Dear Abby: AGAIN With the Abductors?

Dear Readers: You may recall that last week, Dear Abby passed along the advice that children take a walkie talkie every time they enter a public restroom so they can call mom when they get molested. Since this is a common fear, I asked a child abuse specialist if this is also a common occurence. Of the 500 children this pediatrician had treated for sex abuse, NONE had been abused by a stranger in a bathroom. So Abby’s advice was a little alarmist, to say the least.

That same day, Abby ran a note from another reader that said we should be very careful at indoor playgrounds like the ones at McDonald’s, because children have been “violated” there in a matter of “seconds” WHILE THEIR PARENTS WERE ONLY A FEW FEET AWAY.

Rather than saying, “That sounds almost insane,” Abby ran it with nary a raised eyebrow. Welcome, then, to  Abby’s world. I call it Pedo-delphia — a place she loves to think of as filled to the brim with pedophiles. This may explain the advice she passed along this weekend on her very favorite topic. Here goes:

DEAR ABBY: I have an idea that may prove useful to parents. I have worked in law enforcement for more than 18 years, including as a state police dispatcher. There are often stories in the media of children lost or abducted in the blink of an eye.

Because of the proliferation of cell phones with cameras, there is now a way to help law enforcement officials get the word out via Amber Alerts and news bulletins.

Parents should take advantage of these photo opportunities. Before leaving home for the day on a shopping trip or family outing, take a picture of your children in the outfits they are wearing that day. Once you are all back home, safe and sound, you can delete that picture and the next day take a new one. That way, you’ll always have a current photo of how your child looks “today,” not six months or more ago at a special event. You also won’t have to rely on your memory of exactly what your child was wearing if he or she should go missing.

Time is of the essence, so take advantage of the technology that’s available in today’s world. — JANET IN AURORA, ILL.

DEAR JANET: That’s a great idea. I am sure many thousands of parents will be grateful for your suggestion. Thank you!

And thank YOU, Abby. I’m sure thousands more parents are grateful to you for perpetuating the notion that every day in every way our children are in danger of being abducted.

Not that we shouldn’t have an up-to-date photo of our kids. That does make sense. But to make this a part of one’s DAILY routine, like flossing, is to assume that kidnapping is as likely as tooth decay. It’s also to assume that we can protect our kids from this rare occurence the way we protect them from cavities. I.e., that if and when anything bad DOES ever happen to a child, it’s because the parents just were not vigilant enough.

This is terrible for two reasons. First of all, it makes parents believe they must be on guard, at all times, against abduction. But abudction is so rare that, to quote my favorite statistic again, if you for some reason WANTED your child to be kidnapped and held overnight by a stranger, you would have to keep him or her outside, unattended, for 750,000 years for this to be statistically likely to happen. Yes, it happens THAT INFREQUENTLY. And yet parents are supposed to organize their lives — and their childrens’ — around the fear of it.

Secondly, it makes parents believe that with enough obsessive planning, they can guard their children against all evil. The corrolary to this is that now parents feel irresponsible unless they are actively keeping their kids safe from even remote dangers. This not only leads to overprotection, it leads us to blame any parents whose children who DO get hurt. He scraped his knee? WHERE WERE HIS PARENTS??

I thought Abby was supposed to give sensible advice. And I guess it is — if you live in Pedo-delphia. – Lenore

66 Responses

  1. Actually, this is really good advice – and it is good advice to make it part of your routine if you routinely go to crowded, busy places.

    Not because of abductions but because of the more pedestrian risk that your kid will simply up and get *lost*… and if they’re busy places there’s likely to be more than one crying lost child. How embarrassing is it to have your child lost and find yourself describing them as “Well, they’re about yea high… I think… and I don’t know how she’s dressed or how her hair is styled today!”

  2. I didn’t think of kidnapping when I read that advice about cell-phone cameras. I thought of kids wandering off, and me trying to remember how tall and what I dressed them in this morning and how to describe that weird way his hair grows on top…

  3. I agree with Uly, in case of a child wandering.

  4. When we go somewhere crowded (such as one of the many free kid-friendly festivals that have been held in our city this summer) I take a quick cell-phone snapshot of the kids before we set off. I also write my cell phone number in sharpie on their upper arm. I’m not worried they’ll be abducted but I am worried that they’ll get lost, especially the 4 year old who, thanks to free-range parenting, is very independent and will happily wander off by herself to look at something that catches her interest.

    I wouldn’t make this a part of our daily routine but for certain days-out I think it’s great to make use of the technology available.

  5. I’m with Lenore on this. We parents don’t need to be saddled with one more thing we’re supposed to do every single day or else we’re horrible people who don’t really love their kids.

  6. I think the letter writers to Dear Abby are, for the most part, being ridiculous, and I agree that parents are way over-concerned with stranger abduction and how supposedly “unsafe” the world is “nowadays.”

    That said, I noticed the Washington Post covered an attempt at molesting a 9-year-old in a public bathroom:
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/08/24/AR2009082402651.html
    Again, I realize this is extremely rare. But it suggests that some precautions are smart — like keeping an eye on the bathroom door to see who else goes in, noticing how long your child is taking, teaching your child what to do if someone tries to accost them (run, find parent, tell story). Sounds like this particular 9-year-old was on the ball and also lucky — but I’d still be pretty shaken up, as his parent.

  7. I don’t even have a camera phone! Has it now become an assumption that everyone has one?

  8. Some of these things just sound like urban legends. The best place to debunk an urban legend is at http://www.snopes.com/

  9. I don’t even have a camera phone! Has it now become an assumption that everyone has one?

    Yes, yes it has.

  10. Don’t try this in England, where photographing your kids is illegal, right?

    As child protection schemes, actually, this has the advantage of being relatively harmless. But of course, once people buy into this, they will also buy into all the incredibly harmful ideas, such as never letting your kids play in a park without strict supervision until they are old enough to collect social security.

    Lenore, have you tried contacting Abby? Without the sarcasm, without the bitterness, but just with the facts and statistics, and the real problems that paranoia causes? She is old enough to remember a better world, and, I think, sensible enough to rethink things when presented with new facts: I’ve seen her do it. If she printed a column with information she got from you, you would suddenly reach millions of the people you want to reach the most: modern Moms.

  11. The funny thing about the photos is how often I go to a crowded place with an adult, we get separated, and I realize that I have no idea what color outfit they are wearing that day.

  12. I think taking time out before you do anything in public to take a picture of the kids is a bit absurd. More useful is finding a landmark and talking to the kids about what to do if they get separated from you. People get separated from and reunited with their kids all the time without the aid of a cellphone. Not only is the suggestion alarmist, as Lenore suggests, but it’s a touch elitist, too – it really isn’t something just anybody could do.

    But then again, I don’t think it’s really something anybody *should* do, either.

  13. It’s funny, Lenore, I’d been thinking about asking you if you’d write about this idea that we “should” have cell phones … that parents need to be instantaneously reachable at all times. But now I see that not only “should” I have a cell phone (I do), but it “should” have a camera (it doesn’t) and I “should” take a photo of my kid daily … yikes.

  14. ‘But to make this a part of one’s DAILY routine, like flossing, is to assume that kidnapping is as likely as tooth decay.’

    Given that the cost of a cavity is the same as the cost of a kidnapping, and that the cost of flossing is the same as the cost of a photo session, and that the benefit of flossing less the cost of flossing is very near zero.

    Abby’s being a nut here. We can easily show that without bad math/logic. When fighting insanity and paranoia, math and logic are our two biggest allies.

  15. Well, I’m undecided on the matter. Having up to date photos of your kids seems to be sensible. But simply remembering it should suffice, too. I mean, how many lost kids with a red sweater can there be, even on a large fairground.

    However, the point of “extremely rare, but one should take precaution” doesn’t really make a lot of sense, considering the odds.

    Do these people really prepare for a tsunami when they visit the beach? Have all the provision for a rock slide in the mountains? And did they really thing about the odds running over another couple’s kids with their car, when they drive to somewhere, just because they forgot a litre of milk or a pack of cigarattes?

  16. “it leads us to blame any parents whose children who DO get hurt. He scraped his knee? WHERE WERE HIS PARENTS??”

    True story: The other day I was at McDonald’s with my kids. There wasn’t seating play area, so we (thankfully!) had to sit outside the glass in the main dining area. When my four-year old finished her meal and wanted to play, I let her go the eight feet from our table to the door by herself.

    The door swung shut faster than she though it would and pinched her finger in the door. Hard. Of course I rushed to her and helped her out and comforted her. An employee quickly brought us some ice, too, which was nice.

    But the irritating thing was a mom inside the PlayPlace with her kids who, rather than asking me if she was ok or offering any sympathy or condolences, glared at me as if I were a neglectful parent. Clearly I was negligent.

    Pinched fingers in doors happen. It doesn’t mean I’m a terrible parent.

  17. I won’t do this because it plays into my own paranoia. Every time I lose sight of my child for one second, I find myself imagining describing them to the police. I don’t think that is a particularly healthy habit or one I am going to encourage in myself.

    As far as children getting lost, as long as they know your cell phone number (or have it written down somewhere), it just isn’t the big deal that it used to be.

    I was lost for six hours at Six Flags when I was 7 years old (and was just fine). That just wouldn’t happen these days.

  18. I think this advice may be useful, as suggested by Uly, Liz, and a couple others, in the case of a child wandering in a crowded area. Alternatively, you could also type the child’s appearance into a text message. Of course, this is with the corollary that you can’t remember yourself what your child looks like. I know that my mother, if anything goes wrong, gets hysterical. I mean it. It’s like she completely loses the ability to think and just panics, so she can’t remember anything. Even worse, she won’t listen to anyone who keeps a cool head (which includes me).

    If too many mothers react like her, then I can’t see much harm in having an impartial electronic that can remember every detail as long as it’s told those details in advance in the case that a child wanders off. And unless you have your child leashed to you, I can assume that the child will probably wander.

  19. I’ve been doing this for years and it actually works for the wandering child. At least, it did for me, but I’ve related that story in other comments.

    Take a picture of my children before entering a crowded place where they may wander off? Check.

    Take a picture each morning? Ummmm no. Besides, if I really wanted to abduct a child, the first thing I’d do is change their hair and their clothes.

    I’m all for the “Code Adam” reactions at shopping places and outdoor venues. But not because of abductions, but for lost parents. They work well for that. As I’ve learned.

    *remembers to talk to the oldest about wandering off. Again*

  20. Yes, agree with everyone who said this is good advice in situation like the county fair where you might simply get separated – and especially with younger children who can’t be relied on to meet you in a specific location. But for every day? I don’t think so. And I don’t even have a cell phone, never mind one that takes pictures. I do have a digital camera that is very portable, but I hardly take it everywhere. The advice is not only borderline hysterical, it is also impractical for many of us.

  21. More useful is finding a landmark and talking to the kids about what to do if they get separated from you. This is much better advice than ‘take a pic of your kid every day.’ I like the writing of the phone number on the kid’s arm as well.🙂

  22. Ok, so, yes, I agree completely that organizing one’s life around the fears of and protecting against abduction is crazy. I also agree that it creates a false sense of responsibility as in the “if I’m vigilant enough as a parent nothing can ever happen to my kid” delusion.

    But, a few weeks ago when you ran a post by a woman who lost her child for a short while at a fair this “take a picture with your camera phone” idea was one of the suggestions made by one of your readers. It was offered, not to increase terror of abduction, but, as Uly points out here, to help locate the kid if they wander off and you can’t find them and need to ask people to realize that the kid hanging out by the big slide actually needs to go back to where his family is.

    It’s a lucky lucky day that I can remember what I sent my kids to school wearing. Of course, we’re not going to take their pictures everyday. You are right, abductions don’t happen frequently enough to make it a routine part of our day like flossing. However, it is something I might do before a trip to the boardwalk on Labor Day weekend so that when my daughter goes into the jungle climber and refuses to come out and I have to get the 18 year old who’s manning the booth to go retrieve her they pry out the right kid!

    It’s not about the ideas themselves, it about how they are applied that determines helicoptering or free-range.

    Remember, the mom hovering around her kids nervously reminding them to “look both ways before you cross the street” may not be a helicopter mom but rather a free-range one teaching her kids how to cross the street safely before she lets them walk to school by themselves.

  23. Working at a Children’s Museum, I must say that parents who have a photo of their child taken that day are my favorite type. Lost children are a daily occurrence, not because the forces of evil are hard at work but because people get separated. With a photo there are no mistakes due to fuzzy memories. Nothing make my job more difficult than looking for a child whose parents say he has a red shirt and shorts, only to find out that he has a green shirt and pants.

    Taking a photo every day is a bit extremist, and is not at all what the advice is saying. It only suggests for shopping trips of family outings.

  24. @Kenny: “[Abby] is old enough to remember a better world, and, I think, sensible enough to rethink things when presented with new facts: I’ve seen her do it.”

    I’ve got to argue with the first part of that. “Abby” (actually the original columnist’s daughter, if I recall correctly) is not old enough to remember a “better” world. She is, however, old enough to remember a *different* world. Older doesn’t necessarily mean better.

    (Is it surprising that I have little, if any, sense of nostalgia for my own childhood?🙂 Frankly, I thought being a kid sucked–and I didn’t have to deal with modern helicopter parenting, either!)

    Anyway, that having been said, she does indeed occasionally rethink her positions, usually as the subject of a follow-up column.

  25. I just let my 3.5 year old go into restrooms by himself. Sometimes, I simply cannot go in with him. I highly doubt he is going to be molested at our vet’s office or Target, with me right outside the door.

    While taking a picture is a great idea for special events (in my case, that crowded county fair), I agree that taking a picture everytime you leave the house will only instill fearfulness.

    Okay, Lenore – you are depressing me. We need some happy stories.

  26. Just to clarify, I meant “better” in the free range sense. If the author is 30 years or thereabouts, she is old enough to remember a world in which children went out into the woods and played.

  27. “I don’t even have a camera phone!”

    That’s it, I’m calling CPS RIGHT NOW!!!

  28. I don’t have a camera phone, either, but I see lots of them at musical performances. A year or two ago, a cartoon strip showed Star Trek’s Capt. Kirk and Mr. Spock in an early 21st-Century Earth shopping mall. Mr. Spock says: “Have you noticed, Sir, that the Earth people have communicators that can send and receive pictures. Ours cannot do that, Sir. This is highly illogical.”
    Live long and Prosper! \\//

  29. Oh Lenore. You are just a thousand percent correct on this one. And I’m so glad you caught it – when I read that Abby column my heart sank.

    “Before leaving home for the day on a shopping trip or family outing…”

    So, EVERY DAY. A ritual. Wow. I’d say more but Lenore said it perfectly.

    As far as a child wandering… I hardly think I need a picture to describe my child! I’m pretty familiar with them both.

  30. I cannot even begin to fathom how I would remember to do this every. single. day. Zoiks!

    I will admit that I have done this, but only because we were entering Disneyland. I took a picture of each of the kids on the camera that I was using for photographing absolutely everything else in the near vicinity. But at the same time, I also pointed out various large landmarks and a couple of employees and told them (3 and 5 at the time) that should the lose us, they should find an employee and/or wait at the landmark(s) for us.

    I won’t do it any other time. It just seems pointless. My kids are now 5 and 7 and are more than capable of understanding the rule of “if you get lost, stay where you are and *I* will find *you*”. Why waste time taking pictures when you should be teaching them simple strategies?

  31. Two thoughts occur to me.
    1) Abby has spent too much time sniffing ink.
    And
    2) Abby must be one twisted sister to see the world through that sick lens.
    “The lady doth protest too much methinks.” I’m just sayin’.

  32. Susan, I’m so glad I’m not the on y one that does that. I’m about as free-range as they come but the second I think something has gone wrong and I realize I can’t recall what they were wearing, I freak out. Isn’t that weird? Ok, last time I stuck up for Abby as her column was a response to all the people who did not agree with her original advice (which was to let the little boys use the men’s room already). This time, however, I can’t fathom what she was thinking. I guess it could make sense if we are at a crowded place but as a family who lives in NY almost every place we go to is crowded. My parents have lost us at the fair and such and we were found without an accurate description of clothing. There were 7 of us so I don’t think they would have even tried to remember. I guess it could be useful but I don’t see myself doing it.

  33. I have been ashamed to admit this to anyone before, so it makes perfect sense to do it publicly on a comment page! 😉
    My 4 year old has always been very independent and I have encouraged that. I realized long ago that risks are overblown by the media (I was free-ranging without even knowing it!).
    The three or so times that I could not locate my son at Target, my fear and panic was real…not that he had been abducted, I know he would scream bloody murder if someone tried to take him…but for the judgement I would have to endure from other parents and store employees if it came to asking for assistance. But it’s a very real concern. I have twice had people who were obviously better parents than me share their parenting advice, at high decibel, in public places. And no, my child wasn’t running crazily out of control. One man screamed at me, “what kind of mother ARE you?” because I allowed my son to sit quietly by the door of Hobby Lobby to finish his movie instead of schlepping to the register for an item they were holding for me!!!

  34. Kelly, you write, “‘Before leaving home for the day on a shopping trip or family outing…’

    So, EVERY DAY. … ”

    Good heavens! You’re not leaving your home every day are you??? Sheer madness ;)!

  35. Well, call CPS on me too, because I don’t have a cell phone either. I think the closest I get is that I ask the boys to wear similar clothes if we are going someplace crowded, so that it is easier to spot them. So if I know to look for the bright yellow train shirts, I can keep an eye on them more easily. But I agree that it is much more effective to stop on the way into the fair and agree what to do if we get separated. At a lot of these places, I could probably find the kids myself faster than I could find an authority to help me find the kids, so long as the kids know to stay put.

  36. In the “digital age” we find ourselves in, it seems hardly likely that the most recent picture ANYONE has of their child would be six months ago! In addition, is it just me (and the fact that I have a beautiful new 7 month old), or does it seem odd that people won’t remember what their child is wearing on a given day. I guess once they start choosing their own clothes…

    On the other hand, there aren’t very many days that go by when my husband and I don’t take a picture of our little girl…I guess the point would be not to just line them up like a mug shot…you could just do it for fun…or make a project of it – like monitoring their growth for the year or something:-)

  37. More useful is finding a landmark and talking to the kids about what to do if they get separated from you. This is much better advice than ‘take a pic of your kid every day.’ I like the writing of the phone number on the kid’s arm as well.🙂

    That’s useful advice IF AND ONLY IF your kid can be trusted to get to the landmark themselves, and IF AND ONLY IF it’s easy to get find that landmark from wherever they’re likely to be.

    As a child, there’s no way I could get from here to there unless somebody took me the first few (or several) times. Even now, when you combine a notoriously bad sense of direction with what can only be described as spatial agnosia (places that ought to look familiar don’t. I once got lost across the street from my house, even turning all the way around and staring at my house but failing to recognize it. If I enter a building from an entrance other than my normal one, I’ve found through painful experience that I will be unable to orient myself inside the building and will have to exit and try again the right way), well… I try to avoid going anywhere unless I can go with somebody else. It’s only recently that I’ve been able to consciously realize that a landmark is a landmark even when I don’t recognize it because it’s not the right time of day or I’m viewing it from the wrong angle.

    Hopefully, most people don’t have my problems🙂, but I have no concept of when it’s normal to pick up the ability to locate places in space. Can a five year old get from the start of a park to the Ferris Wheel? Can an eight year old get back from that Ferris Wheel to the entrance if he can’t see the entrance? What if they got turned around? I don’t know, there’s absolutely no way I can know what’s normal in this regard.

    So I view the picture taking as pretty good advice if your kid is young enough that they can’t find a meeting spot (however young that happens to be! I’m sure I’ll err on the side of caution with this one, because, like I said, I have NO CLUE about this one), and meanwhile I rely on my own childhood advice of “Stand still, and sooner or later the rest of us will come back to you”. (Alas, “the rest of us” means “the responsible grown-ups” which means, I’m afraid, ME. If aunties get lost, can we go to the security guard and get an ice cream like the kiddos do?)

  38. Some days, I have to look down to remember what I am wearing, LOL.

    But I still don’t feel like I have to prepare the Amber Alert just in case every time we leave the house.

  39. I dunno if it’s the same in the United States, but in Canada alot of malls have ‘family washrooms’ along with the mens room and ladies room. Family washrooms are used for breastfeeding and stuff too. It’s not out of paranoia or anything.

    I think taking a pic every single time you go out is nuts, but it’s a good idea for busy places in case you lose eachother.

    An idea though, if you don’t want to take a pic, but don’t want to forget what they are wearing either, is put them in something out of the oridinary and people will probably remember spotting a kid wearing. Like a shirt with a funny cartoon on it. I dunno if it’d work, never had this problem, just an idea. Came into mind once watching peoples faces when they saw my son’s shirt that said “Daddy’s little squirt” with caroon sperms on it…..lol…

  40. @Alexicographer – Absolutely we leave the house every day! We love outings.

    Tomorrow my 7 year old and I are biking about 25 miles out to go bike-camping (route: http://is.gd/2yRv9). I’ll be posting tweets on our trip – you can follow me at kellyhogaboom on Twitter.

  41. p.s. I live in the current “Murder Capital of Canada”, Winnipeg, and I am a bit more cautious than I would be anywhere else. Even though alot of murders are gang related, or for stupid shit, still, kinda unnerving.

  42. “Be careful. People like to be told what they already know. Remember that. They get uncomfortable when you tell them new things. New things… well, new things aren’t what they expect. They like to know that, say, a dog will bite a man. That is what dogs do. They don’t want to know that a man bites a dog, because the world is not supposed to happen like that. In short, what people think they want is news, but what they really crave is olds. I can see you’ve got the hang of it already.”

    -Terry Pratchett

    Yup. More olds from Dear Abby. She doesn’t get paid to reassure people.

  43. I’ve been meaning for a while to post a comment about a quibble I sometimes have with FRK blog posts (and I’ve started to comment once or twice), but haven’t been able to do so with any brevity. I still can’t, but I ended up posting an entry at my own website as part of a conversation with a friend. I hope it’s not inappropriate to post a link:

    http://letterstosg.com/free-range-kids-and-hand-formula

  44. I have a VERY active 21 month old. When I am going to a large event (like the Fair this weekend) I simply make a sticker and out on the back of her shirt that says Please return me to: and I give my name and 2 phone numbers. I have not needed to use this yet but I feel better about her and her fast little running legs

  45. That’s a good link. I might steal it for another purpose if I can think of an excuse, aquariumdrinker!

  46. @Michelle “Family washrooms are used for breastfeeding and stuff too. ”

    I don’t feed my children in bathrooms. *wince* There are some family restrooms in the US too but as I’ve posted in the past, the one time we tried to use one, it was locked and required an employee with a key to open it (unlike all the REST of the bathrooms) and no employee HAD the key. Pointless.

  47. Say, blog commenters…should we organize and all write to Dear Abby ourselves? There needs to be more voices than just Lenore’s to begin to dissipate the Culture of Abduction that Dear Abby is perpetuating.

    Calm, rational, and armed with facts.

  48. ” “Family washrooms are used for breastfeeding and stuff too.”

    You go eat your lunch in a toilet, and I’ll think about letting my babies be fed in one.

  49. To help defend the poor woman who posted about family bathrooms….many are set up like lounges with a foyer that includes a couch or chair that is separate from the toilet. Are we now going to be as critical of each other as “helicopter” parents are of us? If nothing else this site should be emphasizing that there are lots of different ways of parenting and a choice you don’t agree with isn’t necessarily a BAD choice!

    Lisa

  50. “To help defend the poor woman who posted about family bathrooms….many are set up like lounges with a foyer that includes a couch or chair that is separate from the toilet.”

    That’s okay then!

  51. It should have been ok anyway.

  52. LauraL, on August 26th, 2009 at 11:10 pm Said:
    @Michelle “Family washrooms are used for breastfeeding and stuff too. ”

    I don’t feed my children in bathrooms. *wince* There are some family restrooms in the US too but as I’ve posted in the past, the one time we tried to use one, it was locked and required an employee with a key to open it (unlike all the REST of the bathrooms) and no employee HAD the key. Pointless.”””””

    I should be specific, lol. They can be pretty big and have a place where you can sit and breastfeed babies.

  53. Just noticed your post, Lisa. Thanks =o)

  54. I don’t feed my children in bathrooms. *wince*

    Nor would I, but the “family washrooms” I’m familiar with are like old-school department-store washrooms: an outer room with armchairs and maybe a changing station or two, and an inner room set up like an extra-large washroom stall (so you can go in with your potty-training-age child who still needs some help without being squashed like sardines in a tin). I would feed, and have fed, my kid in one of those armchairs, especially at that really distractible age when the slightest noise or movement in kiddo’s peripheral vision results in serious nipple exposure.

    On the OP: We don’t have a cell phone, let alone a camera phone, but we do — using our digital camera, which we have with us anyway because we’re on a special outing — take a photo of the kid on arrival at places like Canada’s Wonderland (amusement park) or the Exhibition (equivalent to a state fair), in case of wandering off. I have an extremely poor visual memory, and it just seems quicker and easier to show people a photo than to futz around trying to describe what she looks like.

    We also encourage her to dress in bright colours (have you ever tried to spot one particular pink-clad little girl in a crowd of kids? A kid in turquoise t-shirt and red shorts, on the other hand…), and she knows if she gets lost she should stay put and one of her grown-ups will come looking for her.

    As others have said, this seems like an easy and sensible precaution to take for a trip to a large, crowded, unfamiliar place where anyone could easily get lost (at least, I could). It does not seem sensible to do it every day as a precaution against the de minimis risk of abduction by a paedophile. Although, hey, I am all for taking pictures of one’s kids — given enough practice, even as bad a photographer as I am will eventually get some really great shots😉

  55. I do agree with many of the comments here that taking a photo of your child or children before going somewhere there’s a risk of being separated in a large crowd – amusement park, county fair, museum, etc. – isn’t a bad idea, especially if you know you’re the type of person who “freezes up” in a panicked situation or (as someone’s mentioned) you just happen to have poor visual memory (or are color-blind). If you have the capability – cell phone camera, digital camera – why not? It’s just one more tool to help out, like having an alarm in your iPod or phone or leaving post-it notes on your fridge if you know you’ve got a poor memory, and it’s a quick & simple thing to do that could come in handy and save a lot of time.

    I think the main problem with the advice is that Dear Abby marked it as something that a parent SHOULD do EVERYDAY, as opposed to merely stating that it’s not a bad idea and may work for some people. I agree with Lenore that stating a parent NEEDS to take a picture of their child/children everyday before they go out of the house insinuates that the world outside the home is a place to be feared and that abduction is, if not inevitable, a high risk situation, and she is right to call Abby out for not point out the subtle difference between presenting this advice as “not a bad idea for parents who have a bad memory/can get overwhelmed in an emergency” rather than another shrill warning that “your kids are at high risk EVERYDAY so you NEED to do this otherwise you’re an IRRESPONSIBLE parent and anything bad that happens to your kid is YOUR FAULT!”

    So, in short, taking a picture of your kid on your cell phone (if you’ve got one) if you think it may come in handy for whatever reason, not a bad idea. NEEDING to take a picture of your kid EVERYDAY because the outside world is a scary place in which one must be ever-vigilant because kidnappers are everywhere, not so good of an idea.

  56. This one woman on an internet forum I participate in is ready to call CPS because the neigbor’s 7 YO is allowed to walk to the dairy bar without an adult (less than 1 km away) Cause you know, she might be kidnapped or something. The streets are so dangerous for a young girl.

  57. I had to laugh at the McDonalds part because of an experience I had at one this past spring. My moms group meets at McDs once a month so we can visit while our kids run around. This time, my 3 year old and my friend’s 4 year old were in the Play Place. After we finished eating, we let our toddlers run around in front by the slides. It was also to only way out, so we could catch our kids when they came out and we could go home.

    Suddenly an employee was standing in front of us and our kids came out. The employee took my friend’s son by him arm and was talking to him. He was asking for my daughter, Jena. The employee asked who Jena was. I said “She is,” and point to my daughter, “who are you.”

    The bewildered employee asked if I knew where his mother was. My friend, standing next to me, said, “Right here, is there a problem.” The confused employee said, “No.” And walked off.

    My friend and I were really confused until this woman I had never seen before started talking. She said, “They (our kids) were in the play area and were scared because they didn’t know where their mothers were. My daughter (seemed to be 7) heard that and was very upset.”

    My friend simple responded “We’ve been here the whole time.” And the woman walked off giving us the evil eye. It took me a bit to process what happened but this is what I gathered happened. The woman did not ask ANY of the mothers standing there if they knew whose kids they were and went straight to the manager and told her there were two children that were there alone. Like we took off for the mall or something! What ever happened to “Is this one yours?”

    I’ve also done the picture thing with my digital camera at Disney in case we got separated from our 3 year old in the crowd. But I don’t do it everyday, that is a bit much.

  58. Right, take a picture everytime we leave the house. Oh, good grief.

    Personally, getting the small fry ready to go and making sure we have all the necessities takes quite enough time. Add time for getting him to actually stand still for a pic? We might NEVER leave the house again! 🙂 The pictures I do have on the phone are of the blurry variety– small fry just has better things to do than smile longer than 2 sec at Ima!

    I just got a phone with a camera function about a month ago– some of us like to have our phones with us, which we can’t do if we work somewhere that disallows camera phones. Yes, really, and sometimes in a place where you can’t even get signals. So not everyone is packed out with the latest electronics, for a variety of reasons.

    I’m not taking a picture everytime we go somewhere, even though I have a fast little guy. I do like the sticker on the child idea, though. Especially for day-long outings or for kids not old enough to comply with the “if you don’t know where you are or where I am, STAND STILL and I will find you” idea.

  59. Pedo-delphia made me laugh out loud.

  60. I do like the sticker on the child idea, though.

    Just remember to stick it on the back, as I know from going to museums that give you a sticker to prove you paid admission.

    If they’re little enough to need a sticker to provide their phone number, they’re little enough to play with it the second you’re out of sight (or even when you’re in sight and are getting really annoyed at them for playing with it!), thus losing it and neatly defeating the whole purpose of the sticker in the first place🙂

  61. This isn’t really bad advice. Snapping a quick photo, carrying some kind of communication device, those are both things that are practical and may actually be a little help in the very, very rare case that something horrible happens. It’s the equivalent of advice like, if your hair stands on end in the middle of a field in a lightning storm, hit the ground and put your butt in the air. Advice that you’ll probably never need, but it’s a few seconds to communicate and might save your life if you happen to be one of the few people who remembers it *and* is struck by lightning simultaneously. No harm, no foul.

    Most of the things discussed here are more along the lines of, if you see a storm coming run inside, hide under the bed and wear tinfoil on your head until it passes. There’s no reason to deride reasonable advice even for an unreasonable fear, though. The main thing is to point out how unreasonable the fear is.

  62. My husband takes a quick pic of the kids with his iPhone as soon as we get to the zoo, museum, etc… It reminds the kids not to wander off as well. Ever since this happened… When my son was 4, he thought it was funny to run away while we were at Navy Pier in Chicago (we live in the burbs). I grilled him: what is your last name? what city do you live in? What’s your mom’s name? What’s your dad’s name? What’s your phone number?” He failed all of them. The last thing: how is a policeman going to find your family when you run off?

  63. Problem with walkie-talkies: They have limited range. Sometimes very limited. This is worsened by things like concrete buildings.

  64. […] reader, just sit for a while.  Think on that one for a few moments. It is truly breathtaking) and taking a picture of them each time you shop because they may be snatched – and that way you h… (I wish I was making this up!).  I’m tired of pointing out that the odds are greater for […]

  65. I’m with Lenore on this. We parents don’t need to be saddled with one more thing we’re supposed to do every single day or else we’re horrible people who don’t really love their kids.

  66. […] Today, Skenazy, in deflating the idea that you should snap a picture of your kids each time you leave the house with them, says: Not that we shouldn’t have an up-to-date photo of our kids. That does make sense. But to make this a part of one’s DAILY routine, like flossing, is to assume that kidnapping is as likely as tooth decay. […]

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