Why It Feels Like Kids are Being Kidnapped All the Time

Hi kkskasdeiz
Folks! So many people I talk to (especially for my upcoming show) are convinced that children area being kidnapped all the time, everywhere, that they cannot let their children go outside on their own. Here’s a succinct look at why parents feel this way, as presented in a comment by the reader whose screen name is “Socalledauthor.” – L.

Socalledauthor writes: Child abductions are not more frequent now than they were, however, they ARE more publicized.  In my town (a semi-rural area), there was a child abducted in 1928.  It got about two paragraphs in the local paper about how she was walking home from school and didn’t make it… when she was found, there was another small article.

Also in my town, in the last year, there was a child who went “missing.”  For four days there were articles on him and what was known about his last whereabouts and how to keep children safe.  FOUR DAYS of articles… and then, a short blurb (maybe four paragraphs) when it was revealed that he’d spent the time at a friend’s house because he was mad at his parents.

The point here is the difference in media coverage.  Day after day, the front page of our local paper was about this missing boy.  It makes it seem like the problem is bigger than it is.  Conversely, my local paper gives only a paragraph every day or so to those hurt or killed in a car accident – because it happens so often that it has become common!

Fear does not equal fact.  Just because you feel something is true does not make it so.

By the way, if you turn off the TV, you’ll find the world a less fearful place!

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79 Responses to Why It Feels Like Kids are Being Kidnapped All the Time

  1. Linda Wightman September 15, 2011 at 8:03 pm #

    Yes. Crime is down, but fear is up. Certainly news coverage is to blame. Even worse, perhaps, are regular television shows. (Books, too, but TV is more graphic.) Face it: a kid walking safely to school does not make for an exciting story. So what do we see? Lots and lots of crime. Kidnappings, murders, rapes, dismemberments, terrorism, torture, lots of car chases and bullets spraying. Twisted neighbors, abusive family members, corrupt cops.

    We know it’s fiction, but the sounds, sights, and terror have an impact on our brains we cannot control. Bare statistics about crime are no match for the horrors that our gut knows surround us — because we have seen them.

  2. LRH September 15, 2011 at 8:27 pm #

    “socalledauthor” is so correct. We hardly ever watch TV except for DVDs we choose. Whenever we DO catch a glimpse of current TV, it is SO sensationalistic. 5 minutes of watching that & you want to build an underground cave & never leave it, ever.

    Android 2.2

  3. crowjoy September 15, 2011 at 8:39 pm #

    Agree completely.

    Fear of danger and fear of liability touch our lives in so many ways. In the last 24 hours I have seen ALL CAPS CONCERNS from another parent about the safety of their kids’ instrument in the school (!) and had our daughter’s piano teacher explain how his studio is set up so that the child is never out of eye or ear shot of the parent waiting … at the advice of his lawyer! Because thieves are waiting to steal crappy elementary-level cellos and the piano teacher is going to molest the kids he’s teaching. Sure, there is some possibility but probability? Probably not.

  4. Muffin On The Move September 15, 2011 at 8:44 pm #

    Agreeing with you 100% on this one. In fact, this past Monday in my hometown we experienced “a devastating mistake” when a 5 year old girl got off of the bus at the wrong stop. Upon not seeing her parents, she recognized her surroundings and started to walk home… now, I will admit that this small girl was walking down a semi-busy road that afternoon, but literally had only a few blocks to make it home. Some local “heros” stopped to protect the girl, and escorted her home to her family safely. While I agree that this story deserved some recognition, what it did not deserver was a 3 page article in every newspaper, personal interviews from Mom, Dad, the 3 “heros” as well as local school board officials, bus drivers, the media, witnesses, etc. The girl was FINE, and our city made it out to be an over-dramatic near-kidnapping, horrific experience. Children walk a few blocks to school (down that same busy road) EVERY DAY!!

  5. pentamom September 15, 2011 at 8:50 pm #

    Muffin, a week or so ago there was a two-paragraph article in my paper about how a 3 year old girl was “found uninjured.”

    What was the dangerous, injury risking situation she was in? She got on the wrong bus after Head Start and wound up three miles from home.

    The mom missed her at the normal pickup, and contacted police. The mom probably freaked out, and I wouldn’t blame her a bit. But headlining the article that she was “found uninjured” implies that she was at some risk of injury. Fact is, she was just on the wrong bus in the wrong place until someone (presumably the bus driver) figured out she didn’t belong there and reported it.

  6. Marc September 15, 2011 at 8:53 pm #

    The geographic range of media coverage is also greater and immediate. With the rise of the Internet and instant communication, we literally have the world at our fingertips, both the good and bad of it.

  7. oncefallendotcom September 15, 2011 at 9:03 pm #

    I have a study on this phenomenon in my library, so I’ll try to find it, but the report stated something to the effect that media coverage is as much as 14 times more than in the past.

    If you google “fear up crime down” you’ll find plenty of validation for my statement.

  8. oncefallendotcom September 15, 2011 at 9:07 pm #

    Also, think about all our fears of the week– this week its “tainted cantaloupes.” I was riding the Greyhound on 9/11, and guess what? Delays as a result of a “terror alert,” just because its 9/11. Its been a slow season for sensational stories these days, with not as many high profile rapes/kidnappings. The media must be desperate. Attack of the killer cantaloupes?

  9. Donna September 15, 2011 at 9:18 pm #

    There is also the issue of widespread news coverage of these rare missing child events. In the 70s and 80s, you would get reports of a missing child in your immediate news area. Occasionally a national news magazine show (60 Minutes, 20/20) would do a show on a particularly notable child abduction/murder. That was it. Since missing children do not occur very often in a particular area, you would maybe get a report every 10 years or so.

    Today we get daily reports about missing/murdered children from anywhere in the western world and those kids become national names in states and even countries that have no connection whatsoever to the child. In the 70s, nobody outside of Utah would have known about Elizabeth Smart. A British child kidnapped in Spain would not have been a household name in America. The murder of a child by her mother in Florida would not have been front page news throughout the nation.

    When you are constantly bombarded with reports of missing/murdered children, it becomes difficult to separate the reality of yes children do occasionally get kidnapped throughout the world but it doesn’t happen in any one individual place very often from the belief that kids are flying off the street everywhere daily. We hear about cute Madeline McCann daily and tend to forget that she was actually kidnapped thousands of miles away in a completely different continent and her disappearance does not in anyway impact our child’s safety.

  10. gpo September 15, 2011 at 9:28 pm #

    I stopped watching the local 10:00 o’clock news years ago because most of everything reported was aimed at scaring people. As they say “News is stuff that happens very rarely, otherwise it would not be news.” I also don’t read newspapers either. I live nicely in my uninformed bliss of a life.

    It really bugs me that people are dumb enough to fear things that rarely ever happen.

  11. Nanci September 15, 2011 at 9:32 pm #

    The term missing children is very misleading. Missing does not mean kidnapped by a stranger. Recently I was talking with someone about not being afraid and letting my kids go out on their own. They said they would love to do that and remember doing it themselves but then they go shopping at WalMart and see the big wall of missing children. I said that just about every kid on that wall was either a teenage runaway or the victim of a custody dispute. The other day I was at WalMart so I decided to look at the wall more closely. Sure enough with almost every picture of a missing child there was a picture of an adult with the caption “last seen with” and the adult had the same last name as the child. Not that those children are not important, if my child were stolen by a family member I would want people looking for them. But now you have parents seeing that wall and thinking that umpteen kids just vanish daily and theirs could be next.

    It’s the same thing when the news reports how many kids are the victims of gun violence and as a country we’re picturing a little 3 year old accidentally shot when his 5 year old brother finds dads gun. What they don’t tell you on the news is that those numbers include masses of teenagers involved in gang violence.

    There are a lot of missing kids, there are few kids kidnapped by strangers. But to most of the viewing public, they don’t realize that because of the way the media words it…..missing children! That term is meant to cause fear!

  12. kim September 15, 2011 at 9:42 pm #

    There was a period of time where we watched crime shows (L&O, CSI, etc) every evening after the kids went to bed. I don’t watch them anymore because they started to skew my reality.

  13. Bob Davis September 15, 2011 at 10:01 pm #

    I rarely watch TV news, and my wife is about to give up, because on many nights there’s “No news in the ‘news'”, and the “If it bleeds, it leads” editorial policy is in effect. One night the supposedly “local” news included a freeway car chase near Houston, Texas (we live in the Los Angeles area). We rarely, if ever, see items on the County Supervisors debating budget matters that affect our tax bills, but let some nut-case lead the police on a high-speed chase and the TV station helicopters are out with “live feeds”.

  14. RobynHeud September 15, 2011 at 10:10 pm #


    I think this one sums it up perfectly. If you don’t have a “thrilling” news story, make one up.

  15. Stephanie September 15, 2011 at 10:28 pm #

    @crowjoy – Hey, my clarinet was stolen right out of the music room when I was in middle school!! Because that happened to me that one time, that means it will inevitably happen to everyone who ever lets their instrument out of their sight for even a second!!

    Seriously though, it was a good excuse to upgrade from a resin student model to a nice wooden one. 😉 Also, I remember taking piano and clarinet lessons in my music teacher’s home over the summer. My mom waited outside in the car with a book (it was too far for her to justify dropping me off and going back home), but it was just me and an unrelated adult. And an African Grey parrot who sang along whenever I played “Für Elise.” And, if I recall correctly, at one point there was a kitten by the name of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, or WAM for short, as he was always running around and crashing into walls and furniture. Lots of good memories from those summers, I’m so glad that was before people got all paranoid that every single adult was definitely out to molest their child. 😛

  16. Sue September 15, 2011 at 10:36 pm #

    There’s something called the “availability heuristic.” I learned about it as a psych major in college, and it’s always stuck with me. Basically it means that people judge the probability of an event happening, based on how easily an example of that event can be brought to mind. It’s the same reason parents might take separate plane flights, so that if the plane were to crash, they wouldn’t both be on the flight…when in fact, they should have taken separate cars to the airport instead, because they’re so much more likely to die in a car accident on the way to the airport, than on a plane. So, the more we heard about kids being kidnapped, the more prevalent we think it is, regardless of the actual numbers.

  17. BMS September 15, 2011 at 10:37 pm #

    I can’t honestly remember who was president the last time I watched the news. I occasionally read the headlines on line. But I find that the world keeps spinning without my reading about it or listening about it constantly. And yes, I still managed to pick up on the fact that I should prepare for Hurricane Irene, that a tsunami happened in Japan, and other truly important stuff. But I’m pretty sure my family and I won’t expire because I didn’t read about a home invasion 6 towns over.

  18. Sarah September 15, 2011 at 10:53 pm #

    We do not watch TV at my house. I teach childbirth classes, so the only reason we have the TV at all is to show birth videos. (I wonder how that’s skewing my reality lol)…

    My mom is one of those people who always has the TV on; when we go to her house it’s just this constant distraction from the commercials and noisemakers. She doesn’t seem too “out there” in terms of extreme safety measures, but she does always keep her doors locked, even when she’s at home, and is always worried when I leave my son outside by himself for a little bit.

  19. socalledauthor September 15, 2011 at 11:01 pm #

    @Robyn: that’s awesome. Though I love ‘Pearls before Swine’ anyway. They had another one years ago about needing a news story. If there was no news… Rat was instructed to drive around until he hit someone with the news van.

    In my area, with the fairly high number of well-off kids, we seem to get extra “missing” kid reports as they runaway to live with friends for a while. Or we get the false rape and abduction reports when some teens go someplace they shouldn’t and don’t want to get caught. Each time, we get several articles and a whole bunch of tips on how to keep our children safe– except teens aren’t really children– they’re willfully making the choice to be gone. I hate it, but there’s really no other way to keep tabs on my community. Sadly, some people think there’s really reason to worry.

    My in laws live in a similar, very safe community. But my MIL is convinced she has to have a locking screen door to keep herself safe from attackers when answering the door.

  20. Lollipoplover September 15, 2011 at 11:17 pm #

    Sadly, the latest technology allows us to spread “news” at such a rapid rate, that people can pull out their pitch forks and rally around stories, especially ones involving pretty little kids. If only they rallied around hungry kids or those that are being abused and neglected.

    I see it on Facebook all the time-. “Please Post this, you could save a child’s life” when it’s just a hoax. The latest FB request to join the group to get “Toddlers and Tiaras” off the air. (The logic- that it’s too tempting for pedophiles!)
    Soo much on TV, but nothing good to watch. I’ll stick to reading. Our old cable bill was as much as a car payment, anyway.

  21. Marie September 16, 2011 at 1:06 am #

    I was glad for a happy ending to a missing child report in my area. An autistic boy wandered away from his school. He was lost something over 24 hours, in San Bernardino National Forest, and was just fine when they found him. It was amazing to me when I did a search on it just now, looking to see how heavy the coverage was. National news, no surprise. It’s wonderful that he was found safe and sound, but national news, really?

  22. LRH September 16, 2011 at 1:15 am #

    Marie Yes I heard about that story, saw it several times actually, and I live in Texas. Tells you all you need to know doesn’t it?

    I was also bothered by learning that the parents’ custody-rights etc were terminated due to their usage of a tether to control the autistic boy, yet the school had apparently done the very same thing. Moreover, in the situation where he WASN’T tethered, guess what–he overcame the bars and ran away anyway. Once again, the parents know best, but the state & a nosy real estate agent who’s the scum of the earth in my mind for their busy-bodying just can’t leave well enough alone can they?

    But yes–not only did I see the article, it kept re-appearing, for several days it seems. It wouldn’t surprise me if in a year they did a “one year later, how the parties are doing today” and “what we’ve learned about missing children since then” anniversary story of sorts. I’m all for reporting the facts, but the sensationalism machine is on overdrive with this sort of thing.


  23. Coccinelle September 16, 2011 at 1:44 am #

    Every time I heard you people talk about your evening news, I’m disheartened. Maybe I’m blind to it but here we don’t have much fear on our news. It’s mostly political and economic stuff, weather and cultural news.

    I don’t see the problem with evening news aside that the huge amount of ads in it that makes me skip it and read new online.

  24. Bob Davis September 16, 2011 at 2:09 am #

    Coccinelle: Do you get your TV news from a PBS or college-based station? They might have a more sensible attitude than ratings-obsessed commercial-station news programs.

  25. Cheryl W September 16, 2011 at 2:39 am #

    I listen to National Public Radio in the morning and evening. Mostly national news stuff, like oh, the economy. Sometimes some local stuff, like, uh, employment stats. Rarely there is a story about say the prison guard who was raped and killed while on the job.

    But mostly, nothing really sensational, unless it is a story about parents who were accused of shaken baby syndrome and the baby was later found to have genetic or other issues that led them to have the issues that they had.

  26. Anna September 16, 2011 at 3:02 am #

    My husband and I frequently joke about the paranoid, fear-based reporting on our local news station. “Human remains found in the desert! COULD THEY BE YOURS!?”

  27. enyawface September 16, 2011 at 3:05 am #

    The sensationalism is why I stopped watching the news about 3 years ago. While, watching regular tv programs if I see something that is going to be on the news that I am interested in, i may watch then. Otherwise I get my news online. The pompousness of the news outlets is really getting ridiculous. The other day I signed up so I could make my first post ever on Reuters, it was an article about jobs, taxes and our economy, I responded accordingly as to how we might be able to fix all. As soon as I pressed the submit button, instead of seeing my post added, I get a message, “This account has been permanently banned from posting on Reuters.” Along with a “click here for more information” which basically said I wasn’t good enough for them to allow me to post on their website.

  28. crowjoy September 16, 2011 at 3:11 am #

    @Stephanie! Egads, it happennnnnns! I must rescue the cello immediately! Actually, all I need to do is file a police report in the unlikely event it’s stolen and the rental company gives me a new(er) one. 😀

    I don’t remember my mom sitting around for my flute lessons, that’s for sure!

  29. Dolly September 16, 2011 at 3:40 am #

    We really don’t watch any news program or read the paper so we are not exposed to any media good or bad. Occasionally we catch something. We did not know anything about Casey Anthony till the day the mother got off and we only heard about it from our friends on facebook talking about it. So I went and looked it up.

    I think media in people’s faces all the time makes all of us crazy. My family members watch Fox News all the time and it makes them rant and rave and be all paranoid. I have told them over and over, if you don’t watch it you don’t have to worry about it.

  30. enyawface September 16, 2011 at 3:58 am #

    @Doly, I don’t get the newspaper either, way pay for it when I can read it for free online, if I wanted to. I wonder though, are you related to my room mate, He watches FOX news and constantly yells and screams at the TV, his favorite saying, “Your a liar!!!!” Sometimes I wonder if he really believes the FOX news people can hear him.

  31. Matt in GA September 16, 2011 at 5:23 am #

    In September of 2001, I moved into a new house. I’d also been cast in a community theater production which opened the second weekend of that month. As I was spending most evenings in rehearsals, I wasn’t in a hurry to get the cable tv hooked up.

    9/11 happened, but because I didn’t have tv, I didn’t watch the horrific images over and over again. Of course I kept up with the news on the internet and NPR, but my perceptions of the attacks and the aftermath were noticably different from those of my tv-watching friends and family.

    I never did get the cable hooked up. I’m celebrating my 10 year anniversary of having a tv-free household! I highly recommend it.

  32. tommynomad September 16, 2011 at 6:05 am #

    @Sarah – do you show “Orgasmic Birth”? It’s fabulous.

    We’re TV-free for 10 years, too.

    Kill your TV.

  33. Rob September 16, 2011 at 6:27 am #

    Just last night I was reading while my wife watched a crime show (the Mentalist). The episode was about a teen girl being abducted and killed.

    I remarked that easily two-thirds of prime-time crime/drama episodes featured children being abused, abducted, or killed. I don’t watch crime shows, so this is just what I infered from my incidental exposure. And these are the most popular shows on TV, so there probably isn’t an hour of prime time that doesn’t have some terrible, sinister threat to children.

    Now, I understand that TV producers are only giving people what they want. The troubling thing is why people want to be inspired with terror of children being harmed hour after hour, night after night. What’s going on in the collective psyche to create such an appetite? And how many people are equipped to distinguish between the fictional world and the real?

  34. socalledauthor September 16, 2011 at 7:46 am #

    @Rob: good points. I liked the original Law and Order (before Lenny left and died) but could never watch SVU. I can’t see the appeal in watching bad things happen to children, aside from the implausibility of it.

    I think the problem may not necessarily be that people don’t know fact from fiction with these crime shows, but that because some episodes are clearly pulled from the headlines, they may assume that all episodes are based on real events.

  35. Beth September 16, 2011 at 9:06 am #

    Before this veers into “my family is better than your family because we never watch TV, not even for one minute”, I want to say that there is TV outside of the news. There are funny, clever, creative, and interesting TV shows out there (really!) that have nothing to do with crime. And as a grownup, I refuse to feel bad because I happen to watch grownup shows on occasion. I can still be a good parent despite owning and using a TV.

  36. Catherine Scott September 16, 2011 at 9:18 am #

    As your friendly neighbourhood social psychologists I could go on for weeks about ‘cognitive biases’ that is predictable distortions to way people think about things.

    One such bias is the vividness bias: we remember and over estimate the possibility of emotionally disturbing events. Being hammered repeatedly with news about a missing child will do it all the time. Especially as the repeats also kick in the recency bias, under which we selectively remember more recent events.

    FYI here’s what wikipedia says on the matter: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cognitive_bias

    Yep, turn off that tv.

    Maybe some other friendly neighbourhood social psych has already said this, in which case apologies coz I didn’t read all the posts.

  37. Donna September 16, 2011 at 9:26 am #

    One can still watch the news and TV, even crime shows, and not be paranoid about the world. If you want to be paranoid about the world, you will be. If you don’t, you won’t. Watching L&O (any version) is not going to change that. I not only watch SVU regularly but deal with crime for 9 hours a day, every day. Yet, I am very secure in the fact that my family is pretty damn safe. The only crime I’m likely to ever be a victim of is a theft of some sort. My mother doesn’t watch TV, the news or crime shows, and believes that someone will steal my child the second my back is turned (this from a woman who let me roam until the street lights came on).

    I think it is less actually watching TV, even the news, and more the fact that these abducted/murdered children become part of pop culture for no reason other than being abducted or dead. I rarely watch the news and yet I hear of every abducted/murdered child that makes national news. I avoided the Casey Anthony saga only to be bombarded by a multitude of facebook status updates outraged that she was acquitted. Short of moving to a deserted island in the South Pacific (which sounds nice), you will learn about these things simply by being part of society. You can either choose to feed into the culture or choose to realize that each individual person is extremely unlikely to be a victim of a serious crime.

  38. Dolly September 16, 2011 at 9:41 am #

    Oh Beth don’t get ME wrong. We watch crap tons of TV. Just not the news. LOL! We watch stuff on Netflix and that keeps us from even having to watch the news commercials.

  39. Orual September 16, 2011 at 11:33 am #

    In the last weeks there has been a kidnapping in western Canada. Our TV only works with a DVD player (because I am cheap, not because TV is evil) and don’t read the news very often, so I am pretty fuzzy on the details. However with only having about 50 facebook friends who use facebook you would think we were at war. There were more statuses and comments than when a high profile politician died (also fuzzy on the details there). The amber alert does help relocate children and is a wonderful tool, but I hate how everytime it is issued so many parents retreat inside and lock thier doors because there is a kidnapper on the loose, thier kids could be next.

  40. Cheryl W September 16, 2011 at 11:56 am #

    Hmm, from what people are saying, Facebook is a factor in all of this too. I may listen to NPR, and the local news from time to time, but I rarely look at my opening Facebook page to see what people are up to. I mostly got FB because my brother went to Chili, and I wanted to see the photos he took. If I want to talk to people, I will call or email them. I don’t really want to hear about why their daughter broke up with her boyfriend, or to do something for their virtual animals when I have a whole herd of real ones clamoring for my attention. But that is just me.

  41. Andrew Buckley September 16, 2011 at 12:04 pm #

    The media escalates these sorts of fears and miconceptions through the roof…

    My wife and I just started a weekly podcast based around parenting, kids and marriage. Please feel free to check out Love, Kids and Madness at http://www.planetkibi.com/love-kids-and-madness.html

  42. LRH September 16, 2011 at 2:17 pm #

    On a slightly off-topic note, I agree with you Cheryl W about Facebook’s sometimes silliness, although I have one. People act as if you couldn’t post photos of your life prior to Facebook. Anyone ever hear of Flickr, Picasa, Photobucket, among others? Heck, those sites do a FAR better job with how they display the photo & how much control they give you over formatting etc, yet you don’t have to do all of that if you don’t want to bother with the complexity.

    And people acting as if Facebook invented games–when you’ve been able to download & install games for offline play for years or go to other sites for “web” games? And sending Facebook messages when we’ve been able to send emails for years–it just makes no sense. Facebook did NOT invent photo hosting, nor games (collaborative ones either) or messaging/email, nor did they make it better in my opinion, and it’s silly that so many people act as if they’re the second coming of Jehoviah or something.


  43. gap.runner September 16, 2011 at 2:17 pm #

    Things that happen less frequently are more newsworthy than everyday happenings. Those less frequent events make news because of their rarity, but they are scarier because they are more sensational. An example is a plane crash where 200 people die, especially if it’s a Western European or US airline (Third World air crashes don’t get as much air time). Planes are statistically the safest method of travel. There are no news reports that say, “The 10 million people (or however many people fly daily) who flew on planes today made it to their destinations without incident.” But when people see an airline crash on the news, the wreckage, eyewitness accounts, and interviews with the victims’ family members, they focus on the gruesomeness of the crash and become afraid to fly.

    The same principle happens with child abductions. They’re such rare events that they make news and generate fear because they strike so close to the heart for parents. Just like every traveler’s nightmare is dying in a fiery plane crash, a parent’s nightmare is having his/her child abducted and killed by a stranger. As with air travel, news channels don’t broadcast that all of the kids in town who rode their bikes or walked to school without adult supervision made it there and back home safely.

    Unfortunately, we tend to remember those things that are very emotionally graphic. What can be more heart rending than seeing the parent of a child who has been abducted by a stranger? It’s certainly a much more emotional pull than talking about all of the millions of kids around the world who got to their destinations safely every day.

  44. Jonas September 16, 2011 at 3:45 pm #

    The real problem is indeed what counts as “missing” these days. Every single case where a child actually gets abducted is sad and horrible and should never happen. but not every child or teenager that is reported missing was actually kidnapped by a child molester or sexual predator. The media and certain institutions would certainly have you believe that. But in the end, in the U.S. in particular, missing persons statistics, which are too often portrayed as equal with numbers of abducted children, can include wayward runaway teenagers, they can even include any person under 21 whose whereabouts are temporarily unknown or who are otherwise unaccounted for, if just for a couple of hours. That’s how you end up with such inflated numbers which, on top of sensationalist media coverage that tracks every single case and makes it seem like there is a kidnapper lurking around every street corner, have little to do with reality.

    The problem ist that a number of institutions have a vested interest in inflating those numbers and conflating all kinds of different reasons why a person may be unaccounted for for a short time and passing them off as child abduction figures. Usually, it’s money, plain and simple. Missing persons “charities” get government grants, and the more serious they manage to make a social ill look, the more money they get. And the cycle doesn’t end there, that money is spent on creating even more public hysteria and labeling yet more things as child abduction, which means even more inflated statistics.

    It’s all part of today’s “fear society”. Institutions and politicians have perfected the art of scare tactics and fear politics.

  45. Katie September 16, 2011 at 6:43 pm #

    Jonas- Let me get this straight: the same figure includes the rare stranger-abduction of a 6 year old, a custody battle flight involving two grade-schoolers, a runaway high school sophomore, and a 19 year-old soldier who doesn’t bother to report back in after leave? That’s ridiculous!

  46. Carolyn Jayne September 16, 2011 at 7:17 pm #

    @Orual — I’m currently living halfway around the world and I still knew about the kidnapped kid in Canada, though admittedly not that much (we must hang out in very different circles because only one of my FB friends mentioned it and nearly everyone had something to say about Jack Layton!). It’s a really difficult situation when people talk about it (the kidnapping) because as much as I want these kind of problems to end, I don’t inherently care about a kid in Canada (and one who was apparently fine, physically at least!) than a kid in any other country in the world, but apparently that makes me heartless…:S

  47. BMS September 16, 2011 at 8:44 pm #

    We use Netflix as our sole source of TVness, since we have no TV or cable. I really like the automatic filter. My little engineer in training wants to have a MacGyver fest on a rainy day? Fine. Dying to know about Mayan Heiroglyphs? Let’s find a documentary. But he’s getting the information he wants without 10000 commercials and news teasers telling him what he should want and what he should fear. Makes us all happier, saves on cable bills.

  48. Decemberbaby September 16, 2011 at 10:01 pm #

    @ Carolyn – apparently I’m heartless too, because even though I’m Canadian and my heart went out to those parents, I didn’t see the point of the multiple Facebook postings. Also, I never re-post those things that say “re-post to show that you care”… it’s pretty much all slacktivism anyway.

  49. kcb September 16, 2011 at 10:21 pm #

    The news is one thing, and I agree that media converage is skewed and relentless. “Missing” children and pubscent starlets are definitely the “news” topics of choice. Panic and indignant rage are “acceptable” emotions.

    But I don’t think tv is necessarily a problem, if you can think about things critically. Critical thinking is such a crucial skill in a world like ours….unfortunately not one they’re fostering in schools, but I digress.

    I watch L&O and SVU. I even watch Sons of Anarchy and (occassionally) Criminal Minds – but I watch them as entertainment, not as a source of world info. I’m still aware the world is not overrun by child molesters, psychopaths and semi-moral biker gangs.

    I think people watch shows like that because it’s fun to watch the good guys win.

  50. gap-runner September 16, 2011 at 11:06 pm #

    Let me preface this comment by saying that Josef Stalin was an evil man who was responsible for the death of about 20 million of his countrymen. His quote of, “One death is a tragedy, one million a statistic,” referring to those who died in the Soviet gulags, shows his evil nature.

    The fear among US parents of predators, kidnappers, and CPS in the US now seems to be as pervasive as the fear of a midnight knock on the door by the KGB during Stalin’s reign as dictator of the Soviet Union. The US media has taken a page out of Stalin’s playbook in how to use fear to influence our child rearing practices. Sensational news accounts of events that actually occur very rarely (examples: abduction by strangers, choking on button batteries, poisoned Halloween candy) fuel that fear. Helicopter parents are scared of predators that they think are on every street corner and behind every bush. They are afraid to let their children walk short distances because they are crippled by fear. We free rangers read story after story about parents who got turned in to CPS or were sentenced to jail for letting their children walk, cycle, or use public transportation on their own. When we do let our kids go off on their own, there’s that fear of a busybody turning us in to CPS or the police. That almost sounds like the Soviet Union with its system of informants who denounced their neighbors to the authorities. Sometimes I think that the media has taken Stalin’s quote in the above paragraph and amended it to, “One abducted child’s death is a tragedy that needs to be exploited for all it’s worth in order to instill fear and reinforce helicopter parenting; one million children walking, cycling, or taking public transportation by themselves without any incidents is a statistic that must be ignored or downplayed because it goes against the prevailing societal norms.”

  51. Library Diva September 17, 2011 at 1:15 am #

    Even the weekly papers I work for aren’t immune. I can’t tell you how many “near abduction” stories we’ve run that turn out to have unfolded thusly: kid is walking down the street, guy in car yells, “Hey kid, come here.” Kid runs away, tells parents, who call cops. I’ve pointed out that this is basically a story about nothing happening, but haven’t made much headway.

  52. Lollipoplover September 17, 2011 at 1:40 am #

    @gap runner- well said.

    I would add:
    “The combination of precise formulas with highly imprecise assumptions can be used to establish, or rather justify, practically any value one wishes” -Benjamin Graham

  53. oncefallendotcom September 17, 2011 at 1:57 am #

    The two NISMART reports are of “missing persons” incidents on a yearly bases. There are roughly 800k “missing person” reports annually, but of those, the lions share are runaways. Only 115 are the “stereotypical” kidnappings, and of those, only 45 are killed/ permanently missing. 45 out of some 70 million kids? There are more people becoming millionaires or struck by lightning each year.

  54. LRH September 17, 2011 at 2:35 am #

    Yes, yes, gap runner, I have thought & said much the same thing. And of course often-times the reply, even in here too often, is as if I’m off my rocker for comparing this atmosphere to that of an evil man of his caliber.

    But yes, I do. Granted, like you said, Stalin killed 20 million people, no one is killing 20 million parents because they won’t parent as the government tells them to. HOWEVER, as you said, an atmosphere is being created to where parents don’t have the confidence to parent as they want to if it runs contrary to “the officially sanctioned” way and they fear an “informant” turning them in. And that is wrong. People shouldn’t have to hide about how they parent their kids like people back then had to hide from the German Nazis or the USSR KGB.

    And yes, not only is it wrong, it bears striking similarities to the “snitch system” that the USSR had back then. People really do think they’re doing the right thing to butt their nose into other people’s business. And just like that former system, this is the main thing I want to say–I have NO interest in “getting along” with people like that. I want them defeated. I want them squashed. It is not enough to shame them for meddling or to take their power away, they must be destroyed JR Ewing or Victor Newman style.

    Quite frankly, people who would dare to meddle in your parenting business are the sort of people I wish had been on the northeastern shore of Japan last March when the tsunami hit. Nature’s commode, flushing all the evil garbage away. Yes, I really do think that lowly of them, they are that despicable.

    Yes, that’s a shocking view to express, but it’s an understandable response to an evil system that should, in fact, be defeated, by just about any legal means necessary to do so. The judge who ruled that the autistic child can’t be returned to his parents–evil. The real estate agent who called social services–evil. May they both be dealt with in a LEGAL and PROPER means–re-elect a new judge and demote him/her to dog catcher, let the real estate agent work the night-shift at Burger King and never get out of that life for as long as they live.

    And–change the law, too, you MUST identify yourself if you call social service, the accused has the right to face their accuser. If you’re too chicken crap to show your face, then you will be ignored–quite frankly, that’s not a bad idea anyway.


  55. sharon September 17, 2011 at 6:23 am #

    The 24/7 televised coverage also makes it feel as if every kidnapping happens RIGHT NEXT DOOR. Each story is, conveniently, followed by an ad for a home security system.

  56. Jeff September 17, 2011 at 7:13 am #

    For a great book on this subject, check out Risk: The Science and Politics of Fear, it has a whole chapter on the percieved risk of child abduction (and why we’re mostly wrong!).

  57. Jeff September 17, 2011 at 7:14 am #

    Oops, correction on the above, RISK doesn’t have a whole chapter on child safety, was thinking of a different book! but there is a lot about children and loads about our general perception of risk, especially how it’s affected by the media

  58. AB September 17, 2011 at 10:24 am #

    I don’t watch the news ( except for reading online stuff for political science class), but I hear some rather crazy stuff from people during my rides on the bus commuting to and from school. A few days ago some lady informed me about kids being abducted right off the street for prostitution, and that beef bought in regular markets ( not health foods stores) is from cloned mentally challenged cows. I guessed that either this lady was stoned out of her mind and/or not very educated. She even claimed that a friend’s son was abducted while on a visit to the Virgin islands, then given back six weeks later with a lung missing as he had a big scar on his chest.

  59. ditchMD September 17, 2011 at 9:23 pm #

    Following the abduction and return home of 3 year-old Kienan Hebert of Sparrwood, British Columbia, whose alleged kidnapper is a sex offender, The Toronto Star published this article (http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/article/1055498–why-kienan-s-abduction-was-1-in-10-million?bn=1).

    It’s nice to see that in this day and age, some media outlets continue to publish facts backed up by data and not perception.

  60. gap-runner September 17, 2011 at 10:12 pm #

    I expanded on my Stalin comment above in my blog. I find it amazing how fear rules parenting in the States. It’s so relaxed and free-range here in Germany.

  61. LRH September 18, 2011 at 12:35 am #

    gap runnerI agree with your blog post and like it very much.

    Android 2.2

  62. pentamom September 18, 2011 at 1:02 am #

    Oh, Uly, that is maddening. The fire code provision is probably there to limit things like draperies or fabric wall coverings, that actually could catch and spread fire. I don’t care how much art paper and tissue paper you have on school walls, it’s not going to generate enough heat for enough time to light the walls or spread.

  63. gap.runner September 18, 2011 at 2:12 am #

    @LRH, Thanks!

  64. ebohlman September 18, 2011 at 12:08 pm #

    Another factor here: There’s no difference between the emotional impact of seeing ten stories about the same kid being kidnapped and seeing ten stories about ten different kids being kidnapped. Repeated reports of the same incident cause people to think such incidents are very common. It’s related to a more general phenomenon: if you listen to a group of people, nearly all of whom agree on a certain point, but one of the people with a minority view talks a lot more than the others, it will feel to most people like he represents the consensus (that was a problem during the early production of “Check Please”, the PBS restaurant-review show where three ordinary people present their favorite restaurants. During one of the pilot episodes, one of the participants [1] talked far more than the other two put together, creating the misleading impression that his chosen restaurant was far better than the rest).

    Several years ago the Church of Scientology ran an ad campaign claiming that a woman was more likely to be raped during an appointment with a psychiatrist than while jogging in Central Park. That was probably true, but the fact is that very few women have ever been raped while jogging in Central Park; it’s just that the widespread publicity given to the Tricia Mehle incident makes it seem frequent.

    [1] A little-known Illinois state legislator named Barack Obama.

  65. Luke September 18, 2011 at 11:55 pm #

    Lenore, thought you might be interested in this.

  66. oncefallendotcom September 19, 2011 at 5:46 am #

    From Luke’s link:

    “A few years ago many of these families wouldn’t have dreamed of letting their kids get off the bus and wait in an empty house,” says Jennifer Rinehart, vice president of policy and research for Afterschool Alliance.

    –Am I that darn old? When I came home from school, I came home to an empty house. We had chores– we had to feed the animals and clean up the house. My brother and I watched afternoon cartoons and even fixed a sandwich (and OMG! I cooked!). We didn’t have an answering machine, I WAS the answering machine (Hello? I’m sorry, mom and dad are unavailable at the moment, may I take a message?).

    I’m only 34. How far back is “a few years ago?”

  67. pentamom September 19, 2011 at 10:41 pm #

    ebohlman, did they seriously say “in Central Park?” LOL. Great comparison — one park in one city versus all the psychologists’ offices in the world (or at least the country.)

    There’s that old thing about lies, damned likes, and statistics!

  68. ebohlman September 20, 2011 at 7:29 pm #

    pentamom: Yes, they really did specifically say “Central Park”. Of course, they’re hardly known for the subtlety of their propaganda (really stems from the fact that Hubbard was really ticked off that psychology/psychiatry didn’t accept Dianetics as the revolutionary treatise he thought it was, and that most mental-health professionals agreed with the Navy’s decision to relieve him of command of a small WWII ship on grounds of incompetence (e.g mistaking magnetic deposits for Japanese submarines and ordering the shelling of islands occupied exclusively by feral goats). He retaliated by writing pulp SF stories (something he was actually sometimes good at) portraying psychiatrists as members of an intergalactic invasion force; the stories he couldn’t sell wound up being repurposed as $cientology scriptures)).

    $cientology is the only religious organization I know of that considers the “swirly” to be an acceptable form of ecclesiastical discipline.

  69. pentamom September 22, 2011 at 9:23 am #

    Like most people, my eyes generally glaze over when I see those “missing children” ads here and there and they’re totally transparent to me.

    But the other day I happened to notice the one they put at the top of the Sunday comics. The “child” involved was abducted in 1985, as a young teenager (don’t remember the exact age.) They showed a “computer aged photo” next to the last known photo, complete with facial hair.

    Seriously? Does anyone actually believe that someone is going to be reading the Sunday comics and recognize a guy in his late 30s who may or may not have facial hair? Or walk into the Walmart for the gazillionth time, actually look at the bulletin board for a change, and recognize some middle-aged woman who ran away decades ago? And the real $64 dollar question — how long do ex-kids stay on these lists, when they have grown up, become legally responsible for themselves, and may or may not have chosen to get in touch with the parent or parents who reported them missing? Does anyone track THAT? Or do these things just stay out there forever, regardless of what may have come about in the meantime?

    What I’m thinking is that the businesses and organizations who display these things can’t seriously believe they’re helping missing people get returned to their families — they just want the PR of looking like they care. And they’re adding to the abduction hysteria, because too many people just unthinkingly assume these kids were “snatched” rather than taken by a known person without authorization, who couldn’t be easily tracked.

  70. highlyannoyed September 23, 2011 at 2:52 am #

    @ Lenore: I am totally a free range parent and am usually a very big fan of yours but I am highly disturbed by this article and especially the responses to it. Maybe the number of abductions have not gone up, however, quite often, the media that everyone speeks so scathingly of is how the children that ARE abducted are found! As for having media out of state….do you know how many children are brought across state lines? And as for not having as much coverage after the child is found, the purpose of the coverage should be to find the child. Too much coverage after the fact can be scarring to a child who has already been through too much. Yes, there are less stranger abductions than parental abductions, but did you know there are over 200,000 parental abductions EVERY YEAR? Should these children NOT be on the wall at Walmart? Should there not be Amber alerts regarding these children? Should there not be posters and news stories so that someone who recognizes the child can help? Maybe there are still stories when the abductees are into their 20s and 30s…their age doesn’t mean they don’t want to find their parent. Some don’t even realize until that age that they WERE abducted. And in the majority of parental abductions the child is told that their parent is dead, disinterested or dangerous. And before everyone starts telling me I don’t know what I’m talking about…I was a parentally abducted child. I was gone for 10 years and if there wasn’t media coverage regarding my abduction (even that many years later), I probably would have been gone longer. If that media coverage hadn’t been out of state, who knows if I would ever have been found since I was 900 miles away from where I had been abducted. Yes, the media may increase fear that this could happen to your child, but the media is the quickest way to find a child who HAS gone missing.

  71. highlyannoyed September 23, 2011 at 3:04 am #

    I would just like to point out, too…if it were YOUR child that was missing, wouldn’t you be fighting for as much media coverage as you could get HOPING that someone would turn on the tv that had seen your child??

  72. pentamom September 25, 2011 at 9:02 am #

    “Maybe there are still stories when the abductees are into their 20s and 30s…their age doesn’t mean they don’t want to find their parent. ”

    In the age of the Internet, is it really reasonable to think that putting a 20 year old picture on a bulletin board no one looks at is an effective way to reunite people *who are already looking for each other?*

  73. highlyannoyed September 25, 2011 at 9:24 am #

    What I meant by it not meaning that they don’t want to find their parent is that some people (and, yes I do know some of these people) don’t even realize that they were abducted until they’re adults. They may have been told that that parent died. They may have been told that that parent was disinterested. Either way, finding themselves on a poster may be what makes them realize that the stories they were told aren’t true and that someone is actually still trying to find them. I do agree that a picture of a baby may not be very helpful at that age, but that’s why they have the picture of the abductor on the poster as well in cases where they know who took the child. 10 years later you may not recognize the child, but you will most likely recognize the adult. I was 8 months old when I was taken. My picture meant nothing to anyone when I was almost 11. The picture of my abductors, though, was what led someone to call the police. And if someone hadn’t seen that and recognized the adults, I’d like to think that someone still would have been looking for me years later when I might see the poster and recognize them. Because I personally had no idea that I had even been abducted.

  74. Peter Brülls September 25, 2011 at 1:33 pm #

    Okay, I officially don’t get the Moderation Policy. I kinda understand why my comment is in moderation – I forgot American sensibilities regarding the f-word when I put in that quote – but I find using Jaycee Drugard’s kidnapper’s and rapist’s name as an alias roar s post about her much infuriating and tasteless.

    That said: That was a tragic case, but it demonstrates the irrationality of modeling one’s behavior out of fear. The abduction took place in broad daylight, while her stepfather was near. Again, tragic. Yes at the same time many kids get killed because their parents and grandparents do not check when they drive backwards – but we don’t see people giving up cars.

  75. survivor September 26, 2011 at 10:09 pm #

    I’m sorry to skew everyones reality of over dramatic media coverage, maybe they are trying to get the word out there that it can happen, does happen and just try to be safe without installing complete fear in your children. I’m a kidnap survivor. I was eleven walking to a neighbors at 630 in the evening, the sun had just gone down and it was dusk. A stranger came up behind me, a hand over my mouth and an arm around my waist and he took me. There was no news coverage as I was found hours later before anyone knew I was even missing. Had he taken me for days, I would have hoped my picture and name were broadcast everywhere. In my state, in the states near by, in every state across this country. I would want someone looking for me. What I endured for during those hours, I couldnt imagine days or months. To be found, (I’ll mention barely alive as enough details of the condition I was in), knowing that my mom was on the news a nervous wreck or to know that media coverage is too extensive in today times to put out the alert of my whereabouts. Yes, extensive is just that extensive but I’d rather too much then not enough. Do I let my ten year old child walk to the bus stop at the end of our block by himself? yes, because I watch from our window. While at a store, do I allow him to go to the restroom or look in the toys alone, yes. I have installed careful knowledge to him that bad things happen but you can still live normally, just do it safely. There is nothing wrong with teaching your children about the horrible things that happen in life. Horrible things happened a hundred years ago and they will continue to happen, every day. Do I want hide out in my home and never leave, yes!! Do I walk to the conventient store at 1:00 am, no!! But I do leave and it do with care. There are safe guards children can learn without be taught to fear every day life. There is a difference between teaching your children to be fearful and teaching your children to be safe. We watch tv, we watch some news, but when enough is enough I dont leave it up to the network to decide, I decide and guess what?? I change the channel.

  76. Jen December 14, 2011 at 3:29 am #

    There was an attempted child abduction in my city yesterday. Of course, the press release spread like wildfire among my friends on Facebook and then ended up in my email in box. I refuse to be led by fear. My kids still walked to school this morning and will walk home too. Instead of spreading the news and more fear, I posted a link to this article on my Facebook news feed instead.

    Don’t get me wrong, I will hug my kids extra tight when they get home from school today and we will revisit the Stranger Danger talk again over dinner, but we will also contiue to live our lives like we always do.


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