“When I Was a Kid, My Neighbor Was Abducted. How Can I Go Free-Range?”

Hi Readers — Here’s a letter I just got:

Dear Free-Range Kids: I’m generally in agreement with Lenore’s views.  It’s ridiculous to try to protect our children from EVERYTHING out there.  The article about not having a baby on board sign because it could decapitate the baby … fear-mongering at it’s worst!  Gave me a good lol.

My mom and I talk fairly often about this blog.  And there is one argument that she brings up that I don’t know how to combat.  When I was 14 or 15 a girl down the block was kidnapped.  She’s not been found to this day.  She was walking 3 blocks in a safe neighborhood to the local grocery store.  All of us neighborhood kids did the same thing.  She went with a friend.  Sure, it’s a VERY rare scenario, but it happened in my life.  I knew the girl and her friend.  That could have been ME!

So when it comes to things like letting the kids play alone in the park … that’s very scary.  My neighborhood couldn’t BE more typically suburban and safe.  But, how do I work up the nerve to let my daughter do something that feels so dangerous?  I don’t want to be a helicopter mom, but I don’t know how to justify something that in my experience has turned out so disastrously.  Maybe that’s the shift in thinking that I need to make … it’s not what makes me comfortable, but what is best for my daughter.  Because the likelihood of her being kidnapped is very, very low.

BTW:  For those interested, the girl is Michaela Garecht.  Her mom writes a blog here.

To which I replied:

First of all, what a tragedy. It’s impossible to contemplate it without feeling hopeless and disgusted with the world.

But then, as you point out: there is your daughter and her life and childhood to think about, too.

As far as going out and about in the world, there is no reason to start by sending her alone to the park. It would be more fun and more safe for her to go with a friend. I realize the girl in your neighborhood WAS with a friend, but an abduction like that is rarer than rare. So you can take some steps that allow your daughter out and about, but still with someone else, which is very safe.

Secondly, I think most of us feel better when we take action. So take a self defense class with her, or have her take one. Why not? Even the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children says the safest kids are the confident ones. There is confidence that comes from being prepared.

Thirdly, I don’t know how to get over the abduction fear, since it happened to someone you know. All I can say is I do know people who have been in car accidents and I still get into a car.  My friend’s boss died slipping in the tub. And, you’ll be happy to hear, I still bathe.

The sad truth — the truth we think we always have control over, but we don’t — is that sometimes tragedy happens. For some reason, we are able to compartmentalize some of our fears. Car accidents haven’t scared Americans off of driving. They say, “Well, when I’m driving, I’m in control.” But as a reader once pointed out so cogently here, if you are killed by a drunk driver, it doesn’t matter how great a driver you are (were!). Things happen. We don’t think about fiery crashes every time we put our kids in the car. We don’t leap to the headlines, and imagine all the sorrow and guilt we’d feel — and we shouldn’t. That would be an obsessive way to live our lives.

But abduction is another story. We feel it’s always a possibility, even if it’s rare, and that therefore we must actively prevent it all the time. And the only way we can think of preventing it is by never letting our kids out of our sight.

The fact is, it is rarer than lightning and we must not give our kids a Rapunzel life. The odds are very much in our favor. Meantime, it is not as if we aren’t making a trade-off, every time we refuse to let our children explore the world, or go about some of their day without us hovering. Childhood is a time to grow up. If someone else is doing all the growing up for the child —  suggesting the games, deciding the teams, watching out for the cars, finding the route home — that adult has sucked all the lessons, and joy, and even frustration and disappointment — out of the experience. Sure, they do it with the best of intentions. But they have outsourced the work, and fun, of childhood.

It is our job to prepare our children as best we can for the world. To teach them, train them, and then, gradually, to let them go. Yes, with some fear in our hearts. That’s the part about being a parent that really bites.

So good luck to you as you deal with this. And good luck to your daughter, too. And keep us posted! — Lenore

50 Responses

  1. I second self defense. Good luck!

  2. Michaela Garecht. Kevin Collins. Jon Benet Ramsey. Polly Klaas.

    Each of these is a household name. Each of these is an unspeakable tragedy, to the child, the families, and all of society. Just about everyone who sees these names knows something about each of these cases.

    And that, believe it or not, is precisely why we should NOT be afraid to send our kids outside by themselves. Just today, my own son went to the playground alone after school for the first time and I know these stories as well as anyone.

    I will say this again: The fact that we know these children’s names years and sometimes even decades after these tragedes occurs is the single largest reason why we must let our children roam as freely as possible on their own.

    Why?

    Because we do not know the names of the roughly 50,000 children who have died in traffic accidents since Kevin Collins was abducted.

    Why?

    Because the things we hear about in the news are the things we should NOT be afraid of.

    This flies in the face of common sense, but the simple fact is that the news is the news precisely because it is rare and out of the ordinary. For example, the only time we hear about a kid dying in a car wreck is when the wreck was particularly gruesome, enough to merit coverage beyond the locality where the incident occurred. Even so, these untold thousands of children die without ever making the front page or the “top story” across the nation. They die, 5 per day, nameless and faceless to most of us. Their deaths are ordinary.

    Think about this: Unless you personally know some child who died in a car wreck, I’ll bet you can’t name a single such child.

    Imagine if 50 airliners crashed each day. We would never hear about them… but that would NOT mean that flying is safe!!

    But airline crashes are so rare, and flying is so safe, that we all hear about the TWA Flight 800s and the United Flight 93s. We hear about these crashes because every year only 1 person in the entire world dies in an airliner crash for every 20 children who die in car wrecks in the USA alone.

    If 5 children were abducted and murdered each day, we would not hear much about it. If 2,000 children died from abductions each year, we would not know their names. But only 40+ die each year from classic stranger abductions.

    Be incredibly thankful each time you see a media frenzy about a stranger abduction and murder… because A) you rarely hear about such events, and B) the fact that you hear about them is proof positive that they are rare… so rare, that twice as many people are killed by lightning each year as by classic child/stranger abductions. Be thankful that one child’s sacrifice, as unneeded and undesired as it is, can serve to remind the rest of us how safe the world really is. Be thankful, because the day we STOP hearing about the Michaelas, Kevins, etc. of the world is the day when we REALLY have to worry. Thus, in a truly odd and horrific way, those childrens’ horrible sacrifices are not in vain.

    I understand this is cold comfort to those who suffer and those who are left behind. I understand it will be of little comfort to me should my own son ever become a statistic. Should that ever befall me, I will mourn my son and extract a revenge on the person(s) responsible that would shock a Catholic inquisitor.

    But… I will NEVER question the logic or the decision to let my son free-range. Because as short as his life will have been in that circumstance, I will know that, in his time, he well and truly LIVED and experienced the many wonders this world has to offer.

  3. When I was a teen, a teen from a neighboring school was abducted. We all worked shifts searching fields and buildings for her body. She was eventually found alive in the crawlspace of a church with her mentally ill captor. The event is still used by parents and grandparents as a reason to say no. Every single year, teenagers at our neighborhood high school, die in horrible car crashes. No parent uses this as a reason to deny their child a license.

  4. Lenore, yours is a wonderful, thoughtful response to a very difficult dilemma. I guess I would only add, people continue to worry about abduction. Okay. But I would argue losing a child is never easy. Outliving a child upsets the “natural” order, or – at least – the way we perceive the natural order of things.

    In the past few years, I have known eight people who have died. They were all under 50. They all have left young children behind. They have all left living parents behind. Parents who are devastated at the loss of their adult children. So people need to realize that while we don’t want to take unnecessary risks, we simply cannot protect our loved ones from everything.

    So, my advice? Do the best you can to teach your children to swim. Give your children swimming lessons, but then let them swim. Without “floaties.” If they really know how to do their strokes, they probably won’t drown. Does that mean they are safe from everything that could harm them later in life? I wish I could say yes.

    I do think your reader is ahead of the game because she is at least thinking of things. She is self-reflective about the things that worry her, so she can be careful not to recreate her fears in her own child/ren.

    http://rasjacobson.wordpress.com

  5. I think there is another point here that might help the writer. Technology has changed so much. I don’t know how old her daughter is, but a cell phone might have saved her neighbor if we had them back then. Certainly 2 youths each with a cell phone makes it much much harder to manage an abduction or other attack. A cell phone with built in camera and/or video recording (and most do now) would be quite a deterrent – and just knowing 911 means so much.
    I have relied on phones for my kids catching buses home from school since they were about 9 or 10, and I know how much comfort I drew from that.

  6. Wow. So here’s a sort of funny, but relevant memory from my childhood. When I was 4-7 years old my next door neighbor and I used to pretend that we had been kidnapped together. We never said we were playing pretend, in fact we always spoke of this event as if it had actually happened. “Remember that time those bad men took us?”
    And then, from there we would talk about what WE had done to get away. How we had fought, or screamed, or snuck away to find a phone. These were very empowering make-believe sessions. We explored all of the tools that our parents had given us, and all of the tools that we felt were inherently ours. We talked out hundreds of scenarios. Being tied up, being tortured, being threatened, you name it, we imagined it. But in every single instance, we survived, and we made it home alive.
    I understand that there are some kids who get abducted who don’t make it home. But as Lenore says, they are rarer than rare. I always knew that there was a chance, a very small chance, that someone, someday might try to take me. I admit, I almost looked forward to it. I was so well prepared. I was so ready to kick, scream, fight and sneak that I was almost (ALMOST) disappointed when I became a teen and no one had ever tried to abduct me.
    What I’m trying, and probably insensitively failing to say is: Arm your children with knowledge, empower them to take action, encourage them to resist unwanted actions from ANY adult in their lives. It’s not a 100% guarantee, but it’s as close as you can get without locking them up behind closed doors for their whole lives.
    I wish you the best as you and your daughter find your comfort zones, and I encourage you to talk to her and explain your fears. Children are so much more intelligent and capable than we ever imagine.

  7. Self defense courses are a great idea. My kids love their class. The skills take a long time to build up, but the confidence and discipline are valuable.

  8. Anthony, you have a great point!

    An entire family was killed in a car accident last year in my town on the way home from church on Sunday morning. Not far from us, a woman, her mom, and her three sons were killed when a semi veered into their lane a few years ago. I was at a graveyard a couple of months ago and saw a recent grave for a 4 year old boy and looked him up on the internet. He had been killed in a car accident on a road I drive down all the time. I hadn’t even heard of the accident. I’m sure there have been dozens of fatal accidents in my town in the last few years. I don’t know the names of any of the victims.

    However, I know the name and all the details of the little girl who was abducted and murdered in my town in 1993 (before I even lived here!). She still comes up in conversations with other moms quite often.

    I don’t know why that is.

  9. I would suggest taking a good self defense class* and enrolling your children in one. Use this to build up your self confidence and confidence in your kids.

    We had some basic self defense in PE during a unit at the beginning and end of the school year on street smarts. There was very little fear in this class – and most of the instruction was on how to bike and walk safely with the traffic in our area.

    The teachers were very low key in how they presented the what to do if someone grabs you information. The we were taught basic breaks and to scream stranger – I don’t know you and FIRE.

    It saved a classmate who was kidnapped for ransom.

    *For your kids I would look for a martial arts class with the main emphasis on fitness. The self defense part should be low key.

    I was subbing in 3rd grade one day, when I heard a conflict starting in the hall. A 6th grade girl had achieved her black belt. She was average height and in good shape. This 6 foot + football build bully was trying to say she was lying. He backed her in a corner while the class was on bathroom break and the teacher was dealing with boys being disruptive in the bathroom.

    I dashed across the room to the door, when I heard the trouble start. I got the door open just in time to see the football build boy literally fly through the air and land on his butt. The girl was in a fighter’s stance incase he came at her again. He had the good sense to come in my room when I ordered him to.

    I filled out a report. The 6th grade teacher filled out a report. The cops were called due to information given by the girl and witnesses.
    End result
    1. Boy suspended
    2. Girl No punishment

    The boy’s parents were livid and demanded the girl be suspended also for the fight. There was a meeting that included the boy’s parents, the girl’s parents, principal, and cops.

    The boy’s parents position the girl was involved in the fight also so should be suspended.

    The cop explained that their son could have been charged with sexual assault because he had attempted to reach inside the girl’s shirt and that is when she had defended herself. Her parents declined to press charges this time but would if it happened again.

    The girl faced no punishment because once she got him away from her and a teacher intervened she stopped. Had she tried to continue the conflict then she would have faced punishment.

  10. Does anyone remember this?

    There was a TV show years ago where they showed how easy it was to abduct an adult ? An older man who looked trustworthy, approached a middle-aged woman in a shopping mall and told her a believable story that convinced her to come outside and get in his car with him.

    After he locked the doors, he told her who he was and how easily he’d been able to get her into his car. No pressure, no force.

    He repeated this scenario with different women.

    I forget how many there were, but his persuasiveness worked like a charm almost every time. I think one or two women balked.

    So, what does that tell us?

    It would be interesting to find out how protective parents were of little girls who grew up and went off to college before being abducted, raped and murdered.

    ————-

    Now, shifting the topic to the over-the-top fear that Lenore’s letter writer holds — and I quote:

    “But, how do I work up the nerve to let my daughter do something that feels so dangerous?”

    Notice she says it “FEELS” so dangerous. She admits it’s a FEELING. She’s not acting rationally. It’s a feeling based on a lifetime of discussion and fear relating to that historic incident.

    There’s a process called EFT ( Emotional Freedom Techniques) that can knock out the emotional intensity associated with past events. It works for any kind of distress or trauma. And it works rather quickly. If you click on my name, you can explore my website and learn more. Most newbies find it hard to believe that this process actually works.

  11. Such and sad story. You do such a great job giving advice to these letters!!!

  12. Thank you for writing, friend of Michaela. I am so sorry about your Michaela’s tragedy. Your letter is especially important to me these days because I recently moved to a new town.

    I have met four separate people that have known abducted (by strangers, apparently!) people since I moved here. Three knew more than one abducted child or family member of abductee personally! Up until a few months ago, I’d known people who were abducted by a parent, but nothing like that. We are all from out of town and new, so it isn’t about where we’re living now.

    I kept thinking, what could I possibly say to them when I tell them, “Yes, I plan to let my child take the garbage out,” and “I don’t think it’s silly to let kids walk to school?”

    It’s worth noting, however, the different reactions they had. Two women responded by keeping their kids in. One woman repeatedly talks about making her daughter “tough” and “fighting back”. Still another emphasizes street smarts and “stranger danger” and running.

    Frankly, though I’m not keen on “stranger danger” as a phrase, it seems to be the most rational of responses (considering that the fighter believes her child should hit back at the playground).

  13. I have to disagree with the lightning comparison. Lighting is a pretty common occurrence, but people due take precautions against it, mostly by getting inside. And the life guards at the pool do their part by evacuating the pools.

    Also, the wether conditions for lightning are usually recognized quite easily, so it is possible and sensible to look out for them. Not so with abductions or traffic accidents. While it is a good idea to be aware of one’s surroundings, it’s impossible to maintain the necessary vigilance for these rare events.

    @kherbert What would have happened if the girl had simply stayed and had been attacked again?

  14. I’ve always thought that parental overprotectiveness is a sort of phobia: a fear, rooted in fact (e.g. falling from a height would hurt, spiders sometimes bite, planes occasionally crash, etc), which has become blown completely out of proportion. The letter-writer is like someone who is afraid of flying because a friend died in a plane crash: a perfectly natural response! I say to her: good for you for trying to fight it!

    In addition to the other advice given here, perhaps thinking of this as a phobia will open up new resources to you (and others in the same boat), in the form of books, support groups, therapy, etc. And finally, I think your goal shouldn’t be to eliminate the fear, but to learn how to cope with it.

    Good luck and best wishes.

  15. Amber schwarz-Garcia was my friend. She live two blocks from me in Pinole, CA and was kidnapped in front of her home by a paroled felon who then drove her to Arizona where be murdered her in a hotel room. I’ve lived with that fear as a parent, but I, despite the local tragedy, wasn’t kept in or restricted afterwards. I try everyday to not let my crippling fear keep my nine year old son from experiencing that which I enjoyed at his age. People who wonder about the what ifs and haven’t experienced this sort of tragedy should take heed. Amber’s kidnapping made me a more careful kid, but I at least got to BE a kid. Let your kids be kids.

  16. It all boils down to actual risk versus fear, absolute safety never comes into it.

    The letter’s author knows someone that was abducted. One person. How many other people does she know that weren’t, or that died as a result of more mundane causes?

    Nobody is saying you will never be struck by lighting or felled by an asteroid falling on you, they are just saying it is really, really unlikely, and that living your life as though it were not is a fool’s errand.

  17. Note, everyone, that the letter-writer is already aware that abduction is a low-probability event; she’s not one of those helicopter parents who insist that they are right to be overprotective. Her question isn’t “Should I be afraid?” but “How do I get over being afraid?”, and (speaking as someone with anxiety issues) you can’t cure someone of a fear simply by telling them they are wrong to be afraid, any more than you can tell a depressed person to “snap out of it”.

  18. I would tell her that statistically speaking, the likelihood is even LOWER than usual! I mean really, what are the chances something that rare happens that close to you twice? Astronomically tiny.
    I am comforted by this type of info, but most people aren’t. She will need to put emotions aside and go at this logically instead.

  19. @Staceyjw ah, but would Be, mathematically speaking, incorrect. The event “two abductions in the same vicinity” may be rare, but since those two abductions are in all likelihood unrelated, the probability of each individual abduction are unaffected. i advise against using that argument, as it is faulty and will negatively impact mathematically correct arguments by association.

  20. This is helpful. As I’ve shared with Lenore, two rather frightening, statistically anomalous things have happened to children fairly close to me (geographically not personally, one in my neighborhood, one across town) within the last six months. The fear response this creates is real (and probably healthy, if properly managed.) It’s good to have a way of thinking around it, as well.

  21. Thank you for such a measured, compassionate response. It’s great to acknowledge people’s fears are not baseless, even if we disagree with their conclusions.

  22. The thing to remember is that by helicoptering your children you are actually making them LESS safe in the long run. You can’t watch your children 24/7 when they’re children, let alone when they grow up and move away from home.

    Watch a video of lions hunting. They don’t attack the strongest zebra in the herd. They take down the young, the injured, the one daydreaming off to the side. Most criminals function in very much the same way. They don’t prey on the confident and street smart. They prey on the vulnerable. The one who’s drunk. The one who is scared of her own shadow. The one who clearly looks lost. The one who has no self-preservation skills. If your child walks through life lacking confidence because he fears everything or making bad decisions because someone’s always managed her life, he or she is going to be vulnerable to being a victim.

    It’s scary to let your kid run free and make her own mistakes. I think that we all have an innate protective instinct concerning our children that gives the knee-jerk reaction to keep them safe at all costs. But we have to make a choice – keep them 100% safe for 18 years but make them vulerable for the next 60 or to fight our own fears and give them some freedom now in hopes that they gradually learn skills and confidence that will keep them safe for 80 years.

  23. @staceyjw: “She will need to put emotions aside and go at this logically instead.”

    I think you’ve hit on her real question. It’s not “how can I let my kids go to the park by themselves”, because that’s easy: just let them go to the park. The real question is, “How can I let my kids go to the park by themselves without agonizing every minute about their well-being and/or having a panic attack.” You say “put emotions aside”; she’s asking “how?” It’s not so easy for most people; if it were, there would be no such thing as depression or phobias or post-traumatic stress.

  24. I would say to the author that she probably will not ever stop being afraid. We’re all afraid of terrible things happening to our children. The trick, as I see it, is to suck it up and be brave — for your children’s sake.

    Now that I’ve been reading this blog regularly, I am no longer concerned that my son (being, of course, the cutest toddler the universe ever saw fit to create) was a prime candidate for abduction so must not leave my sight. However…… now I *am* a bit afraid of driving in a car! I suppose there will always be something, because it’s natural to be afraid that harm will come to the ones we love — but we as parents need to be brave and not let our fears shrink our children’s world.

  25. I grew up in a small town, but for some reason, there were a lot weird of child deaths when I was young. Two teen girls died of carbon monoxide poisoning, one girl died of leukemia, one toddler drowned in inches of water in just a few moments when out walking with her mother and grandmother, one kindergartener choked/had a heart attack while at school. What do all these horrible child deaths from my past have in common? They are random. They are unpredictable. And in most cases, there isn’t much you can do to prevent them.

    It’s a horrible thought, but not all children will make it to adulthood. The question is, did they lead full lives before they had theirs tragically cut short? You can be the best parent in the world and do everything humanly possible to protect your kids and they could still die or be abducted. And if that event occurs are you going to look back and feel all superior and justified thinking “Oh, well at least I was a good parent that didn’t let my kid go to the park alone!”

  26. “You say “put emotions aside”; she’s asking “how?””

    You do it by . . . making the decision to do it, even as some part of you is screaming inside. You can sit there in a quivering ball the entire time your child is gone, and then tell the screaming part of you “he came back safe” when he comes back safe.

    My son is 4 years old. We were camping for two weeks. One day his father was gone from the site, and he needed to go to the bathroom. He wanted to go to the men’s room because he only needed to pee and wanted to use the urinal.

    The bathroom was across the street and a little over from our site. I could have forced him to come with me to the women’s room. I could have walked him over to the bathroom and stood outside the men’s room door. I sat my butt down on the picnic bench, reminded him to look both ways as he crossed the campground road, told the screaming ninny in my head to shut up, and watched him walk correctly across the road, go into the bathroom, come back out, and walk happily back to the site.

  27. exactly, Dee! I also find humming a silly song helps… OH, and so does not reading news stories about horrible things happening to children.

  28. mvb: I agree, sometimes there is no amount of rationalizing that will make a fear go away and that is when sheer bravery comes into play. Doing what you know is right doesn’t necessarily mean being comfortable with your decision. You may never be comfortable letting your daughter go alone, and you may always have to psyche yourself up to allow her to do it, and you may always be on edge the entire time until she returns (unlikely, but still), but you know in your heart that it is the right thing to do.

    What really helps me is to remember that security itself is an illusion. There is no security, anywhere, ever, because anything COULD happen. The only reason we fear certain things such as letting our kids go out by themselves is because we imagine that there is total security in the alternative (going out with them or keeping them in). When we realize that there is no security in anything we do, whether going out or staying home or flying or driving or what-have-you, it becomes easier to evaluate and accept risk rather than shying away from it.

  29. To the writer of the letter: Would it help you to know that as soon as you mentioned your neighbor getting kidnapped at the grocery store, I was pretty sure you were talking about Michaela Garecht? In other words, in my entire life, I’ve only ever heard about *one* girl getting kidnapped at the grocery store.

    Of course, Michaela’s not the only girl who was kidnapped doing something she had every right to be doing. I can actually list the names of many of the children who’ve been kidnapped in Northern California in the 25 years I’ve lived here. It’s horrible–but, in a weird way, it shows just how rare kidnapping is. I certainly *can’t* list the names of children who’ve been killed by and in cars in that time period.

    I totally sympathize with your fear. Horrible and dreaded events like kidnapping do mark us in a way horrible but not-so-dreaded events–like car accidents–don’t. That emotional scar may never go away. But you still get to decide how you want yourself and your family to live.

  30. It has often been said that courage is not the lack of fear, it is the ability to act in spite of your fear. Those here who are saying that the point is not to free yourself of fear are right. Don’t try to not be afraid and then act once the fear is gone — act, and then try not to be afraid. Eventually, your experience will tell your emotions that there really isn’t much to be afraid of — not enough to let it bother you. Then the fear will be gone. But it will not leave any other non-chemical way.

    Of course, all this assumes that we’re talking about something rational, like letting age-appropriate kids do things by themselves. Fear is sometimes a healthy warning sign against things you SHOULD be afraid to do.

  31. “Of course, all this assumes that we’re talking about something rational, like letting age-appropriate kids do things by themselves.”

    And that’s why you need to think through and come up with a series of things you believe your child should be able to accomplish by particular ages. I think I’m a little bit older here, and what I remember is that my parents had expectations and responsibilities for us, it was our job to live up to those. For example, It was their expectation that I be responsible enough to watch my younger sibs for an occasional evening when I hit 6th grade. I knew what that meant: I needed to keep them from completely destroying the house and get them into bed at a somewhat decent hour. If I accomplished that by sticking them in front of the vcr and feeding them popcorn until they fell asleep, well, I accomplished it.😉

  32. thinkbannedthoughts, I couldn’t have said it better myself. I would like to add to this though, confidence is key here. As Donna said as well, most child abductors prey on children because they know they can. Because they know they are weak and will not put up a fight. Most people will never take advantage of someone they feel is confident about themselves (not cocky…confident). It’s too much trouble to deal with someone who they feel can easily defend themeselves. That’s why I’ve taught my nephew and extended nieces and nephews to walk with head high. Never look down while you walk, don’t shy away when people are looking at you, to acknowledge their presence and keep moving forward like nothing bothers or frightens you. If children were empowered by knowledge and physical capabilities (self defence), their confidence WILL grow. And with confidence, comes a clear head, with a clear head you are able to deal almost any situation. Abduction being one of them. Especially if you were another confident friend. That’s double trouble for any would be assailant.

    As parents, we cannot give into fears. We need to accept that there are things that no matter what we do or say, we just don’t have control over. Bad things will always happen, its sad but true. It’s the way of the world. If it’s not you, it will definitely be someone else. And that other parent I’m sure did everything humanly possible to protect their child. But this should not dishearten us, is should (as someone else said here) strengthen us. Give us the much more drive to prepare ourselves and our children. But the right way. There’s always a right way and wrong way of doing everything.

    As for the question of “how to get over the fear”. The short answer is GET OVER it. It is easier said than done, but it all depends on the mindset of the individual. What do people do when they are at the pool and the water feels cold? The timid and “weak” minded, will sit on the outskirts looking lost. But most, will say “frack it!” and jump right in. You get that initial “woooo” feeling, then you realize, it’s not that bad. Because you get accustomed to it. It’s like ANY other fear. You face it head on, acknowledge it, and get accustomed to it. How do you get accustomed to the fear of you child being abducted? By not thinking of how or when your child can be abducted, but by how your going to prepare you child to face any situation. Your child depends on you for support. How do you think they will feel if you they know your scared yourself. Teaching your child fear will only make things worse for them. Use that as a drive to bettering yourself and in turn helping your children more. I can almost guarantee, that anyone who faces their fear head on and teaches their children correctly, will overcome any fear. You will always have some worries, but that is extremely mild compared to being constantly fearful.

    @Peter Brülls: The girl would have just kicked the boy’s ass again. But this time, the boy would sent to Juvie. That’s would be his second offense. That’s the thing with confidence, once you get it, it empowers you to do things you thought you never used to be able to do. The more you do it, the more confident you become, that everything becomes second nature. You observe, take in, and react automatically. That would be a parent’s dream. For their child to know what to do, when to do it, how to do it. We just have to give them that opportunity to do so.

    Someone else said hear that no matter how good a driver you are, you can never escape tragedy. There is some truth to this, because you cannot always control the actions of another person. BUT, being a good driver doesn’t just mean following the speed limit, and traffic signs. You also need to be very attentive behind the wheel. Whenever I drive, my mind is on DRIVING. When I’m coming to an intersection even though the light is green for me, I’m still looking at the intersecting traffic for any cars that might be coming up too fast, or pedestrians that look like they are about to bolt across. If I seen anything out of the ordinary, I slow down a bit to compensate. There have been a few times where this has served me well. Prevented me from running over a cyclist, and having enough stopping distance to avoid a car running a red light. Awareness is extremely useful in anything you do in life. ANYTHING. It’s become second nature to me in my adult life, but only because as a kid, I was taught and encouraged to be always aware of my surroundings. Over time, I also learned how to deal with the things that I observed and come across. My parents always worried, use to fear for me. But as their confidence in me grew, my confidence grew. And as my confidence grew the realize that they didn’t have anything to fear. They still worried at times, but they never stressed out.

  33. I also think free range parenting is necessary for self-preservation. We’re meant to see our children gradually move away until, as adults, they move out and start lives of their own making. We’re not meant to attach our kids to our hip for 18 years only to loose them all at once.

    Last weekend the population in my town increased by about 35,000, including the almost 5,000 newly minted adults who moved into the freshman dorms. I can’t imagine how tragic that day is for the helicopter parents amongst them. This person who you have kept such a close eye on for 18 years is now living someplace else. Your job – protecting this person from all pain at all costs – is over. Yes, you are butting into his or her life every day – calling, texting, scheduling classes, talking to professors – but Jr. now LIVES in a dorm in another town, maybe several hours away. It would almost seem like having a limb amputated at that point.

    So you are not just doing the right thing for your child, you are doing the right thing for yourself in the long run. You are doing what nature intended – letting go little by little as the capabilities of the children increase. The first time you let them go around the block on their bike themselves you will probably hold your breath until they are home. How would that feel if the first time you let them out of your sight was on the day you dropped them off for college, when they weren’t coming home until Thanksgiving?

    On a side note, when I attended this exact same college many moons ago, it was very rare for anyone other than freshmen to live in the dorms. Apartments and rental houses are plentiful and cheap. And living in the dorm was not mandatory for anyone; most freshmen did but there was no rule against not. Now freshmen are required to live in the dorm and I noticed in an article about the opening of the newest dorm every resident quoted was beyond freshman. Just more evidence that we are pushing the age of true adulthood higher and higher.

  34. I would also like to recommend EFT. It’s a great way to release negative emotions.

  35. I may be coming off as a bit of a spoilsport here, but I’d be a little wary of “closed source” psychotherapies like EFT, TFT, EMDR and the like. What these therapies have in common is that practitioners have to be taught by organizations established by the originators of those therapies, and generally have to sign agreements not to disclose what they’ve been taught. This is in contrast to standard “open source” therapies like exposure therapy (generally considered the standard for overcoming phobias); those are taught in any good clinical psychology program and anyone in such a program can read proper evaluations of their effectiveness. With closed-source therapies, generally the only “evidence” for their effectiveness consists of testimonials (success stories) which, to the scientific mind, are really a form of advertising rather than evidence.

    Advocates of open-source therapies generally respond to criticism in the academic literature. Advocates of closed-source therapies often respond to criticism with lawsuits.

    Note that drugs manufactured by big for-profit corporations play only a very minor role in the proper treatment of anxiety disorders. Open-source psychotherapy isn’t tied to the interests of Big Pharma (and I have no financial interest in any pharmaceutical manufacturer).

  36. As my mom would say, don’t take a rational fear, “Someone might kidnap my kids” and turn it into a irrational fear. “OMG! Someone will kidnap my kids if they leave my side.”

  37. I love the idea of self-defense classes. I have a young daguther who would have a great time in one of those.

  38. This post moved me because I was *almost* abducted. It was back in 1977 (I’m getting old!), and I was 4 years old. I was basically a free range kid. My mom and grandmother went shopping, my dad was in the backyard on the riding mower with my little brother, my grandfather was in the house watching TV, and I was sitting by the garage – in our driveway. We lived in a suburban Pittsburgh, PA home. A car pulled into our driveway, a man got out, and approached me. I was very outgoing and social. No one ever told me to not to talk to strangers and I had no fear. He asked me if I wanted to help him find his friends. Then he asked me if I wanted to go for a ride with him to look for his friends. I gladly agreed and walked to his car with him. Just as he was about to open my door, my grandfather came out to check on me. The man quickly ran to the driver’s side, got in his car, and sped off – without saying a word. When I told my parents what had happened they were mortified. My grandfather was convinced that the man had some bad intentions. My grandfather got a good look at him and swore he would never forget his face. He recognized it years later, when the man (so we believe) was caught for abducting, molesting, and murdering several young girls in the Pittsburgh area.

    Still, it’s in my nature to be free range. A life lived in fear isn’t worth living. I got lucky. The only reason I’m still here is my grandfather’s good timing. It’s so important that we teach our children to be prepared and to never go ANYWHERE with a stranger – especially a man wanting help from a child. While my mother became a bit nervous about anything happening to me after that incident, she still gave me freedom. She made sure I understood that people can be dangerous and to never go anywhere with someone I don’t know and then she let me live. I still wondered off in stores, played all over the neighborhood and in the woods, went to sleepovers, field trips, and at the age of 12, went to a foreign country for a summer with an exchange program.

    We must prepare our children to handle themselves and then LET THEM LIVE.

  39. @Carrie: You have a very brave mother; I am glad that the incident didn’t become the tragedy OR the trauma that it might have been.

  40. @Lihtox: She is brave. Although, I think the culture of the time was different. Being overly protective (helicopter parenting) wasn’t so common – it was considered weird and unhealthy. Nowadays, seems like people compete to see who is more protective and fearful!

  41. I am going to ask my sister’s thoughts . Her son was the victim of an attempted abduction not that long ago.

    The ‘story’ that wasn’t a story is that he and the other two kids he was with were able to escape, successfully identify the two men in the white van, and they were prosecuted (and aquitted, but that’s another story for another day).

    I was molested by a stranger as a very young girl. The ‘story’ that wasn’t a ‘story’ is that I was not RUINED for life. I did not grow up to display abberant behaviors or develop other personalities. In fact, the worst thing about it was my parent’s reaction and fury toward the perpetrator.

    I remember walking home with my sisters and a man wearing a hat low to cover his face offered us a ride home, and candy.

    We refused, and he drove off cursing, his tires screeching and spitting rocks.

    The truth is – this CAN happen. It IS rare, but it CAN happen. Children must be taught reasonable caution and self reliance.

    As someone pointed out, I also had some similiar encounters as an adult. I was able to escape unharmed because of my own and other kid’s experiences growing up. I hadn’t been so sheltered and protected that I was helpless as an adult.

    Scary stuff, but I knew a woman who died after sucking a spaghetti noodle down her windpipe.

  42. I’m coming in late (I was on vacation and didn’t check any electronic gadgetry – yaya!). I just want to say I think your response was a good one, Lenore. Thanks.

  43. I know all about Michaela Garecht. As a matter of fact, I read her mom’s blog daily. Her case has touched my heart and haunted me so much… but I still am all for free-range parenting. Ironic, isn’t it? I lived miles and miles and miles away from where she was abducted but I’ve heard and followed her case pretty much all my life. So even though I’m very aware that this happens, it’s rare. Like, VERY VERY VERY rare.

    The scum that kidnapped Michaela obviously wasn’t a dunce. Moving the scooter to the side of his car was planned. It’s true that kidnappers will think of these things to lure kids. But if you teach them to follow their insticts, and if something seems different or wrong in any way, that they should tell and adult, they will be fine.

    The sad thing is, Michaela knew all about strangers. Her mother had put her through several child safety programs. The problem with those classes, however, were that they likely never discussed things like the scooter trick. If they did, Michaela would not have fallen for it. I’m guessing the classes dealt with stereotypical tricks like “Can you help me find my puppy?” I could be wrong, but this is what I believe they taught.

    I just felt I had to say a few things about Michaela here, after being haunted by her case. Her mother has dealt with a massive plague of suffering. 22 years and she still doesn’t know what happened to her own daughter. I feel for her. And I can definately understand someone who grew up in Michaela’s neighborhood. When things like that happen close to your home, you never forget them, ever. But it’s that whole instinct thing that people need to teach their kids. What happened to Michaela is awful, awful, awful, but also very rare, and can be used as an example when teaching kids about instincts.

  44. I sent this article to my sister whose then 12 year old son was involved in an attempted kidnapping in Arizona about 6 years ago.

    I asked her to post here personally, but she is a teacher embroiled in back to school events and can’t reply in a timely manner, but this was her reply to me:

    Re Free Range Kids-I, of course, had a kid who experienced that rare occasion of almost being kidnapped. He was with 2 others. One of them almost obeyed the “plain clothes” “cop’s” command to get into his “unmarked” car. But Sean and the other kid backed off and refused to do it. They could have fled but refused to abandon their friend(who started to obey the “cops”). So all 3 escaped that situation. The guys were caught and tried but due to police bungling (on purpose, to preserve a snitch?) He got off. Luckily he was already in the slammer for other trial-worthy reasons and stayed in jail anyway, found guilty on other charges. I think the best thing to is to teach kids to never believe strangers about things like that and to buddy up when out, as often as possible. What else can we do? Sean was in the parking lot of the church that housed his school, right in plain view of the street, for Pete’s sake! It can happen anywhere!
    ——————————

    As far as teaching children specific ‘tricks” kidnappers might use, it’s probably useless since a new ‘trick’ can crop up at anytime.

    My nephew was approached by two men in a white van claiming to be “Undercover Cops” who ordered the kids to get into their van.

    One child started to obey, but the other two backed away, and used a cell phone to call police.

    The moral of the story has more to do with teaching kids to rely on their instincts rather than cell phones – you may or may not have the opportunity to use a cell phone, but you ALWAYS have your instincts.

    Finally, I do not offer this as criticism, but I don’t understand why anyone would follow a blog about a kidnapped child decades later. It must be a comfort to the mother, and yes, it IS extremely horrible IF it happed to your own child…

    …but there are so many other REAL dangers facing your children these days and FAR more likely to destroy their lives forever that are going ignored.

    The same parents who so publicly agonize over their child’s kidnapping are the same parents responsible for putting hundreds if not thousands of other people’s children on sex offender lists, which is essentially a walking dead list. Their ‘innocence’ is forever lost in a legal system that never forgives, their futures kidnapped and never returned before they are even old enough to sign a legal contract.

    I’m not talking about kids who committed an actual crime either – I’m talking about sexting, mooning, “Romeo & Juliet” cases, false accusations and the innocuous “kidnapping” charges that are now landing kids on sex offender registries.

    Those who know me know I have that particular ax to grind, but the reality that something like THAT happening to your child is VERY likely, and the pain you will experience for the rest of your life is every bit as much as any other parent whose child has lost his life.

    Far more children are being “kidnapped” into the legal system than are being kidnapped off the streets, yet Michaela and JonBenet Ramsay command far more attention decades later.

    Think about it.

  45. How many of us would respond to this man, or follow his ‘blog’ or care about his grandson’s life? How many people still blog about JonBenet Ramsay?

    This is Sam Marrs from Hulbert,okla.I am writing this for my Grandson Coty Marrs.
    In April of 2007 he ran afoul of the Adam Walsh Act,. an act written by a confessed sex addict and a US senator who courts little boys. How can they make laws for our children when no one would want them around their children?

    My grandson Cody was at an all-night birthday party for one of his sisters friends when he was 18 years old. According to people at the party, an older woman bought liquor for the attendee’s, including my grandson, and he became intoxicated, so a few folks put him in one of the bedrooms to sleep it off. A young lady, age 14, who was being frisky followed him into the room and Cody and the girl admit things went a little too far and they had consensual relations. We do not condone the behaviors of our grandson, nor the others, however we do understand Cody and this young lady shared in consensual relations and there was no force or violence. Basically, two dumb kids being irresponsible but does this make one a monster?

    A few days later, a female Sheriff’s Investigator came to our home and just walked in, without knocking. My wife, Cody’s Grandmother, had to ask her twice who she was before she told her. The Investigator said she just wanted to ask my grandson some questions.

    My wife asked this woman, 3 times if Cody needed an attorney, and the Investigator responded, “No, I just want to ask him some questions.” She took Cody into the kitchen, where no one else was allowed while questioning our grandson and had him sign a confession she wrote out, that he had sex with this young lady from the party. After signing the confession, she placed Cody under arrest without reading him his Miranda Rights and led him out of our kitchen. My wife was aghast and mentioned that she, (the officer) told her that Cody did not need an attorney. This woman Investigator just grinned and said, “he doesn’t, he just confessed,” and then proceeded to take our grandson to the local jail where he was booked.

    The next day the girl involved sent an email to the girl who had the birthday party. It stated that my grandson had not seduced her and she was sorry for causing trouble. Her email name was “punkass rocker”.

    I took a copy of this email to the district attorney in hopes he wouldn’t file charges since the girl, nor her mother, wanted to press charges against Cody. I was informed by the District Attorney that it was up to the state to file charges, and he did.

    We hired a local attorney to represent Cody, and three or four months into this, we found out that this lawyer had been disbarred. We immediately hired another attorney with a local law firm in Tahlequah area. Cody’s case was assigned to one of this lawyer’s interns who just threw us to the wolves. My grandson took a plea to keep me from being out any more money.

    This is when Hell on earth began for Cody, and us, as he took a plea to a felony conviction of Second Degree Rape, under Oklahoma statutes (all consensual cases read second degree rape), classed by offense, not an assessment, as a Tier 3 Violent, Aggravated Sex Offender for life. The plea bargain required five years felony sex offender probation supervised, and ordered Cody to undergo treatment. Cody’s sex offender treatment included group therapy with people who beat women up and raped them and one guy who forcibly raped a 6 year old boy. He had a good job but had to miss every Wednesday to go for treatment. This some times involved driving 2 or 3 hundred miles to make these meetings.

    Just in the last few months, the District Attorney decided he needed to move out of the home where he spent his entire life because I had guns in the house. His Probation Officer knew this because he had seen them and they are locked up. But with a change in the Probation Officer came a whole new set of rules and Cody went to his dads house 5 miles west of Hulbert. As a Registered Sex Offender he had to report his new residence so he gave the sheriff the address on the mailbox in his Dad’s front yard. He didn’t know that a guy who rented a trailer house space from his dad had put up the mail box. Cody had his mail forwarded when he moved. However, mail from the Oklahoma Department of Corrections was returned and Failure to Register charges were filed on Cody.

    Now the local District Attorney is asking for Cody to serve ten years in a Oklahoma Prison! Under our laws my grandson will serve 85% of his sentence if found guilty.

    If this can happen in a country I loved and fought for, why am I still living here?

    My grandson is just a kid and yet is facing many years in prison while others like the Assistant D.A. involved in prosecuting this new case, was fired out of the Muskogee County DA office, and the sheriff’s investigator who arrested him was picked up by the OHP for DUI/drugs and resigned from the sheriff’s department.

    I was under the impression that the Gestapo went out of business in 1945,but it is alive and well in Cherokee County, Oklahoma.

    This country’s sex offender laws have been patterned after a set of laws which failed, known as the Jim Crow laws. Simply take the word “negro” and insert “sex offender” and its all the same except for the part about Equal Protection.

    Why are we giving up our children to a bunch of asinine people who don’t care a snap about right or wrong ,just a conviction record?

    When you write letters to the Governor , Senators, Congressmen, Judges, district Attorney’s, and the Attorney General who never responds and ignore their constituents,who do you turn to just to get your side of the story told? No one has listened yet. Is everybody afraid? I’m to old to be afraid of anything. My wife of 45 years has suffered a stroke from stress behind this and no body gives a damn.

    Please someone help us tell our story so we can educate other family’s with youngsters like my grandson Cody. Please help me save his life!

    Written by,

    Sam Marrs

  46. When I was a kid (in elementary school) I was waiting at school to be picked up by my friend’s mum. She came but couldn’t fit all of us into her car, so she took 3 of us and left the other 2 behind (myself and her oldest son (12 at the time… I was 9).

    A few minutes after she left a man approached us and tried to lure us into his car. ‘Oh, yeah. Your mum just spoke to me. She said I should give you a lift home instead of her.’ etc

    Both of us said ‘No. We will wait for her. Thank you.’

    He kept pestering us, so we told him we would go to the principal’s office and call my friend’s mum from there to check. He disappeared pretty quick.

    (He was arrested a few days later and charged for this offence)

    My friend and I were not hurt because our mom’s both taught us all about ‘stranger danger’. There was no way we were getting in that car.

    The best thing about this whole situation is that my mom didn’t change her attitude to child raising. I was still allowed to ride my bike all over town, sleep over at friends’ houses, etc.

    This event proved that I had the ability to understand the rules and cautions she had laid down for me. I wasn’t able to be tricked by some pervert, and was able to pick up very quickly that he was indeed someone to be cautious of.

    Trusting our kids, educating them and explaining our rules to them is the way to raise them. Hiding them behind locked doors is not going to make our children world wise.

  47. So I’m late reading this post, but it made me think of a friend of mine. She died in the TWA 800 crash when we were 16. Her mom later went on a TV show (can’t remember which one) and was asked is this tragedy made her overprotective of her other two kids. She said no, that it actually makes her worry less about the other two because she’d done everything she could to keep my friend safe and she still died in a freak accident. It made the mom accept that she couldn’t control everything and nothing she did would really “keep” her kids safe. She just did her best and prayed a lot.

  48. For the woman who’s friend was abducted:

    When my daughter was 4 years old we moved into an apartment complex. I met a very nice man who lived in the same complex and we wound up dating.

    Often we would go on outings – the movies, mostly and my daughter, wanting to stretch her independence would beg me to allow her to “go get Jeff” and let him know we were ready to go. This would mean walking down to his building, in plain view of ours, usually with me outside but not always, entering his building by herself and knocking on his door.

    While we lived there, Ralph Lynch, the man who lived across the hall from Jeff molested and murdered Mary Love, a 6 year old girl while we lived there.

    http://www.enquirer.
    com/editions/1998/07/05/loc_mary05.html

    I have thought of Mary Love often over the years, especially anytime I have let my daughter go anywhere alone.

    And yes, I continued to let her go places alone, and try her independence. Now she is a freshman college student, navigating a strange city in another state on her own and I do not regret a single lesson she learned from any moment she spent learning how to fend for herself.

    I could have use Mary Love as an excuse to keep my daughter from doing anything. My daughter is a petite, small girl and before she went off to college I had nightmares of her being kidnapped and stuffed into a suitcase such as a model had been, as covered in gruesome detail by Nancy Grace and as “ripped from the headlines” and re-enacted by Law and Order SVU.

    I could use Mary Love as an excuse. But I don’t. We should never use past tragedies to keep us stifled from living in the here and now.

    We can keep our children safe as best we can but we must also teach them to navigate the danger in the world. Keeping them safe at home isn’t really keeping them safe at all.

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