing on teen parents, or those within substance abuse treatment programs for mothers and families with young children
  • Parent support groups that help parents deal with their everyday stresses and meet the challenges and responsibilities of parenting
  • Home visiting programs that provide support and assistance to expecting and new mothers in their homes
  • Respite care for families that have children with special needs
  • Family resource centers that offer information and referral services to families living in low-income neighborhoods

Tertiary prevention

Tertiary prevention activities focus on families where maltreatment has already occurred (indicated) and seek to reduce the negative consequences of the maltreatment and to prevent its recurrence. These prevention programs may include services such as:

  • Intensive family preservation services with trained mental health counselors that are available to families 24 hours per day for a short period of time (e.g., 6 to 8 weeks)
  • Parent mentor programs with stable, non-abusive families acting as “role models” and providing support to families in crisis
  • Parent support groups that help parents transform negative practices and beliefs into positive parenting behaviors and attitudes
  • Mental health services for children and families affected by maltreatment to improve family communication and functioning

Child Sex Trafficking

Recommendations

After first learning about human trafficking, many people want to help in some way but do not know how. Here are just a few ideas for your consideration.

1. Learn the red flags that may indicate human trafficking and ask follow up questions so that you can help identify a potential trafficking victim. Human trafficking awareness training is available for individuals, businesses, first responders, law enforcement, and federal employees.

2. In the United States, call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 1-888-3737-888 (24/7) to get help and connect with a service provider in your area, report a tip with information on potential human trafficking activity; or learn more by requesting training, technical assistance, or resources. Call federal law enforcement directly to report suspicious activity and get help from the Department of Homeland Security at 1-866-347-2423 (24/7), or submit a tip online at http://www.ice.gov/tips, or from the U.S. Department of Justice at 1-888-428-7581 from 9:00am to 5:00pm (EST). Victims, including undocumented individuals, are eligible for services and immigration assistance.

3. Be a conscientious consumer. Discover your Slavery Footprint, and check out the Department of Labor’s List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor. Encourage companies, including your own, to take steps to investigate and eliminate slavery and human trafficking in their supply chains and to publish the information for consumer awareness.

4. Incorporate human trafficking information into your professional associations’ conferences, trainings, manuals, and other materials as relevant [example].

5. Join or start a grassroots anti-trafficking coalition.

6. Meet with and/or write to your local, state, and federal government representatives to let them know that you care about combating human trafficking in your community, and ask what they are doing to address human trafficking in your area.

7. Distribute public awareness materials available from the Department of Health and Human Services or Department of Homeland Security.

8. Volunteer to do victim outreach or offer your professional services to a local anti-trafficking organization.

9. Donate funds or needed items to an anti-trafficking organization in your area.

10. Organize a fundraiser and donate the proceeds to an anti-trafficking organization.

11. Host an awareness event to watch and discuss a recent human trafficking documentary. On a larger scale, host a human trafficking film festival.

12. Encourage your local schools to partner with students and include the issue of modern day slavery in their curriculum. As a parent, educator, or school administrator, be aware of how traffickers target school-aged children.

13. Set up a Google alert to receive current human trafficking news.

14. Write a letter to the editor of your local paper about human trafficking in your community.

15. Start or sign a human trafficking petition.

16. Businesses: Provide internships, job skills training, and/or jobs to trafficking survivors. Consumers: Purchase items made by trafficking survivors such as from Jewel Girls or Made by Survivors.

17. Students: Take action on your campus. Join or establish a university or secondary school club to raise awareness about human trafficking and initiate action throughout your local community. Consider doing one of your research papers on a topic concerning human trafficking. Professors: Request that human trafficking be an issue included in university curriculum. Increase scholarship about human trafficking by publishing an article, teaching a class, or hosting a symposium.

18. Law Enforcement Officials: Join or start a local human trafficking task force.

19. Mental Health or Medical Providers: Extend low-cost or free services to human trafficking victims assisted by nearby anti-trafficking organizations. Train your staff on how to identify the indicators of human trafficking and assist victims.

20. Attorneys: Look for signs of human trafficking among your clients. Offer pro-bono services to trafficking victims or anti-trafficking organizations. Learn about and offer to human trafficking victims the legal benefits for which they are eligible. Assist anti-trafficking NGOs with capacity building and legal work.

 

Bullying

Recommendations

Bullying can threaten student’s physical and emotional safety at school and can negatively impact their ability to learn. The best way to address bullying is to stop it before it starts. There are a number of things school staff can do to make schools safer and prevent bullying.

  • Getting Started

Assess school prevention and intervention efforts around student behavior, including substance use and violence. You may be able to build upon them or integrate bullying prevention strategies. Many programs help address the same protective and risk factors that bullying programs do.

Conduct assessments in your school to determine how often bullying occurs, where it happens, how students and adults intervene, and whether your prevention efforts are working.

It is important for everyone in the community to work together to send a unified message against bullying. Launch an awareness campaign to make the objectives known to the school, parents, and community members. Establish a school safety committee or task force to plan, implement, and evaluate your school’s bullying prevention program.

Create a mission statement, code of conduct, school-wide rules, and a bullying reporting system. These establish a climate in which bullying is not acceptable. Disseminate and communicate widely.

Establish a school culture of acceptance, tolerance and respect. Use staff meetings, assemblies, class and parent meetings, newsletters to families, the school website, and the student handbook to establish a positive climate at school. Reinforce positive social interactions and inclusiveness.

Build bullying prevention material into the curriculum and school activities. Train teachers and staff on the school’s rules and policies. Give them the skills to intervene consistently and appropriately.

Corporal Punishment in the Schools

 

Recommendations

  • Enact federal legislation to end all federal monies to school districts that have established corporal punishment.
  • Provide additional federal monies to improve education in those school districts that ban corporal punishment in the schools.
  • The ACLU and Human Rights Watch (ACLU/HRW should bring a lawsuit before the United States Supreme Court for the disproportionate use of corporal punishment in 20 states based on race and disability status of students based on the equal protection clauses of the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution.

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  • In the law, the U.S. Congress should enact legislation to end inequality of assault and battery offenses based on age of the victim. The federal government should enact legislation to end state’s rights where corporal punishment is concerned based on discrimination and arbitrary use of it.
  • Federal legislation should be enacted to deny Social Security, retirement pensions, or any other benefits to all teachers and administrators who use corporal punishment.

 

Kidnapping

General Tips

Child abduction by a stranger usually ends badly.  Each year, approximately 58,000 missing children are abducted by non-family members. Typically, strangers who kidnap children commit their crimes with intent to harm their young victims. In nearly half of the non-family child abduction cases, the victim is sexually assaulted.

Every day, these offenders lure unsuspecting children into vehicles and homes. Most of these kids are not prepared for the reality of “stranger danger” and, therefore, tend to trust unknown adults.

Most abducted children are eventually recovered, but the majority of these children return home with visible or emotional scars. A small number of kidnapped children are never located. And, in rare instances, some abducted children are murdered by the stranger who betrayed their trust.

Despite the grim statistics, you have the ability to reduce the likelihood of child abduction. By joining other parents and collectively teaching your kids the importance of stranger danger, you can stop these appalling crimes before they happen.

     Get your child a passport. A passport is important for your child because it’s harder for somebody else to get one if they take them. If someone else is attempting to get a passport for your child, the process will take some time, and the time will work in your favor.

Travel to school with your child every few weeks. Check out the route and observe the individuals who come in contact with your child. Typical abductors are people who see your child every day, and your child may even speak to this person.

Teach your child to ask Mom or Dad before assisting or going with another adult. Children need to know they can tell their parents anything.

GPS is not a good protector of children, because predators are familiar with these devices. Get an ID bracelet for your child and put the child’s name, the word “reward” and your phone number on the backside. Tell your child if someone tries to take them, remove the bracelet and throw it on the ground. Someone will find it and contact you. Law enforcement will strengthen their search once they have a clue.

If your child is missing, make sure to tell authorities about the tactics you’ve taught your child. They can incorporate those clues in their search.

  • Tell your children to always walk or play in groups. Predators search for isolated targets such as children who are walking alone or playing alone. Share this important lesson with other parents. If you see a friend or neighbor’s young child walking alone, make sure to include that particular neighbor in your stranger-danger strategy. For instance, you could suggest a buddy or carpool plan to get neighboring children to and from school.
  • You should always know where your kids are going, even if they leave the house with another trusted adult. If your children spend time at their friends’ homes, you should discuss a mutual child-watch plan with other parents. If your children are young, explain to these parents that you do not allow your children to play outside unsupervised. Promise to keep a similar close watch on their children when they play at your house. If your children walk or ride their bikes to other nearby houses, designate safe places for them to run if threatened by a stranger.
  • Keep a list of phone numbers of other nearby parents and offer your number to these parents. You can quickly check on the location of your children if needed.
  • Teach your kids about strangers. Tell them that a stranger is any adult they do not know. Introduce your children to other parents you trust. Meet the children of these parents, so you will become a familiar face to the kids. Ideally, these children will be able to pick out a few friendly adults in a crowd of strangers.
  • In addition to other parents, your kids should know which strangers are safe. Store clerks, police officers, teachers, people who are behind desks in office buildings, mail-carriers, and mothers with children are generally safe strangers. Explain to your children that they can trust these strangers if they ever need help and they cannot locate an adult they recognize. Teach your children that stores, schools, libraries, and restaurants are all safe public places where they can run if they are in jeopardy.
  • Practice a secret code word with your children. Choose a word that would not be easy for a stranger to guess. Use this code word when another adult is required to transport your child. Tell your kids they should never get into a car with someone who does not know the code word. Share the code word with your children and other adults you trust. Change the word as often as needed. Instruct other parents to develop their own family code words.
  • Teach your kids about the common lures used by abductors. Often, a kidnapper appeals to victims by asking for help in finding a lost animal. Sometimes, the stranger will ask a child for directions. Occasionally, abductors know the child’s name or the names of the child’s parents. Perpetrators attempt to use this knowledge to gain the child’s trust. You should tell your children that adults ask other adults for help when they are truly searching for lost pets or when they need any other type of assistance. Also, repeat to your children the importance of the family code word. If a stranger knows the child’s name, but does not mention the code word, that stranger is probably a threat.
  • Practice screaming with your children. If a stranger attempts to talk to or grab your children, your children should know to shout, “No!” or “Fire!” Try to recruit the help of other parents. The group of children can rehearse screaming at strangers by role-playing.

For more information on ways to keep your child safe, please see the website for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Also, please consider aiding law enforcement officials in finding missing children by signing up to receive AMBER Alerts.

 

 

The following tips come from Jaime A. Heidel, a Yahoo contributor on How to prevent kidnapping on “Seven Tips to Keep Your Child Safe [What You and Your Child Need to Know].”

Each year tens of thousands of children are kidnapped. Children disappear on their way home from school, during a trip to the grocery store and sometimes right out of their own backyards.

Tip 1 – Never Talk to Strangers

Children are naturally open and friendly and while it is an endearing characteristic, a child that is too trusting may fall into the hands of a smooth-talking stranger. Teach children never to speak to strangers and explain to them that if they are approached by a stranger to run away immediately and tell you or another known, trusted adult. It is also important to explain to children about “safe strangers” such as policemen, firemen and store clerks so they know whom to trust should they become lost or need help.

Tip 2 – Teach Awareness

With all the gizmos and gadgets around to distract children on a day-to-day basis, it is important to remind them to be aware of their surroundings. If your child walks home from the bus stop alone with an MP3 player on his or her ears, he or she will make an easy target. Let your children know how important it is to take note of a strange car or anybody following them on foot. Tell them in order to do this, they need to turn the music off and stay alert.

Tip 3 – Be Buddies

In a crowded store, you’ve always got one eye on your child. Reinforce this “buddy system” by teaching your child to watch out for you. Let him or her know that if he or she loses sight of you to call out. This is another way to be proactive and teach awareness.

Tip 4 – Self Defense

Your child doesn’t need to take a martial arts class to learn some basic self-defense. Though most children are reluctant to be rude to an adult, it is important to explain to your child that if a stranger grabs him or her that all bets are off. Teach your child to kick a stranger in sensitive areas like shins, knees and groin. Tell your child to scream, “You’re not my mommy or you’re not my daddy” as loud as they can and do everything in his or her power to draw attention to the scene and get away.

Tip 5 – Lock Your Doors

Sometimes children are kidnapped right out of their own homes. Though it’s tempting to leave doors open with just a screen on a warm summer day, your child at play on the living room floor can be an easy target, especially if the door opens to the backyard. Be sure to close and lock all doors if your child is playing alone.

Tip 6 – Safety in Numbers

Teach your child that there is safety in numbers. If your child is old enough to go to the park, playground or mall with friends, teach your child not to wander out of eyesight of the group. Kidnappers usually prefer to abduct children who are alone and will rarely target a child with two or three buddies around, especially in a crowded place.

Tip 7 – Internet Safety

These days, almost every child is online. Keep your child safe by explaining that everybody he or she does not know in real life is a stranger, even if he or she has spent time “chatting” with an online friend. Tell children never to give out any personal information over the Internet, including last name, telephone number, street address or school they attend. That thirteen-year-old boy from the next town over your daughter has made friends with could be an adult in disguise attempting to target children. Anybody can be whomever they wish to be online and it is important to explain this. No offline meetings should ever take place without an adult being present in a public setting.

It is important to reinforce what you’ve taught by using “role-play”. Practice how to respond if approached by a stranger. This will increase child confidence and encourage him or her to ask any questions he or she may have. These tips on how to prevent kidnapping should go a long way in keeping children safe.

 

Post Script

This concludes my four-part series on “Taking Aim at Violence against Children.” The events in Newtown, Connecticut on December 14, 2012 brought the nation to tears, anguish and despair. People on the streets were incredulous that a lone killer had the temerity to commit such heinous acts as the murder of 20 first graders and 6 adults. This event, and the President’s demand for action, produced a Title Wave of public sentiment—that now was the time for change. As the dust settled in the weeks following the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy, the main issue around the country, and in the halls of Congress, became crystalized around the pressing issue of gun violence.

However, what has been largely overlooked by the public during this debate on gun violence, despite its current importance, is the larger contextual nature of violence directed toward children in this society. Gun violence is simply the “tip of the iceberg” where violence against children is concerned.

Cognitive Dissonance, as a psychological concept, often suggests, where human and social behavior is concerned, that there is a huge gap between one’s beliefs and one’s actual behavior. This is certainly the case where violence against children is concerned. People tend to seek consistency in their beliefs and perceptions. So what happens when one of our beliefs conflicts with another previously held belief?

The term cognitive dissonance is used to describe the feeling of discomfort that results from holding two conflicting beliefs. When there is a discrepancy between beliefs and behaviors, something must change in order to eliminate or reduce the dissonance. Cognitive dissonance plays a role in many value judgments, decisions and evaluations. Becoming aware of how conflicting beliefs impact the decision-making process is a great way to improve your ability to make faster and more accurate choices.

If one really believes or desires to protect children from harm shouldn’t one come to grips with the problem of all violence or harm against children? Addressing mass murder and gun violence is important, but it does not address the larger issue of violence against children. People believe that children should be protected from harm, yet fail to recognize or do anything about violence against children in various other social contexts. In order to eliminate or reduce cognitive dissonance one can either alter one’s beliefs, or change one’s behavior, in order to achieve consistency between one’s beliefs and one’s actual behavior.

If I’ve done anything constructive during this four-part series it has been to put the spotlight on many of the issues confronting children as they grow up. I am a social scientist, not normally concerned with advocacy. But I can clearly see my own inconsistency between wanting to become a child advocate and being a person who dwells in the comfortable, sometimes erudite and esoteric, house of social science. Perhaps the time has come for all of us to change our lives and get involved in helping those we really care about the most—our children and grandchildren.

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