To Catch a Predator

Late yesterday afternoon, as a girls’ soccer team practiced on a field at the elementary school down the street from us, police arrested a registered sex offender that they had been following from a town about 10 miles away. Surveillance-task-force officers had been tracking him all day, and when he parked in front of the elementary school, they made the arrest.

Fortunately, the man was never able to make contact with any children on the playground. But just hearing about this happening right in front of our school is scary, of course. However, some very good things have come of it:

  •     We’re all feeling appreciative of these police officers and the work they do.
  •     Everyone’s awareness has been raised, and we all need those reminders now and then.
  •     We saw, yet again, what a great — and communicative — group of parents and school administrators we have in our community. News of this arrest spread, via e-mail, very quickly, and the deputy superintendent for our school district sent out a note to parents, informing them of what had happened.
  •     When I sent a note to my own network of local moms, I heard back from several who were planning to talk with their kids about sex offenders and to review what to do if they are approached. True, it’s not an easy conversation to have. But it’s important.

I’m going to talk with my own son tonight at dinner, with the emphasis not on scaring him but on giving him the tools he needs to protect himself. He’s 11, so we’ve talked about this before. He even attended an excellent "Stranger Danger" presentation at the elementary school a couple of years ago.

But kids can’t always remember to feed the dog, much less remember what to do if they are approached by a stranger. So a little review won’t hurt.

Here are some tips from parenting experts Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish on how to protect your child in an unfamiliar world:

  • Avoid scare tactics: It can be upsetting for a child to feel
    she lives in a dangerous world filled with strangers who are out to do
    her harm. It’s far more helpful for her to experience the world as
    basically a safe place. She just needs to know and follow a few simple

  • Talk about what’s okay: Tell her, "When you’re with Mom or Dad and someone you don’t know says hello to you, it’s nice to say hello back to them."
  • Talk about what’s not okay: You can tell your child
    that most people are nice and friendly and want to help each other. But
    there are a few bad people who want to harm others. One way you know
    them is if they ask you to go with them without telling your parents,
    your teacher, or your babysitter.

  • Discuss strategies: "What can you do when a stranger
    tries to get you to come with him or her? What can you say? Can you ask
    for help?" Together, make a list of the ideas you come up with, like
    testing the stranger with a secret password, running away and yelling
    "Help!", asking a nearby grownup to help you, looking for a police
    officer, going to the nearest store, etc. Then choose the ones your
    child is most comfortable with.

  • Role play: Play the part of a stranger who may seem
    friendly and innocent but really isn’t: "Hi, want to come to my house?
    I have a big bag of candy for you." or "Your mother is in the hospital,
    and she told me to come and get you and bring you to her." By
    rehearsing the scenario in advance, you will have given your child the
    means and the confidence to protect himself if he’s ever confronted
    with the real thing.


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2 Responses to “To Catch a Predator”

  1. ellen Cajka says:

    I admit I really don’t want to talk to my daughter about this but your artical gave me some common sense strategies.

  2. Kathy Sena says:

    I can relate, Ellen. It’s tough to talk about this. We wish our kids didn’t need to learn about this part of their world. I try to be practical, to provide information and to be very matter-of-fact about it. Then we move on and talk about baseball! :)