May 25th is Missing Children's Day
One of the first missing children to be pictured on the iconic milk cartons was 6-year-old Etan Patz, who disappeared back in 1979 from a New York City street corner. In memory of the day Etan was kidnapped, President Ronald Reagan declared May 25th as National Missing Children's Day. As there were other highly publicized disappearances that garnered national interest in the following years, the mentality of “stranger danger” was fueled.
While this movement created invaluable organizations such as the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) that assists law enforcement agencies bring missing children back home, it is also crucial to acknowledge what the reality of the situation is when it comes to child abductions. Although many people picture kidnapping to be perpetrated by a stranger, it is a far less common form of child abduction both historically and today. According to NCMEC, strangers abduct less than 1% of missing children while the most common form of kidnapping, by far, occurs by a parent, family member or acquaintance, accounting for over 90% of abductions. That being said, it is still important to remind children to avoid these rare scenarios by staying alert and aware at all times, especially if a stranger does approach them.
The discussion that we should be really focusing on talking to our children about is online safety.
As we head into the long and hot summer season, our options for staying entertained become limited and typically involve staying indoors probably accessing the internet in some shape or form. Moreover, the global pandemic has made us more reliant on the internet than ever before. This means that children have become more dependent on their electronic devices for social interactions.
While it may seem impossible to stay up to date with what apps, games and websites are most popular with kids nowadays, it is important to keep an open line of communication when it comes to internet use so that our children feel comfortable coming to us whenever a problem arises. The Department of Justice estimates that one in five children will receive an unwanted sexual solicitation online per year. Oftentimes, children don’t come forward to tell a trusted adult because they are either too embarrassed or because they fear that their technology privileges will get taken away.
It is easier to come across inappropriate content than many people might realize, even if a child isn’t actively looking for it. This can include pornography, excessive violence, hate speech and risky or illegal behaviors which can easily influence their developing brains. Other problems can include online scams, cyberbullying, sexting, sextortion (blackmail), or grooming from cyber predators.
In addition to these dangers, we also must worry about the toll that internet use, particularly social media, plays on the mental health of our children. Some studies now are suggesting that suicide and suicidal ideations among youth are much more prevalent now than ever before and that the internet seems to be playing a major role in this.
It can be easy to feel overwhelmed by these potential issues, but luckily a lot of this can be avoided by teaching our children to be intuitive while accessing the internet. Be sure to stay diligent by communicating the dangers of talking with strangers online, knowing which accounts your child has, setting up privacy controls, restricting time on devices, being aware of new trends/challenges on social media, and by checking with your service provider for additional information.
Visit our Child Safety page and learn more about what you can do to keep your family safe this summer.