As most of us have heard, 13-year-old Jayme Closs of Barron County, WI, was kidnapped from her home after 21-year-old Jake Patterson allegedly broke in and shot her parents.
After 88 days, she managed to escape, brave girl. But when something as horrifying as this happens, we are all so shocked, sad and angry, we wish there was some way to make sure nothing like this ever happens to anyone again.
The problem is, we’re not exactly sure how to do that. So, often we opt for the solution of simply clutching our kids closer. To prevent them from being kidnapped, we go full Rapunzel. But ironically, the Closs crime happened IN the home -- with the girl's parents right there. So Safety Lesson #1 is that there’s no such thing as perfect safety.
Lesson #2 involves perspective. If we don't want to explode with fear and pessimism, we have to remember that the reason we all know about this case is precisely because it is so extraordinarily rare. That's what makes it newsworthy. To allow this extremely unusual event to determine how we live our daily lives would be as odd as remembering the time a woman here in my state, New York, was driving along the expressway and got hit by a frozen turkey dropped from an overpass. Does that mean no one should drive under overpasses anymore, just to be safe?
It's easy to see how absurd that idea is. It's harder to see that it is equally absurd to say, "We better not let any child ever stand at any bus stop because some madman might see her, steal his father's gun, disable the release in his trunk, come back for the kid in her home, kill both parents and kidnap the child." So the lesson #2 is simply: We can’t organize our lives around avoiding extremely rare possibilities.
Then, too, the human brain works like Google. Ask it a question and up come the most popular, most often-retrieved results. "Easy beef stew" brings up some suitable recipes. We click on the first few and we’re done. How efficient.
But when we ask our brains, "Is my child safe at the bus stop?" up pop the most horrific, LEAST representative stories. That's because it is really easy to remember those shocking one-offs, and impossible to conjure up the millions upon millions of kids who waited at a bus stop yesterday – or anytime in the past 50 years – and did nothing but get on the bus. Unfortunately, the easier it is to remember a story, the more likely we think it is – even though the opposite is true. (This is called the availability heuristic.)
It may feel like we are living in the most dangerous times ever. But in reality, crime is at a 50-year low. Therefore Lesson #3 teaches us that to ignore statistical odds and concentrate on the very scariest, saddest, least likely possibilities is a recipe for constant anxiety and pointless safety measures.
Lesson #4 is the most practical. If we really want to keep our kids safe from molestation and rape, remember that the majority of those crimes happen at the hands of people they know: Relatives, family friends, trusted adults. So instead of locking our kids up or teaching them stranger danger, teach them the three R’s:
Recognize that no one can touch them where their bathing suit covers.
Resist anyone trying to do that — run, kick, scream.
Report — tell your kids that they can and should tell you about anything upsetting that they were asked to do (or even did) and you won’t be mad at them, nothing bad will happen. Tell them this applies, even -- perhaps especially -- if they promised to keep it “secret.” Keeping the lines of communication open takes away the predators’ best friend: silence.
Those straightforward R's can be taught to even young kids.
So if you are feeling panicked, angry, or sad beyond measure, the solution is to do something empowering. - L