Not Letting Scary Myths Go Un-busted

Hi Readers: Here are some excerpts from a discussion going on — the kind of discussion we can all undertake, when we come face to face with the safety “advice”  that only makes people more scared.  The tips that begin this exchange (vastly edited down, by me) were posted on a PTA list serve by a police department’s “safety expert.” Here goes:


If you are a parent, you are certainly concerned about the increasing
amount of criminal activity directed against children of all ages. From
assaults, molestation and kidnapping of very young children, to brutal
muggings, date-rape and murder of college-age students, violence against
children is a terrifying occurrence that strikes numerous families every
day. However, by taking certain precautionary steps, you and your
children can reduce the possibility of your family becoming victims…

– Teach your children to keep the doors and windows in your home locked
at all times. Instruct them that they must never open the door to a
stranger, even if you are home with them….

– When out with your children, never leave them unattended –
anywhere! Don’t leave them alone in your car (even if you are just
running inside the store “for a minute,” or if you are pumping gas
at a self-service gas station). In these instances, you are inviting a
kidnapping, a carjacking or both! Don’t leave your children alone in
a store while you are shopping. Keep an eye on them constantly. It
only takes a split second for a criminal to abduct your children and a
crowded store is no protection.

– While on vacation…Don’t let your children travel from your hotel room to the pool, or any other area, without supervision. You do not want them in an elevator with a stranger or walking in an area in which they could easily be assaulted or abducted.

– Don’t let your children use a public restroom alone. Always go
with them.

– Be sure that your child is not alone when playing outside.

– Reconsider putting your children’s names on their clothing or
possessions in visible locations. If you can see it, so can the
criminals. They can then use the children’s names to convincingly
deceive them…

Protecting older children (middle school through high school):

Most of the safety tips and rules described in the previous part of
this are applicable to older children as well….Please review the previous paragraphs carefully and select those tips and rules that apply to them.

– Talk to your children about the importance of avoiding gang members.

– Tell your children to avoid all contact with drugs and alcohol.

College Students:

….Today’s college students MUST pay extra attention to personal safety.

– Freshmen need to be extra careful as they may be targets for abuse by

– Be aware that criminal attacks on campuses are on the rise and should
be taken seriously.

– Always lock your room door when you leave, even if it’s for a short time if you’re just going down the hall.

– When studying in the library, be observant. Often, the best places to study (quiet, unpopulated areas) are the best places to be victimized.

– Don’t go to parties alone, especially if alcohol is served. Never
leave your drink unattended or accept open drinks from someone you
don’t know.


Dear Ms. P.,

A member of our PTA Listserve just posted your list of recommendations to keep children safe.  I appreciate your concern for children’s safety, but worry that general statements such as “the increasing amount of criminal activity directed against children of all ages” lead people to believe that these types of abduction-type scenarios are common now, when in fact they are incredibly and increasingly rare when you look at the actual data.

…Of course I want them to protect [my kids] from extreme circumstances, but with these warnings, you paint a picture of a world in which predators are everywhere, waiting to pounce at any second, and that my children and I need to be fearful of every person and every situation.  This is not how I want to raise my children.

Please make it clear in future communications of the true likelihood of any of these horrific events.


Alison Risso


Dear Alison: While I appreciate your feedback, the safety tips are just that — tips to make people aware…. While the tips may be overwhelming to you, I have received feedback from others who appreciated receiving them…. I think it would be remiss of me to give these tips and then in the next sentence relay that the probability of it happening is nil.


Dear Ms. P.,

Thank you for your response.  As I said, my objection was….to the statements that these sorts of crimes against children are increasing.  This simply isn’t true and, as a representative of the police department, I expect you to present solid, objective information.


AND NOW A WORD FROM ME, LENORE: I love Alison for not letting this expert’s alarmism pass as fact. And I am appalled that this rep from the police department would perpetuate the idea that any moment our kids are in the car alone for three minutes, they are in danger of kidnapping. Or if they are one aisle away from us at the grocery store, they are in danger of kidnapping. Or if they are in an elevator with someone other than their next-of-kin, they are in danger of … you get the idea.

With Alison as a role model, let’s make 2011 the year we don’t let this bad advice get a free ride. (Especially from a stranger! Yikes!) — Lenore