Irrational fear doesn’t make our kids safer (even in Ikea)

No, really. You probably don’t have to bring bodyguards, tape your kids to your legs, or spray them with anti-trafficking spray before venturing out of your house.

I feel the need to say this because that “we almost got sex trafficked in Ikea” story is foolish and dangerous — and still making the rounds.

Here’s the backstory, if you missed it:

Diandra Toyos, a mom from Southern CA, was at an Ikea store with her three young kids. She noticed that a couple of guys weren’t shopping and didn’t appear to be with anyone who was shopping, but seemed to be following her family around. She eventually talked to security and then left.

She reports to social media:

Something was off. We knew it in our gut. I am almost sure that we were the targets of human trafficking. This is happening all over. Including the United States. It’s in our backyards. I’m reading more and more about these experiences and it’s terrifying. If not that, something else shady was obviously going on. Either way, as parents, we NEED to be aware.

The story got tens of thousands of shares, and moms across the country trembled with fear.

Let’s start with the good information in her account.

1. It’s a good idea to listen to your gut (unless your gut constantly cries wolf). There is nothing wrong with looking for help if you feel like something is “off,” even if you’re not sure exactly what it is that’s wrong.

2. It’s a good idea to keep track of your young kids. Pay attention, because kids can get into all kinds of trouble in a short time.

Now let’s talk about what’s insane and dangerous in this mom’s message.

First, whatever happened at Ikea, if anything, it almost certainly wasn’t a close call with human trafficking. People who are actual experts in the field say this simply isn’t how human trafficking works.

“There are zero indicators of human trafficking in Toyos’ story. Zero,” says Lara Powers in the L.A. Times. Powers, “a professional in the anti-trafficking field,” insists the same thing as every other expert I’ve encountered:

I have never seen, read or heard about a real sex-trafficking situation in which a child was abducted by traffickers in broad daylight at a busy store under a mother’s watchful eye. It’s just not the way it works.

How does it work, then?

Victims are recruited, manipulated, made dependent. The psychological and emotional ties they establish are highly effective. Trafficked children are unlikely to attempt escape.They often won’t snitch on their traffickers even if law enforcement approaches them.

Among common patterns of sex-trafficking recruitment and control: Parents or foster care parents selling their children. Or runaway, homeless youth, many of whom identify as LGBTQ, picked up at bus stops by traffickers who exploit their hunger and need for shelter. Or a young girl who falls in love with a man who says he loves her too, then pimps her out.

And while child sex trafficking can happen to anyone, children of color, children with a past history of sex abuse, children who come from broken or unstable homes, children who face poverty, and children with disabilities are especially vulnerable.

 

Here is a more typical story of human trafficking: An impoverished teenager named “Blessing” flees Nigeria in hopes of finding work. Once she has been moved across several borders, her handlers try to push her into prostitution. She’s ransomed; she’s shuttled around some more, imprisoned, put out to sea, rescued, and then released in Italy.

This is a horribly typical, very common story of a child caught up in human trafficking. She is alone; she is poor; she is black; she has few connections; her home government is a shambles; her parents don’t know where she is; she has no help. She is very obviously vulnerable in several different ways.

In other words, she is most likely nothing like your child. Your child is almost certainly safe from trafficking. It’s not a matter of holding your child’s hand especially tight when you’re shopping for futons; it’s a matter of having a family, being a member of a community, speaking the native language, having some resources. These are the facts, as described by the latest report on human trafficking from the U.S. government.

 

Worse: Focusing on unlikely dangers can make us careless about actual risk, either to our own kids or to others’. As the op-ed piece in the LA Times says the Ikea story

so misrepresents the dangers, warning signs and risks associated with sex trafficking that its readers and likers may now try to protect kids by watching for the wrong things in the wrong places. They may miss real sex trafficking as it happens; they may miss the opportunity to extend a lifeline to child who needs their help. What people don’t understand about sex trafficking can prove lethal to kids.

There’s another risk, too. Irrational fear is bad for us, directly, immediately. I know what irrational fear can do. At the height of the anthrax scare, when my husband travelled a lot and I was alone in our apartment with three very young children, I barely dared to venture into the fenced back yard. Shopping for groceries, going to the library, or stopping at McDonald’s for fries were all perilous nightmares.

I was so caught up in avoiding and outwitting irrational, unlikely dangers that I had no emotional energy left to tend to the actual, present needs of early childhood: the need for calm, the need for peace, the need for a little freedom, and the need to feel safe and secure, rather than embattled and in flight.

Fear distorts our reason. It leads us to make bad decisions, and it leads us to teach poor decision-making to the kids who see us constantly fearful and anxious. The day after the “We almost got sex trafficked in Ikea” story came out, a young mother of one confided to a group that she was rethinking having any more children. The world just seemed so dangerous to her, she couldn’t see how it was possible to keep a second child safe. It seemed that merely leaving the home all but guaranteed that something awful would happen. After all, it happened in Ikea! Or almost happened! Or, well, something almost happened . . .

Bad things do happen. Kids sometimes get kidnapped. Tree limbs fall on people’s heads. Sinkholes open up in the playground. Stray bullets make their way into the skulls of innocent people. Bad things do happen, even to the children of vigilant parents.

But when Jesus said, “Be not afraid,” it wasn’t because He simply wasn’t up to speed on all the dangers that the modern world can possibly present. It was because He knew that fear drives out reason, makes it harder to think, makes it harder to love. Fear makes it harder to live the lives we are given, driving us instead to scurry around in a shadowy world of horrible possibilities. Fear is a thief.

Sometimes, fear makes us cruel, leading us to blame others for their misfortunes because we believe that we, ourselves, are so wise, prudent, responsible (and preemptively fearful) that we are different, we will be safe, we can be in control.

But we are not in control. More fear will not make us more in control.

It is very hard. We are obligated to be careful and prudent with our children, to routinely reassess how we are caring for them, and to take legitimate threats seriously, because we love them and must care for them. And they are, by definition, vulnerable. That is just how it is. The responsibility can be terrifying, overwhelming, if we let fear take over.

But more fear is not the same as more love. Love illuminates; fear butts our reason. Love gives us courage to act when something is wrong; fear tells us that the world is full of nothing but wrongness. It doesn’t make us safer to be more fearful. It’s not harmless to pass along hysterical warnings “just in case.” It’s not harmless to endlessly ruminate over what might possibly happen if we’re not perfectly vigilant at all times. Irrational fear makes us less safe, not more. It makes us live less, not more.

***
Image: By Thomas.ZAPATA (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

34 thoughts on “Irrational fear doesn’t make our kids safer (even in Ikea)”

  1. Just wanted to say thank you for sharing. Not so much in terms of the fear of sex trafficking (although I believe you have a valid point), but more in terms of living and responding in fear in general. Much of my interaction with my four children is motivated by fear – I’m constantly reacting to what they shouldn’t do, because they may “poke someone’s eye out…break glass…waste something…fall…choke…break a bone…etc.,etc.”. As a parent, obviously these concerns are valid, but I think my approach is probably more harmful than helpful. I’m constantly on edge and my response to each episode of perceived impending doom could rarely, if ever, be described as calm. I’ll spare all the details, but essentially, I really need to reconsider how I approach raising my kiddos. Thank you. 🙂

  2. I’m not sure that one has to follow the conventional wisdom, statistics and whatnot supplied by experts in order to be innocent of “irrational fear”. For one thing, experts can be wrong. 100 days ago, worrying about Trump becoming president was an irrational fear by this standard. Ask the “experts” about, say, human sexuality, and you will find that half us Catholics are irrationally afraid of a whole bunch of things.

    I also wonder, does it really matter whether the horrible thing that this women feared was human trafficing versus, say, garden variety child abduction?

    I get it – I get that there are a lot of overblown claims and stories, a lot of urban myths. But the fact that the details about the imperical data of how human trafficing tends to work don’t line up with her experience is not really important. I don’t see the problem, at least not a big one. At least this woman is aware of the horrors of human trafficing. I don’t think we owe the human trafficers a fair shake when it comes to what we expect them to do or not do.

    Thanks, though, for the thought provocation.

  3. Thank you, Simcha. I avoid articles like the one you referenced because I am prone to irrational fears. I have worked hard with a cognitive behavioral therapist to reroute my brain, but it’s hard work that is only made harder by yuck like that article. Thank you for being a voice of reason. You are appreciated.

  4. Thanks for this article, Simcha. Wish I’d read it when my children were small. I was a very anxious parent, worried about this, that, or the other thing which actually had very little bearing on our own personal lives. It’s easier to worry about gravely-catastrophic-but-distant things than to effectively parent little children, who, day in and day out, are very demanding of your physical and emotional energy. It’s so easy to get caught up in irrational fears, esp. if your friend-group has a lot of similarly-minded people in it. (In my experience, homeschooling groups are a great place to pick up extra fears, esp. since many homeschool out of fear, as I did.) I regret it, wish I’d just rolled along with life and did my actual, present, duties and shut all that other stuff out, because in reality, none of it was anything I could’ve done something about, anyway! Consciously avoiding all that stuff would’ve made me a better mother. Late in the game though it may be, I am working very hard to rid my life of “catastrophic thinking” and to present my children with the mother they deserve when they come in at the end of a school or work-day.

  5. kidnapped – kids forcibly detained for 24hrs and and transported 50miles -total 115
    abducted – kids forcibly detained for 1 hr (most with intent of sexual assault) -total 58,000

    If in this article the word “sex-trafficed” and/or “kidnapped” were replaced with abducted, would you still agree with the article’s point that being fearful that your child might be one of the 58,000 is irrational?

    Maybe I’m wrong, but I think most parents describe the Dugard example as an example of the principle of their child being forcibly detained PERIOD. They are wrong to say the whole forest is this one species of tree, but they are right to say the forest exists.

    1. If you read the 58K breakdown, 53% were by someone known to the family. 59% were of teens 15-17 years old, i.e. date rape is one of the most common scenarios on that DOJ list. Panicking about IKEA sex trafficking of 3-year-olds is counterproductive, as is teaching stranger danger. Better by far to have your teen daughter take self-defense classes, have your kids learn (age-appropriately) to spot various grooming tactics, teach your kids not to go anywhere without you, and ask anyone nearby for help if they need it.

      1. I did read the whole report.
        Please reference the page number for the “date-rape” scenario percentage, I missed it. I suppose date rape could fall into the category of “child wanted to protect purprator” – 10% (page 11)
        https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/ojjdp/196467.pdf

        I’m taking the “you” and “your” not to be a judgement upon the way I raise my 5 kids (you have no idea) but rather to be the general “you”.

        Again, I agree with the stranger-danger business being foolish, as well as teaching your kids to fight. I just don’t understand why everyone is trying to skew the authoritative facts on abduction.

        1. It didn’t give a percentage that were date rape, but did discuss the fact that when people think “abduction” they are thinking “stereotypical abduction” of a young child and not teens being raped by someone they know well. The child doesn’t have to want to protect the perpetrator and may have reported the crime; it’s just that many date rapes would involve being held against one’s will and being taken to a less-visible area (i.e. you go with your date in the car, but he doesn’t go to the movies, he goes to a back road instead) thus fitting their description of abduction, but not people’s usual fear of kidnapping.
          My point is not that sexual assault is no big deal, but that throwing around even the 58K number (rather than the 115) without providing context adds to people’s irrational fear, leading to them both being scared to let their kids out of the house and to not teaching them ways to mitigate actual risk, not to mention adding to their kids’ risk by teaching them to fear the wrong things. FWIW, I think the IKEA mom’s description of the men’s behavior was a bit odd and I might have been uncomfortable too, but I also don’t think they were traffickers and I figure their behavior also could have been explained by the fact that she was letting her kids eat all over the display furniture.

          Yes, that was meant as a general “you” though I think knowledge of standard grooming tactics (e.g. singling out, flattery, low-level offensive comments) is something far too few people are aware of and it would prevent a lot of crimes. For example, I know and generally trust my neighbors, but I have told my kids that if a neighbor ever asks them to come over for any reason, to always say they need to ask me first and that if the neighbor tries to convince them otherwise (“I already called and she said ok; it’ll only be a minute; etc”) to get inside asap. They aren’t scared of the neighbors and go to their houses all the time, but they have an idea of what constitutes odd behavior from an adult. Age-appropriate free rein matters too: I keep a close eye on my 2 y-os at our children’s museum and keep the 5 y-o in my general area, but I let the 10 and 7 y-o make their rounds on their own, though they have to tell me before they go to a different floor. Unlike the older three, the two toddlers also don’t get to play in the front yard, but that’s b/c they run for the street, not b/c I think they’ll get stolen. I see no reason to teach them to be terrified like the “maybe I shouldn’t have more than one kid” mom cited b/c odds are super-low that anything awful will happen, but much higher that they’ll end up with crippling anxiety over what-ifs.

          Having read all the stat details though, I have no problem leaving my kids alone in the car briefly on a nice day and have done so, but heaven help my anxiety levels when my eldest reaches dating age.

          1. In my state, leaving your kids alone in a car for any length of time, even a few seconds, can get you into trouble with Child Protective Services. (I had an unpleasant close call in such a situation and feel obligated to say a word of warning.)

          2. Leah Joy, you’re right that people should check. Laws vary by state; here it’s age seven (though it doesn’t specify whether a 7 y-o can supervise younger ones for that time). I can imagine someone freaking out and calling the police if they did see my kids in the car, but at least I could just point them to the law and drive off without worrying about repercussions. I do find it idiotic that it’s now considered tantamount to murder to do what every parent did all the time before gas stations had card readers at the pump, namely leave the kids there for five minutes rather than trek several small children across a busy lot where they are in much more danger than waiting in the car.

  6. Thanks for this, Simcha. When I read the original Ikea article, I felt immediately that several things were “off” about it. Much of what you said resonates with me. I live in Michigan. My children’s public school district recently had a police officer come speak about trafficking because, unfortunately, there are many trafficking hubs in the state–mostly because we neighbor Canada, as well as multiple other states, making escape for traffickers fairly easy. As unsavory as the topic was to listen to, I am grateful to know what to be aware of in public and what would most put my kids at risk.

  7. I certainly agree with a most of the points here, but I’d like to point out a few things. By those who are “fearful”, the term ‘sex trafficking’ is being used synonymously with ‘kidnapping’, I think this is fairly obvious. Hence, the expert in sex trafficking who’s never heard of Duggard is technically correct (wasn’t trafficked), but this doesn’t matter to normal people. Kidnapping is what matters.

    I also would like to ask the pertinent question of when does irrational fear become rational. Obviously, after the incident is a very poor answer. Everyone is freaking out about phone scams, when about 275K are scammed. Around 600K kids are kidnapped (NOT by family members) and trees only kill about 100 people a year. 100 to 600K is a pretty big difference. My numbers might be off, came from quick searches on google, but the principle of the question remains: when does irrational fear become rational? I think there are many possible answers, but anyone who is claiming that fear of kidnapping is ‘irrational’, should hopefully be able to demonstrate their point.

    Otherwise, they might be leading people to not be fearful, when they should be…

    1. For starters, where are you getting 600, 000 kids being kidnapped? Presumably you mean annually? in the U.S.? or worldwide? Whichever you mean, that figure is way, way, way higher than the reality – it is, in fact, an example of the kind of irrationally inflated fear Simcha is talking about. As far as I know, the most authoritative and most recent figure we have (FBI numbers, for 1999, I believe) was around 115 children are abducted by a stranger in a year in the United States (about half of whom were recovered safely, by the way). Which means that you are operating under the false impression that kidnapping is roughly 6000 times as likely as it actually is. That’s pretty bad data to be basing your decisions on, I’d say.

      1. yes good call. national center for center of missing and exploited children reports 800K reported missing with about 225K kidnapped. Of those around 22k by strangers.

        How can false data/impression = irrational?! Is this word just being thrown around?

        My question still stands. I’m not looking for a definite answer (approximate is practical i feel), but when does irrational fear become rational?

        1. Again, your figures seem wildly off. 22, 000 kids abducted by strangers? Where? Over what time period? Whatever you mean by that, it’s almost certainly false. E.g., if U.S. authorities are correct, that’s about how many kids would be abducted by strangers in the whole U.S.A. over the course of a little over two centuries.

          In answer to your question, it seems to me that if people are accepting, without questioning it, a figure that’s off by almost 4 orders of magnitude, that’s a pretty clear sign that the type of fear we’re talking about is irrational – i.e., more swayed by the colorful, exotic character of the danger in question (and by colorful media reports) than by an accurate cost/benefit analysis (“cost” in this case being risk).

          Because again, if this were really about rational risk assessment, we’d all be a lot more worried about buckling our kids into their carseats and pulling out of the driveway than about taking our eyes off them for a few seconds at Ikea.

          1. national center for missing and exploited children for 2016. It’s a non-profit. USA national
            This isn’t media…
            How can you say this number is off by 4x? I mean, i know how you are saying it, but pls provide some evidence other than your certainty. I mean, with 4million kids born in 2010 (can’t find 2016 right off the bat), maybe, just maybe the national center is correct.

            I’m more than willing to say the numbers are wrong, but not without something more official than someones opinion.

            Also, I’m whole-heartily in agreement with the principle of article’s conclusion. I’m just having a hard time equating official numbers with the possibility of a major city-wide anthrax attack, or trees falling on people.

          2. Found your reference. Interesting. Dept. of Justice 2002

            Defining Nonfamily Abduction and
            Related Terms
            • Nonfamily abduction: (1) An episode in which a
            nonfamily perpetrator takes a child by the use of
            physical force or threat of bodily harm or detains
            the child for a substantial period of time (at least
            1 hour) in an isolated place by the use of physical
            force or threat of bodily harm without lawful authority
            or parental permission, or (2) an episode in
            which a child younger than 15 or mentally incompetent,
            and without lawful authority or parental permission,
            is taken or detained or voluntarily accompanies
            a nonfamily perpetrator who conceals the
            child’s whereabouts, demands ransom, or expresses
            the intention to keep the child permanently.
            • Stereotypical kidnapping: A nonfamily abduction
            perpetrated by a slight acquaintance or stranger in
            which a child is detained overnight, transported at
            least 50 miles, held for ransom or abducted with
            intent to keep the child permanently, or killed.

            Stereotypical kidnapping was 115
            nonfamily abduction was 58,200

          3. National Center for Missing and Exploited Children reported contact with law enforcement in 2016 in the cases of 20,500 missing children. The overwhelming majority are runaways (90 percent), a few (6 percent) family abductions, and 1 percent non-family abductions (so 205 – although it lists that as non-family, not strictly “stranger”). Stats here: http://www.missingkids.org/KeyFacts

    2. I’m not the same Anna as the one in this thread, but I was going to point you toward the free range kids site, which has quite a lot of stats on all the stuff parents worry about, but aren’t necessarily all that likely. From the FRK site:
      When you hear about all the “missing children” remember: There is approximately one child abduction murder for every 10,000 reports of a missing child. (Source: Polly Klaas Foundation.)

      Put it another way: The Department of Justice reports that of the 800,000 children reported “missing” in the United States each year, 115 are the result of “stereotypical kidnapping” — a stranger snatching the child. About 90 percent of abductees return home within 24 hours and the vast majority are teenage runaways.

      For more statistics and an analysis of the number of children reported missing versus the number of children actually abducted by strangers, please see the Second National Incidence Studies of Missing, Abducted, Runaway and Thrownaway Children conducted by the Department of Juvenile Justice & Deliquency Prevention: http://www.ncjrs.gov/html/ojjdp/nismart/03/ns5.html

        1. Some interesting excerpts:
          Nonfamily abduction victims
          overall were particularly concentrated among the oldest
          groups, with 59 percent being 15–17 years old.
          Girls were the predominant victims of nonfamily abductions
          overall and of stereotypical kidnappings as well
          (65 percent and 69 percent, respectively), reflecting the
          frequency of sexual assault as a motive for many nonfamily
          abductions.

          Homes or yards were the origination
          point in only a minority of the abductions
          of all nonfamily abducted children
          (23 percent)

          Instead, streets,
          parks or wooded areas, and other
          public areas (i.e., generally accessible
          spaces) were the places from
          which children were typically abducted.
          While most of the nonfamily
          abducted children were moved or
          taken, 35 percent were detained in
          an isolated location for at least an
          hour.

          I find any parent who is ok with their child being abducted for at least 1 hr, when 65% of those are for reasons of sexual assault, to be irrational.
          I do agree that the “odds” 58K/4mill (roughly) are way against an abduction and being fearful of this is extreme. But to say that because the child wasn’t held for over 24 hrs (stereopytical kidnapping) but rather just over 1 hr (for reasons of sexaul assault) makes things less stressful, is perhaps just as extreme.

          I just want to use the correct facts. 58K is a lot in itself! But it is rare in possibility.

          1. But by this definition, nearly all sexual assault also includes abduction (perhaps to give law enforcement more to charge perpetrators with). I don’t want either crime to happen to me, but I find the idea of being permanently taken far more horrifying than assault (not to make light of the latter). People thinking of kidnapping as a potential crime against their kid are thinking something like Jaycee Dugard (though with a less-positive ending) and that is so rare – but people are terrifying themselves and giving kids no one to turn to if they need help because they’ve fearfully stamped “potential kidnapper” on the forehead of anyone the kid doesn’t know.

            The thing about it is, it’s terrifying for more than just the potential horrific outcome; it’s scary for the same reason flying is scarier than driving and actual risk isn’t it. It’s that you’re pretty sure that you’d totally respond in time while driving, but flying you have to trust the unseen, unknown pilot. Stranger abduction, while super-rare, is, by nature, unpredictable and therefore extremely difficult to prevent. Then we feel totally out of control – and so both very fearful and ready to take overly-extreme measures we hope will prevent the worst.
            Yes, I think about our city’s mass shooting every time I go in that mall. But it happened once, ten years ago, and it would be ridiculous of me to avoid all malls (or even just that one) because one coward did something terrible in one. My general approach to life with the potential for stranger abduction should be similar. Basically vigilant for anything from purse-snatching to mass murder, sure. Terrified of everyone I see, no.

  8. While the article is correct that the case mention is almost certainly not a human trafficking issue, a couple points in the article are still a bit off.

    While most human trafficking in the US is the result of grooming and manipulating the trafficking victim, abductions do occur–in broad daylight (the case that springs immediately to mind is the 2005 abduction and forced prostitution of two Ohio cousins by Deric Willoughby, Brandy Shope, and Jennifer Huskey). Nonetheless, such abductions are exceedingly rare.

    And then we have the “example” given in the article which seems to indicate that human trafficking is something that happens in other countries. Not so. In fact, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, of the more than 18,500 endangered runaways reported to NCMEC in 2016, one in six were likely victims of child sex trafficking. This is happening here, and it is targeting our children (just not at IKEA while the kids are walking around with their mom).

  9. Thank you for addressing this. When I read the original article last week, I thought it was a pretty big jump for this mother to assume that she was being stalked by human traffickers. Certainly, I don’t blame her for feeling strange about the way the men were watching her and following her, if what she described was accurate. I can’t fathom why she didn’t grab her kids and go alert security or the store management right away.

    1. That was my reaction too when I read the article. Or, if she had a cell phone, why didn’t she whip it out and take their photos. If they were truly bad, they’d have fled.

      1. That’s a great point. Not only would it have gotten rid of the men, but it also would have given her evidence to present to the authorities. I don’t know, something just seemed “off” about her whole story. I almost wonder if it was embellished for the purpose of making a good blogpost.

  10. Hello, Simcha, this article is excellent. I deal with anxiety almost daily. In response to your Facebook query: what I have found is that God is slowly teaching me that it’s going to be ok…my greatest fears which in the past, which limited me immensely, never occurred. I think its a combination of Proust and St. Paul to think of hope as being built on a remembrance of things past, my increasing confidence in God is built on his fidelity to me in all of those situations which I believed needed to be feared.

  11. Here is the problem. Certain kids (minorities) are more at risk than others. Especially ones that blend in at the border. At least that is what my mom’s neighbors told her after a strange man approached their young daughters while they were playing outside.

    That being said, the amount of freedom kids are allowed to have now versus when we were growing up is much less. And it isn’t necessarily good for the kids.

    Figuring out how to protect our kids while still letting them be independent is not easy.

  12. Snatching kids out of ikea, or whatever, may be rare, but it does certainly happen. Kids that are not abused or sold by parents or pimped out from Nigeria do get snatched. Jaycee Duggard. Elizabeth Smart. There was a 12 yo snatched off of their bike in front of their house when we lived in Texas. Near where we live now, there was an 8yo taken from a playground at her brother’s baseball practice while her parents’ backs were turned. I am afraid for my kids. I try to keep it in check by knowing that it is very rare, very unlikely, but, yeah, still scared.

    1. Of course we should be aware, alert, and keep our eyes on kids. There will always be exceptions, and if we constantly worry that our kids will be one of them, we drive ourselves crazy and our kids too. My deceased mother-in-law used to mail me newspaper articles about all the bad and weird ways kids managed to get hurt or die. In almost all those scenarios, the parents did something REALLY stupid or there were a bunch of things happen that nobody could have predicted that led up to the “bad thing.” Living IS dangerous–we are all going to die. We have to exercise prudence in discerning how to parent. BTW–Amber alerts tend to be parental-relative abductions, not strangers–just to put things in perspective.

    2. Yes, those things happened, but they are so rare you still remember those kids’ names. A key part of rational risk assessment is taking into account, not just how horrific the thing feared would be, but also how likely it is. Your child is at hundreds of times more likely (if not thousands of times more likely) to die in a traffic accident with you at the wheel than to be the next Jaycee Duggard or Elizabeth Smart, but you probably still drive your children places in your car, don’t you? We simply can’t prevent all possibility of harm to our kids. (Not to mention the fact that literally nothing the Smarts could have done would have prevented her abduction – short of having a closed circuit camera in her room and taking turns staying up all night every night to watch it.)

      1. It is possible to keep a close eye on our children and remember that there is danger out there without going crazy. It is not black or white. I read those stories about kids being abducted. Yes, sometimes parents do things that are negligent, but I think that there are situations in every parent’s life when we were not always 100% careful 100% of the time. I lost my daughter at Walmart once, she was 2 and was very fast at running off and hiding somewhere, and would have a tantrum if I didn’t let her out of the shopping cart. I turned away less than 30 seconds to pick up a box of shoes for her, and she was gone… I looked everywhere, yelling her name, she liked to hide so she was not responding. I asked for the Walmart security to help me, they were useless, they just told me to stay close to the fitting room. After 5 minutes, I just dashed for the toy department (which as at the other end of the store) and found her there. After that incident, I negotiated with her to stay 10 minutes in the cart, during which I’d run and grab the stuff I needed, then I’d let her out and I’d play with her for 10-15 minutes, with my undivided attention. It was the same at Costco and Target. I started avoiding those large stores, and reduced shopping with my child to the minimum that I could. I started doing almost all my shopping on-line, going to the store only for fresh produce at a store where there were shopping carts for kids, that way she would be busy with her cart and wouldn’t run away and hide. So I am not going crazy but am aware of the situations that can be more problematic, and decide to avoid them so that I can spend more time playing and having fun with my child. I try to always have her in my sight. When I chat with other parents, I position myself to be able to see her. I actually feel calm when I see her so not going crazy at all like the author of this article says she was. So no, no black and white, we can be thinking of all the bad things that can happen, take action to mitigate the risk, and feel good and calm about it and not run out of energy. I wouldn’t let my child have a bedroom on a first floor and sleep with the window open. We live in a safe place, but still, we have an alarm system and the bedrooms are on the 2nd floor. We rarely ever sleep with the windows open. Again, it is not driving me crazy, to the contrary, I feel calm because I feel that we are all safer that way.

    3. I think the problem is that there have been a number of stories going around making the claim that “sex-trafficking rings” are targeting young families in department stores. These claims are false. These stories have all been debunked. They have not been backed up by any legitimate law enforcement source, missing children organization, or any organization involved in fighting sex-trafficking. They are just viral stories. Think about it; have you ever heard a legitimate news story about a young family being actually abducted from a department store for the purpose of sex-trafficking? If it did happen, it would be a MAJOR news story, not just a social media post.

      Stranger abductions do occur, although very rarely. When they occur, they are horrible and tragic and those incidents should not be minimized. However, they are usually not the work of sex-trafficking rings but rather that of a deranged individual or couple.

      We should all be careful, and watch our kids, and trust our gut if it says something is not right. And I’m sure that’s what this mom was doing. I think she meant well (although I find it very odd that she posted a picture of her family for the entire world to see along with her story???) But I think, unfortuntately, her perception of what was happening was distorted by these scary stories she has read.

      What this leads to is 1. anxious parenting and 2. ignoring the real problem of sex-trafficking.

      As someone who has worked with young girls who were directly targeted by sex traffickers (these were girls in foster care, as are the vast, vast majority of trafficking victims in our country), I think that matters a lot.

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