(CNN Spanish) – The video of a girl who is being kidnapped in Florida put the issue of the safety of children in the United States in the spotlight.
And it is not a small matter. In 2020, there were 365,348 reports of missing minors in the United States, according to figures from the FBI National Crime Information Center.
Of this total, about 12% are kidnappings committed by people who already knew the child and 1% are crimes committed by strangers, says Dr. Carol Vidal, a child and youth psychiatrist at Johns Hopkins University, in an interview with CNN.
Due to these figures, there is a need to talk about the subject, although calmly, without generating scenes of terror and always at the emotional height of the child, says in an interview Dr. Marisa Azaret, psychologist and presenter of Vive la Salud on CNN en Español .
“Minors have to know that these types of situations happen,” but that there are tips that should be taken into account to increase their safety, says Mónica Aguirre, director and founder of Psykhé Centro de Psicología Infantil, located in Jalisco, Mexico to CNN .
The three mental health specialists give advice that can be helpful in dangerous situations like the one that happened in Florida.
Children should never be alone
“Many of the kidnappings happen between 2 and 7 in the afternoon, when the children return from school. It is important that they go with other children if they come back alone ”, explains Vidal.
In addition, the specialist adds, parents have to teach their children to identify people who can help them in the event of a dangerous situation. For example, if it happens in a supermarket, locate other parents with children, security guards or people in uniform of the establishment.
But the main advice will always be that the child is never alone, clarifies Azaret.
“Under no circumstances should they be alone. Sometimes children go to play sports and go to the bathroom by themselves. That never. Always go with a friend, a sports partner ”, he adds.
Choose perfectly who will take care of the children
“Parents should not leave the child in the care of a person they don’t really know very well. It is recommended that they have very good information about the person, ”even if they are family members, since there are many disappearances where known adults are involved, says Aguirre.
In addition, he says, you must have a plan with the person chosen by the parents, which consists of how the care will be carried out, what the schedules will be, the location and have constant communication.
The Psykhé specialist adds that, if they visit crowded places, such as shopping centers or amusement parks, it is essential that parents do not let go of their children, that they memorize the clothes they are wearing, that this clothing is striking, and that interaction is greatly encouraged.
“Suddenly there are some parents who go (to the parks) and they just have them there playing. They are not even interacting, they are easily distracted and this gives rise to a dangerous situation that could occur ”, Aguirre details.
‘A child should never help an adult’
Dr. Azaret mentions that children can help their father and mother at home, as well as other trusted family members, but protocols change when they can be exposed to a dangerous situation. And that must be told to the children.
“For example, they say ‘Help me find the puppy that I have lost.’ This concept is sadly used by many adults to take a child, “he says.
Repeat and repeat
The presenter of Vive la Salud adds that this should be said to the child not only once, but on multiple occasions, as if it were never enough, but always calmly and patiently so as not to scare him.
“Studies have been done (…) where, after the mother told the child 30,000 times not to go with an adult, not to talk to strangers, not to get into an unknown car, a young boy comes and tells him to the child ‘I’m looking for my puppy, help me look for it’, then immediately the child gets into the car. That is why it has to be done constantly, using films, books, whatever way we have to sit down and talk with the children, not from the angle of fear, terror, anguish, but from the angle of prevention ”, explains Azaret.
What to do if something like this happens?
If a dangerous event like the one in Florida occurs despite all preventive measures being taken, Vidal says that what the 11-year-old girl did was fine, as it is recommended to run and kick.
However, the three specialists coincide, it is mandatory to take into account the context (for example, the weapons that the person brings), since it is never advisable to try to be the hero.
Therefore, other suggestions from Dr. Vidal are the following: “That the child make a lot of noise, that they put down what they have in their hands and run away, that they shout things like ‘call 911’ or ‘call the police’ , and that they try to find an adult who can help them ”.
How do I approach my child to talk about these situations?
Aguirre comments that, first, we must always believe in everything our children tell us and approach them with empathy, in order to create a circle of trust between both parties.
“So, tell them that there are people who perform acts that are not good and that can harm them. Tell them who they can trust and explain how they can be done with their own criteria. One as a parent can tell the child that he can trust one of his relatives, but we have also seen that other crimes are of someone close to the minor. It is necessary to accompany the minor so that it is questioned ”, explains the specialist in child psychology.
Add that some questions you can teach your child to ask himself are: How do I feel about this person? Why do I feel this way? Does what this person gives me help or harm me?
Dr. Azaret abounds in more useful tips to take care of children. Mention that parents should never give their children hats, shirts or clothing in general that expose the name of the minors.
In addition, the child must memorize the most important phone numbers and addresses, something that is currently stopped because everything is carried on smartphones, adds the CNN collaborator.
Finally, Aguirre emphasizes the need to take care of the information that is shared on social networks; for example, not publicizing the school the child goes to or the route taken to get there.