ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Q: I’m so worried about my child being kidnapped! How in this world can I protect her?
A: In this world of 24-7-365 news with multiple outlets competing with one another for sensationalism, it would seem that children are kidnapped every other day. In fact, children reported missing decreased 31 percent just from 1997 to 2011, according to the FBI. According to law-enforcement statistics, a few more than 100 American children were victims of non-family kidnappings in 1999, and the number has decreased since.
You can protect your child from these very rare events by making sensible restrictions that work to straddle the line between over- and underprotection. I believe that the risks of overprotection are important, tethering children to an unnecessary umbilical cord and discouraging or prohibiting them from being outside and from developing independence
One suggestion would be to teach your child that she is generally safe in this world, but that if she is feeling uncomfortable in someone’s presence, she should use the mnemonic “No, go, yell, tell”: say “no” forcefully, don’t “go”, yell loudly, and tell someone who appears safe, whether known or not.
The world of the 21st century brings other dangers that are much more likely to cause trouble for your child than kidnapping. Two that I’d like to discuss are cars and guns.
Deaths from both autos and guns have been decreasing over the past 15 years. My data come from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Web-Based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System, at https://www.cdc.gov/injury/wisqars/
Part of the decrease in death and injury from car accidents is due to effective use of seat belts and car seats. Even though the child population has increased since 1999, the U.S. child death rate from automobile crashes was 7,476 then, and 3,533 in 2014, a gratifying 53 percent improvement.
The organization Safer New Mexico Now has helped with that, and is still helping parents know what type of child safety seat to use for young children, as well as making sure of the fit and the installation of the safety seats in New Mexicans’ cars. Safer New Mexico keeps a calendar of car safety seat fitting sessions throughout the state at www.safernm.org/calendar.aspx.
Child and adolescent deaths from bullets have also declined in the last 15 years, from 3,274 in the U.S. in 1999 to 2,485 in 2014, a decrease of 24 percent, despite the shocking mass shootings that have occurred throughout the country. Fifty-eight percent of the gun-related deaths in 2014 were homicides, 37 percent were suicides, and 4.3 percent were the result of gun accidents.
Of course, 2,485 deaths from gun-related incidents is also far too many. I agree with the American Academy of Pediatrics in thinking that reasonable restrictions on availability of guns should be legislated; according to a Gallup poll last year, 55 percent of Americans think guns should be restricted more, while 11 percent think there should be fewer restrictions.
But, as the saying goes, I won’t be holding my breath. I didn’t, actually; I called 311, those helpful people in the City of Albuquerque government who answer all sorts of questions. My question for them was that I had heard that free gun locks were available through the Albuquerque Police Department, and I wondered how I (and you) could access these potentially life-saving devices.
Within a single working day a very nice police department representative called me back and told me that I should inform my readers that gun safety locks are available without charge at all APD police substations throughout the city.
We can’t prevent all gun deaths, motor vehicle accident fatalities or kidnappings. But buckle them into their car seats, keep your firearms locked (if you have them), and give your child sensible instructions regarding safety from predators.
Lance Chilton is a long-time Albuquerque pediatrician. Send your questions to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.