I Have a Question

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    Questions of general gospel interest answered for guidance, not as official statements of Church policy

    How can I teach my children to avoid abduction and other personal dangers in our society without frightening them?

    Louis H. Fetherolf, chief of police in Midvale, Utah, and a former bishop. A parent recently said to me, “It used to be that we didn’t have to worry about such things as children being kidnapped in our neighborhood. It was something we only read about happening in other parts of the country.”

    The occasion was a neighborhood crime prevention meeting, one of many that were held after the tragic kidnapping of a three-year-old child in a nearby community. According to children who witnessed the abduction, the child had been tempted by a couple in a car offering her candy. Following this kidnapping, concerned parents whose sense of security was shattered, as it always is when a child is missing, molested, or abducted, gathered together in neighborhood meetings to receive instruction from local police and sheriff’s departments on how to teach their children to avoid such dangerous circumstances.

    In such meetings, parents learn some sobering facts. According to the August 1982 FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, there are 30,000 missing persons, 50,000 parentally abducted children, and 1,000,000 runaways reported annually in the United States. As of January 1982, there were 17,983 missing juveniles (ages 6 months to 17 years) listed on the U.S. National Crime Information Center missing-persons file. They also learn, however, that education is the best means of prevention, and that teaching simple preventive measures in the nonthreatening, loving environment of the home can be very effective.

    In family home evening lessons, or at any other time when a teaching moment presents itself, you can discuss how family members can be safe outside the sanctuary of the home. It’s not necessary to go into the frightening details of specific cases. Simply tell your children that you love them very much, and that you wouldn’t want anyone to ever take them away from you or do them any harm. They’ll understand that. Then explain that there are simple rules children can follow to prevent these things from happening:

    1. Never talk to strangers while en route to school and other activities.

    2. Never accept rides from strangers.

    3. Never accept gifts from strangers, especially candy or money. Run straight home or to a neighbor’s house if such offers are ever made.

    4. Never go with strangers who say they were sent by your mother or father.

    5. Avoid walking outdoors after dark.

    6. When you are home alone, do not open the door to strangers or talk with unfamiliar callers on the telephone. If someone asks if your parents are home, simply tell them that mother or father cannot come to the phone and will return the call.

    7. If someone ever tries to abduct you forcibly, scream something understandable, such as, “He’s not my father!”

    If you can give your children an understanding and a willingness to follow these basic rules, you will have done much to arm them against the possibility of abduction. In addition, it is important that you teach them to be alert to other peoples’ behavior and heed the promptings of the Spirit in obeying these additional rules:

    8. Avoid strangers (especially adult men) who seem overly friendly.

    9. Do not go into public rest rooms alone.

    10. Avoid being alone with anyone who wants to touch you in an improper way. Never allow anyone (including relatives) to touch your body with improper intimacy; and if anyone ever tries to do so, tell mother or father right away.

    Explain in a simple way the “why” of these preventive measures, and encourage your children to talk to you about any problems they may have encountered. Chances are, children who are in school will already have been cautioned about many of these things, reinforcing what you have said. Be an attentive and understanding listener as they tell you about their experiences away from home, or at home while you are away. Privately, ask your children in a discreet way what happens when they are alone with babysitters, friends, and others.

    Parents can also set a good example. Don’t pick up hitchhikers or walk alone at night. And when you are away from home, call your children periodically to let them know your concern.

    Get involved in establishing “Safe Home,” “Helping Hand,” or other child-safety programs sponsored by local parent-teacher groups or police departments. Some groups are setting up clinics for fingerprinting children so that files can be established to help authorities when identification is needed.

    These few suggestions should give you a place to start in developing some prevention strategies. If we approach these teaching situations with true concern, at the same time showing forth an abundance of love, our children will be educated and not frightened.

    After you have done all you can to teach your children sound preventive measures and safety concepts, ask for our Father in Heaven’s help. Each morning as you gather your family about you for prayer, ask him to watch over and care for the members of your family and to help them do what they can to be safe from the forces of evil. Remember the counsel of Amulek in the Book of Mormon: “Humble yourselves and continue in prayer unto him.

    “Cry unto him when ye are in your fields, yea, over all your flocks.

    “Cry unto him in your houses, yea, over all your household, both morning, mid-day, and evening.

    “Yea, cry unto him against the power of your enemies.

    “Yea, cry unto him against the devil, who is an enemy to all righteousness. …

    “Yea, and when you do not cry unto the Lord, let your hearts be full, drawn out in prayer unto him continually for your welfare, and also for the welfare of those who are around you.” (Alma 34:19–27.)

    I don’t know what to do about some of the activities of my children. They’re good children, but I’m uncomfortable with much of their music, dancing, fashions, ideas, and fads. Short of forcing them to conform to my standards, what can I do?

    A. Lynn Scoresby, associate professor of Family Science, Brigham Young University. I believe that every parent eventually faces this challenge. There comes a time in almost every youth’s life when he or she becomes different from parents in an attempt to be separate from them. This isn’t necessarily bad. For a child to seek his own individuality is a normal part of growing up; that separation should not be discouraged—unless the child’s motivations are wrong.

    Those motivations are the first thing you as parents should look at. Is your child simply growing and maturing? Or is a deeper problem at work—is he actually rejecting your standards and values? How can you tell the difference?

    If your youth is separating himself from you in a positive way (meaning, simply, that he is maturing), you will probably see these signs:

    1. The child will retain some display of affection for you, even though it may be infrequent.

    2. On occasion the child will seek your advice—even though he will still be protective of his possessions, desire privacy, and avoid talking with you about many things.

    3. The youth will usually keep companions who have fairly high standards, even though he may still engage in activities that are different from what you want.

    If the above signs are not apparent in your child’s life, you and your child may profit from outside ecclesiastical or professional help. But if these signs are apparent, you can generally feel confident that he isn’t rebelling. He’s just growing—however painfully! What’s the best way to respond to such a child?

    First, unless he is involved in activities that are definitely illegal or immoral (in which case they should be stopped as quickly as possible), you can stop criticizing and start giving “tacit permission.” Tacit permission is not openly opposing what the child is doing, but not encouraging it either.

    Some parents hesitate to try this idea. They fear that the child will begin to run wild. But all children will eventually declare their independence from their parents. The important thing is to make sure they’re taught correctly when they’re still young, to lay a good foundation. Then it is more likely that they’ll make correct choices later on.

    A second thing you can do is to openly recognize that your child may be genuinely different from you. Tell him that you accept those differences—and then encourage him to try positive new experiences. This approach can be very effective, for it takes the option of rebellion away from the child.

    Third, you can try some new things yourselves. Sometimes when fathers and mothers view their child as a bit wild, they try to counteract the situation by becoming more and more unchanging. But that approach may backfire: the more controlled and “traditional” the parents become, the more the child may be motivated to become different.

    On the other hand, if parents are trying new things, if they also are changing and growing through new experiences, a child’s motivation to be different will often diminish.

    Try going on trips to new places, taking a class, reading different kinds of books, making new friends, getting more involved in the community—something different. If you are growing and progressing in new, interesting ways, your child will have to make some adjustments, and that may bring some balance into the relationship.

    Fourth, encourage good behavior, rather than focusing on the negative. Sometimes we are so busy thinking about how to stop disapproved actions that we fail to explain clearly what is desired instead.

    Most concerned parents are fearful that children who do different things will eventually stray from the gospel. As a result, they try to stop any behavior that may be different from the expected or the desired. Certainly some behavior ought to be discontinued—but in general, parents are more successful if they try to foster positive behavior instead of attacking negative behavior. The most effective parents seem to keep one step ahead of their children by teaching and encouraging desirable things. Clear communication is vital—your child needs to know what you really want.

    Fifth, help your child clarify his values. Asking pointed questions can be useful: “Why do you think that?” “What do you think about this issue—and why?” “What do you think is best for you?” Then you can later respond kindly to his answer, pointing out both reasonable and unreasonable ideas.

    If you respond on the spot, however, your child may feel like you are attacking his ideas, no matter how kind and caring you try to be—and he may become defensive. It may be most effective to wait a day or two before making that response: “We were talking the other day about staying out late and you shared your feelings. Well, I’ve been thinking about that, and I have a couple of ideas I’d like to talk over with you. …”

    This kind of discussion can help the child think about how he really does feel. Sometimes when a person honestly tries to explain his reasons for thinking or doing something, he can see that he has no real justification. But don’t make the child feel like you’re interrogating him. If you do, he’ll most likely defend his actions and feelings, which may only push him further into that position.

    These suggestions will usually help resolve conflicts that arise from a youth’s increasing independence. They will also help him stay closer to his parents, so that if he wanders, it won’t be far.