Wednesday, May 16, 2007

"To all parents"

A note came home from school yesterday. Usually, they say things like "Coffee morning on Saturday" which makes you think: "Great. Cake." Sometimes, they say: "Remember your child needs a sun hat and sun cream" which makes you think: "God we live in a paternalistic society." Then: "I have no idea where the sun hats are." This note, in my six-year-old's Spiderman rucksack, said on Friday 11th May "a man with a goatee beard, driving a small green car tried to pick up a y4 pupil" outside another village school a few miles away. It went on: "The attempt was unsuccessful but please make sure that your children are aware of stranger danger and remain vigilant at all times."

You read it twice. You feel your skin chill. As you read it the second time, sitting in your kitchen with your child safe home from school and drinking milk, you think. Whether the sort of man who "keeps himself to himself" as they always say of monsters, when discovered, is watching every news bulletin with budding envy in his twisted heart, not horror. Whether on Friday, he turned the key to start up his small green car, still thinking of perfection. And told himself: "It's a nice day. I'll go for a drive."

What do you say to your children? What warnings do you give them? Do you make them turn away from an old lady's kind words in the bakers? Drill them in fear? Talk of black clad childcatchers? Sweets with too high a price. Puppies and secret birthday parties, promised but never delivered? Say there are those who want to hurt children, feed them poison candy, take them away from mummies and daddies? Do you talk of evil? Say it drives a car? Tell them to shout "No" so loud that trees fall down, refuse lifts, run screaming like banshees from men with goatees? Or smiles. Do you say: "Look, here in the paper. This little girl is called Madeleine"?

29 comments:

The Grocer said...

We have all been asking similar questions in relation to Maddy but the facts remain that our children are at no more risk of abduction than we were at their age. The only difference is that our society is more media aware and media led than it was back then.

Crystal Jigsaw said...

Sickening I know. Especially when your child comes home in a school taxi like mine. It makes you want to roll out the cotton wool. When things like this happen on your own doorstep it really hits home how vigilant we have to be.

Maggie Thatcher Fan said...

I work as a lollipop man, round our way, the children have been warned about a man acting strangely. I hear the Police have been trying to feel his collar, but without much success.

wakeupandsmellthecoffee said...

You can wrap them in cotton wool, and then someone could come into your house or your garden and take them. Where does it end? Remember a few years ago, it was two girls named Holly and Jessica. And the monster who killed them was someone they knew. I think it's far worse to bring up children so afraid of society they don't leave the house.

bex said...

Thank you wife,I keep checking on my daughter all nigh, My husband is told to lock all the doors at night and hang the keys up away from prying eyes.Then I check them again before turning in for the night. I watch the news and cry and when my daughter asks why all I can say is that a little girl missed her birthday party because of a nasty person taking her away from her mummy and daddy and I'm crying for them because they want their little girl back. Then I hug her and hope that its never going to be me.

Eurodog said...

Here in Belgium we lived through that horrible Dutroux case. After that people went paranoid but now with poor little Maddy it's brought it all back and yes we have to tell our children in no uncertain terms. There are sick people everywhere and as a parent you are never at rest.

Jeff said...

Certain elements in society make it very difficult to remain against the death penalty...

harassedmummy said...

Hey Bex (and Wifey)

The Maddy story is big because it plays on every parent's worst fear. Statistically speaking, or rather writing, our children are HIGHLY unlikely to be abducted. The main risks to our children are health risks, fire, water, and roads.

So as parents, we all need to feed our children healthily, check our smoke alarms, teach our infants to swim, and teach them about road safety. Warning our children of stranger danger is important, but teaching them the green cross code is much more likely to safeguard them.

As well as lighting candles etc there are two very practical steps we could all take in response to the Maddy story:

(i) As parents we should all learn when it is both safe and legal to leave our infants. There's a good article together with a legal opinion on Alphamummy discussing the home alone issue.

(ii) Maybe we could all babysit for one another more? I can't remember the last time I freely volunteered to do that for any of my (similarly embattled) friends.

Kaycie said...

Last month a girl was snatched from the street while on her way to chool in my old hometown. The schools system there has an excellent program to teach the children about the dangers of drugs, alcohol, smoking, and protecting themselves from predators. What she learned saved her. She struggled, kicked, screamed, hit, bit and generally made as big a scene as possible. After being put into the car, she kept it up. The man drove about two miles before he stopped and put her out of the car, afraid he'd be seen with a struggling child in early morning traffic.

Yes we should teach them. The schools should teach them. Thank the lord this little girl was taught how to fight for her own little life.

northern mummy said...

The facts may remain that our children are at no more risk that we were at their age, and that it was I used to think along with "it'll never happen to my family". That was until 2 months ago I discovered that my partner abused my daughter 5 years ago. Now i have a very different outlook on life. Keep your children close and safe.

Cathy said...

We have to tread a fine line between telling them enough to keep them safe (eg stranger danger) and too much so they become anxious and distrusting of adults and peers.We can't protect them from the media.

I though we were doing well with our parenting, now I am not so sure. Our 15 year old has developed school phobia and social anxiety. But we live in Greater London and the reality is that it is not always safe. Abduction has never been a concern, but gangs, knives and drugs are.

jane said...

I think all a parent can do is to minimise the risks your child has to face as much as possible, and then be as vigilant as possible. With the best will in the world you can't prepare them for everything and you can't rule out all eventualities but an over-confident "it can't happen to me" attitude can put kids in danger. Every day you see kids in cars with no seatbelts, children left to wander round supermarkets on their own, or left in cars whilst parents shop. Yesterday I saw a boy with his head sticking out of a car sunroof travelling at speed. Great fun but a disaster waiting to happen.

I don't agree that kids today are at no more risk than we were - back in the 50's when I was a child it was a regular thing to see children sitting outside pubs waiting for their parents, roaming across parks and fields unaccompanied for hours on end, using public transport alone at a very early age and always walking to and from school. We used to go on night walks and only came home when we were hungry. Nothing happened to any of us, and we never heard of anything happening to anyone - were we just lucky? I can't believe that we've all become more paranoid for no reason - the world is definitely a more threatening place for the young and innocent and all we can do as parents is to reduce the unnecessary risks as much as possible, and make sure your children know what to be careful of.

Soddball said...

WITN, parents are filled with threatening tabloid images of perverts and psychos but the world really isn't like that.

90% of all child abuse occurs with a family member or close family friend (figure from NSPCC).

It is also an extraordinarily rare event - less than 0.02% of children are affected - 30,000 children on child protection registers and 12.1 million children in the UK.

Eden said...

Despite it all you have to tell them that most people in the world are good and friendly and helpful, and try to believe that yourself. What kind of life will they have if they come to believe that abduction waits on every corner. Fear can steal their freedom without them even having the chance to scream.

northern mummy said...

fortunately abuse is now talked about much more, and as a consequence is more widely reported ..... thank goodness.

Sarnia said...

So the school knows for sure that this man was a paedophile and not an uncle/friend/grandfather whatever instructed to pick up the child?

Get a grip!

I agree with the posters who have said that children are no more at risk than they were 50 years ago. It's the media hype and obession that makes it seem as if they are.

Curly said...

Just remind them that life is not always as it is portrayed in the films. Son of Star Wars will soon be gone to earn his millions, and we'll all be safe in the arms of the huggable Scot.

Nah, tell them not to talk to such strange men!

PbPhil said...

Some people have raised an interesting question. Is paedophila more prevalent today than in years gone past? Is there more to this the fact that we bombarded with information today as opposed to 20 years ago? We are all to aware of the potential horrors, the case in Belgium being an example. I know my child certainly does not have the freedom to play outside like I did.

Has the increase in our ability to access information resulted in a growth in paedophilia? Have clid abductions increased over 20 years ago?

Anyone aware of studies or statisics on this?

You can't help feel that these kind of things are opportunistic and committed by somebody local who knows the victim. Maddy's case being a good point, someone kew her parents were gone to dinner.

The same in the Soham murders. I think there was more to that then met the eye. The description Huntley gave of how he committed the murders did not seem physically possible to me. I remember thinking at the time that this was a group of people not just one person.....

Anyway sorry for hijacking the thread. We must all look out for our kids because you never know...

At my school the Head Teacher was abusing boys in my class, he was eventually run out of town. Another teacher in the same school who worked with him was later jailed for 4 years for child abuse.

The real irony was that as kids we thought they were great beacuse of all the after school clubs they set up for us, who loads of us attended over a number of years.

Were they deliberately set up as grooming gounds? who knows. I was lucky and unmolested, but then I wasn't one of the cool kids...which I resented massively at the time.

Kids think in a totally different to adults, obvious I know but always worth remembering.

So I hope Maddy will be found safe and we must look out for our kids.

Blithe said...

We went to the local show a few weeks ago and my daughters were looking at the giant pumpkins when a man came up and started chatting to them and giving them "high fives." My eight year old politely told him that she didn't know him and backed off to where we were about 2 metres away. My five year old chatted freely.

The fact that it turned out to be the mayor was the amusing twist. I told him that he needed to wear his gold chain in public. No harm and a good laugh but it meant we could have a good discussion about what to do in those situations and also to commend my oldest for her actions.

The even more amusing twist is that another friend had an official meeting with the mayor the following week and the mayor mentioned that he was going to be working to be more recognisable because "apparently some people don't know who I am!"

Wisewebwoman said...

That stranger danger thing, when most evil lurks so much nearer.

And it is not about the men being predators either, kids have to be warned about women too who are sometimes procuring for the males.

In a casual survey I did one time in a large group of women I asked if any were molested as children and 90% were and all of the molesters were known to them.

I was molested as a child and both predators were known to my parents. We need to warn our children of inappropriate behaviour from those familiar to them (I wasn't - it was a different era) and also be very specific about who picks them up, etc.

The Grocer said...

Jane & PBPhil - figures from the Home Office from 2002 show that the number of homicides of children under 16 involving strangers have remained constant over the previous 20 years at c7 per year here in the UK.

Heather,London said...

I know how you are feeling-I was having the same dilemma myself. I have an 11 year old and a 7 year old who looks very like Maddie(probably due to a shared Irish heritage). Every time I look at my daughter I think of Maddie and I have to hold her tight and tell her how much I love her. At the same time my 11 year old boy wants to know what a paedophile is and why I keep crying every time I watch the news about Madeleine.I can't bring myself to tell him, I want to preserve his innocence and not stain it with the knowledge of what vile deeds some people do. Am I wrong...who knows but I want to preserve his engaging friendliness and protect him from the knowledge of the evil that some individuals inflict on others. In the meantime I tell the children to pray for little Madeleine, unfortunately it is all that we can do for her at the moment.

jane said...

Hi to The Grocer - thanks for trying to reassure me, but being the cynic that I am, the phrase "lies, damn lies and statistics" comes immediately to mind when anyone quotes figures collated for an organisation with its own particular axe to grind, especially the Home Office. I work in an environment where there are legions of people all working towards presenting the government with figures it will like (their jobs depend on it!), and the results reflect the interests of who is asking and what message they want to put across.

When they're trying to make us feel better about violent crime (and the lack of success in tackling it), they trot out all these statistics to prove that it's just as safe out there as it used to be - this is absolute rubbish - for a more unbiased view ask a parent whose child has been the victim of violent crime (myself included) and they will tell you otherwise. When you actually speak to the Police themselves they are throwing up their hands in frustration because of their inability to solve the problem. It's not just homicides they have to deal with, it's mugging, violent attacks, abductions etc., etc., all the things that we hear about daily, and which terrify parents. And then, of course, there are the hundreds of child assaults etc., which are never reported for a variety of reasons.

I'm only too well aware that many children who come to harm often suffer at the hands of someone who knows them, sometimes family, sometimes friends of the family. This is a horrifying thought - the very people who are entrusted with keeping a child safe betray them in the most basic way.

But thanks anyway, Grocer, for trying to put things into perspective:) You may have guessed that it would take more than a Home Office press release to convince me!

Best wishes,

Jane.

occasional northerner said...

While perspective is important in the overall question of ensuring children have a childhood and grow up confident and generally trusting, it is so difficult to have in the light of the unthinkable pain that must be suffered by children, their parents and wider family under these appalling circumstances. Bizzarely water, fire and roads with their element of chance, as opposed to pre-meditation and, at the risk of sounding biblical, evil, seem more explicable.

Minx said...

A note came home from school yesterday, it said "Your child has detention (again)".
Whilst I have no objection to children having detention I do object that this means that he has to walk home because the bus has already gone and there is no one to pick him up. Hmmm, problem, especially during the winter. I have offered to do the detention myself - they didn't seem very impressed.

The Grocer said...

Hi Jane,

I took the figures from a respected charity website who had obviously lifted the information from the Home Office.
Whilst in no way belittling the subject I remain sceptical that our children are under any greater threat of abduction and murder than they were 20-30 years ago when I was a child. Whilst I agree statistics can be manipulated it is hard to manipulate a figure such as 7 per year that copuld easily be checked and trashed by the media (which didn't happen when the data was released.)
Many people have widened the debate on here beyond abduction and I was originally commenting purely on that aspect of Wifey's blog.

aminah said...

explain that their voices are their most powerful tool; gaining attention from passerbys...and always remembering to add that these cases are far and few and that there are more good people in the world than bad...

Pig in the Kitchen said...

I think you say all of those things, cross your fingers, hug them tight and hope...

jane said...

Dear Grocer,

Although I know I widened the topic by talking about violence towards children in general rather than abduction in particular, I suppose it's because in my mind harm is harm, whatever category it falls into. I suspect that these days parents' paranoia and vigilance is the reason the abduction statistics have remained level, not because the threat has remained the same?? It's a point worth thinking about I feel.

Anyway, very nice to talk to you:)

Jane