Jayme Closs Kidnapping

Four Realistic Lessons from the Jayme Closs Kidnapping

Fear and anger are inevitable. Try reason and action instead.

In October 2018, 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. We are all shocked, sad, and angry about cases like this. We wish there was some way to make sure nothing like this ever happens to anyone again. So what can parents learn from the Jayme Closs kidnapping?

Lesson #1: There’s no such thing as perfect safety.

The problem is, we’re not exactly sure how to prevent terrifying cases like this one. 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 Jayme Closs kidnapping happened IN the home—with the girl’s parents right there. So lesson #1 is that there’s no such thing as perfect safety.

Lesson #2: Keep things in 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 lesson #2 from the Jayme Closs kidnapping is simple. We can’t organize our lives around avoiding extremely rare possibilities.

Lesson #3: Don’t overestimate the actual danger.

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. Click a few, find one you like, 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. It’s much harder 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.)

When cases like the Jayme Closs kidnapping dominate the news cycle, 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: Teach kids to recognize, resist, and report.

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 Rs:

  • Recognize that no one can touch them where their bathing suit covers.
  • Resist anyone trying to do that—run, kick, scream. 
  • Report anything upsetting. Tell your kids that they can and should tell you about anything upsetting that happens. 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.

Does the Jayme Closs kidnapping and other cases like it have you feeling panicked, angry, or sad beyond measure? Do something empowering to help overcome those feelings.