Wednesday, 3 October 2012
April Jones - Our Choices As Parents & Stranger Danger
I'm sure we have all been hugging our children a little tighter over the last couple of days as our thoughts and prayers are with the parents and family of April Jones who went missing in Machynlleth on Monday evening 1/10/12. Her case has especially struck a chord with me as April is the same age as my eldest daughter.
Whenever I hear news of a child going missing, my mind turns to thinking about how I can talk to my own children about stranger danger and even dangers relating to people that they might also know, without scaring them too much and ruining their innocence.
When I was 9, I would walk home from school on my own as my school was quite close and my mother had to work until just after pick-up time. One day, on my way home from school, I was approached by a man in a car, who asked me if I wanted some sweets and told me to get in the car if I wanted them. Luckily, I was on a fairly busy, residential road, with lots of people near by, and I managed to run straight home and tell my mother, who called the police. My mother had also spoken to me about the dangers of going with a stranger and I was old enough to understand that I should not get in the car.
In recent years, the media has accused modern day parents of being "helicopter parents" who keep our kids locked up indoors. The National Children's Bureau issued research this year which showed that 46% of parents admitted that "fear of strangers" kept them from letting their children play outside, and a third of parents were too worried about their children injuring themselves to let them venture outside of the house unsupervised. The NCB believes that playing outside should be "a normal, everyday event for all children".
The parents of April have come under fire from some people for letting their little girl play outside unsupervised, however, it seems that in the area they live, this is fairly common practice. There has been lots of debate on various parenting forums about whether parents should let their kids play outside, with opinion ranging from "it was ok for us and we never came to harm" to "my kids play out too" to "I would not let my kids play out". As parents, we know our own area's where we live and the danger's related to each area. Even though we may have our own opinions, and our own rules for our kids, it is very hard, and not really our place to judge other parents for the decisions that they make as even a child playing in the safest area can disappear in a split second, as April's case shows.
The other day, I let my 5 year old, who had been begging me to be allowed outside, ride her bike outside of the front door in our cul-de-sac which is set away from a main road. The door was open and she was right outside where I could see her. Within minutes, she was in, crying, as two girls had walked past her and told her that if she played outside she would get taken away from her mummy and daddy! Now either these children were just being horrible to a younger child, or they have parents who have heavily stressed the dangers which exist in our society to their children. As parents, we have many decisions to make about our kids, including letting them out of our sight. Many parents, including myself, make decisions about if, or when, it is ok for their child(ren) to play outside. Whilst there is always a risk that something could happen, in many cases, there is a chance that something will not, and so as parents we have to weigh up the risk against the chance and make our own informed decisions. It can also be child dependent. I would be much more likely to let my eldest child play outside of the front door, with the door open, than I would my youngest child at the same age - those who know my kids will know why!
It is a common belief that many children are abducted by people they know. In 2004, a Home Office Study of 768 child abductions which occurred in the UK showed that a surprising 56% of them involved a stranger who took upon an opportunity. 23% of the cases involved a parental dispute, leaving a further 21% of abductions where the child knew the person who took them.
If you have been considering how to talk to your children about what to do if a strange, or known adult approaches them and says/does something they don't like, wants them to go off with them, or attempts to take them, then here are a few links that may help:
Direct Gov gives some sensible tips about keeping young children and teens safe.
Netmums has some fantastic information on Essential Safety for Kids and Talking to your Child about Stranger Danger.
NSPCC Out Alone - Your Guide To Keeping Your Children Safe.
Child Alert How kids can stay safe, be smart and protect themselves from strangers and abduction.
Teigan Gets Lost - An online Video for Kidsabout "Safer Strangers, Safer Buildings" which advises kids to find a "safe stranger" (i.e a policeman/shop worker in uniform) or "Safer Building Police Station/Church/Shop) if they get lost.
As well as talking to our kids about staying safe when they may not be with us, we can now find out about convicted child abusers living in the UK through a website called Children Have Rights In Society. C.H.R.I.S. contains a search function which allows you to search records by area/county, so that you can see whether there is someone living close-by in your area who has been convicted of an offence against a child. Unfortunately, there will always be those who commit new offences, but it can be useful to know whether you are living close-by to a known child abuser.
Let's all Hope and Pray that April and other children like her are returned to their families soon.
If you have any great resources on this subject, please leave a link in the comments section below.