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Teach, Empower Children for Safety

by Pattie Fitzgerald, Guest Columnist, Los Angeles Daily News on 06/20/2007

In the past two weeks, admitted pedophile Jack McClellan's Web site has become a hot-button issue for many families. Understandably, the anger and fear which parents are feeling has taken on a life of its own with many community members working feverishly toward driving McClellan out of Los Angeles.

I don't like having this guy around any more than the rest of the community. But ridding Los Angeles of one known pedophile is not going to suddenly make our town a perfect safe haven. For every McClellan, there are countless others in our midst who we don't know about.

What about protecting our kids from those predators? I urge parents not to be lulled into a false sense of security by thinking if we only get rid of this guy, we've taken care of the problem.

For starters, 90 percent of childhood molestation is done by someone the children know, not a stranger. It's important to teach kids how to be the boss of their bodies, how to say no to an adult who wants them to do something inappropriate, and how to react to an uncomfortable or unsafe advance.

We also need to stop teaching kids the “don't talk to strangers” concept, and focus on teaching them how to identify a “tricky person” - that it's not what people look like, but what they say or want to do that makes someone or something unsafe.

The chances of a child being snatched up at the park by a total stranger are much smaller than the possibility of a child being lured out of that park by a nice-looking, friendly adult who says something curious and enticing to that child.

Of course, we need to keep a constant, watchful eye on our kids whenever we are out in public. However, all too often children are persuaded to do something unsafe because they are approached by someone who doesn't come across as a big, scary stranger.

Safety skills and strategies can be taught to children in a completely empowering and nonfearful way. Scare tactics don't work and aren't necessary. An informed, confident child is much less vulnerable to a predator's tricks than a child who hasn't been taught any preventive skills, or, worse, has been taught to fear everyone and everything.

If we are really serious about keeping our children safe from sexual predators, let's empower them with tangible skills and knowledge. Let's get involved with pro-active prevention-education programs in our schools and communities, and stop relying on the outdated, ineffective concept of stranger-danger.

Parent advocates can be a powerful force to be reckoned with when it comes to our children's safety. Let's take that fear and anger and put it to good use.

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