The following child safety tip from the Jacksonville, Florida, sheriff's office has gotten more than 14,000 Facebook "likes":
"Before departing with children/grandchildren/kids to any event, take a second, pull out your cell phone and take individual pictures of each child. That way, if the unthinkable happens and a child gets lost, you have a picture of how they are dressed and what they looked like that day. The photo can then be immediately sent to police to aid in locating the child. Seconds can be precious in this scenario, so take a second, make it a habit and take a picture!"
Commenters weighed in with praise and with more tips, such as, "I like to put one of my business cards in their pocket. That way if for some reason we got separated, they could give the info to an adult."
So is the sheriff's office giving families a priceless safety tip? Or does it depend?
After all, the most famous child abductions have not involved "event" attendance. At age 11, Jaycee Dugard disappeared by her school bus stop - and then spent 18 years as a hostage of pedophile Phillip Garrido and his wife, Nancy Garrido. (While receiving an award earlier this year, Dugard said, "My hope is to be remembered for what I do, and not what happened to me.") In 2002, Brian David Mitchell used a knife to kidnap Elizabeth Smart, then 14, from her Salt Lake City bedroom.
Fortunately, these abductions are rare. Unfortunately, they understandably haunt parents and grandparents. "It is natural that all parents worry from time to time about terrible things happening to children, since adults know all too well that these tragedies are not uncommon and that some of them cannot be prevented no matter how careful the parents may be," says child psychiatrist Elizabeth Berger, author of Raising Kids with Character. "But it is also important for children to grow in an atmosphere of optimism, trust, and the enjoyment of everyday adventures."
So how can you strike a healthy balance?
Follow your instincts. "I believe that parents need to have a degree of confidence in their own convictions and their own needs for reassurance," says Berger. "If parents feel especially worried about their children being abducted and feel reassured by taking a cell phone picture of the child's clothing, there is nothing that I would criticize in this."
Keep your eyes on the children. The best way to keep your kids safe is to watch them closely and to be wise about care they receive from others, says Berger. "Parents can make a mental note of a child's outfit without involving the child in a daily preparation for a potential police-interview."
Don't make your kids overly anxious. "Parents need to balance a child's need to feel that the world is a safe place with the parents' own lists of adult-sized worries," says Berger. "A parent who is overly nervous about all the terrible things that may lurk around the corner can infect a child with a fear of ordinary life — which can rob the child of the joy that should be part of childhood."
Focus on child-safety factors you can control. A good example: Get your kids to buckle their seatbelts, says Nashua, N.H., psychologist Carl Hindy, the father of four and co-author of If This Is Love, Why Do I Feel So Insecure? "The dangers in life most often are not where you really think they are." Practice what to do in the case of fire. "Put your energies toward the real dangers," says Hindy.
Don't overreact. Think about the "Batman" shooting. "Should we forever more sit near the exit door in theaters?" says Hindy. "You're instilling anxiety in children that's going to have a negative effect on their lives."
Teach kids what to do if they get lost. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children advises parents to instruct children to make noise to draw attention and to stay put. In case of extremely bad weather, they should instead go to the nearest safe spot to wait for rescuers.
As for me, I plan to keep taking a lot of cell phone photos of my daughters simply because I like to.
The U.S. Department of Justice recommends that if you believe your child is missing, you should act immediately. Call local law enforcement and then the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children at 800-THE-LOST. The police group investigating an abduction decides whether to issue an AMBER Alert, officially an acronym for America's Missing: Broadcasting Emergency Response, but originally for 9-year-old murder victim Amber Hagerman. An AMBER Alert describes the abducted child and the suspected abductor and his or her vehicle.
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