What to Watch For and What to Do

By Neil Ohlenkamp

If you don’t talk to your child about abductions, someone else will. This year thousands of children will learn the reality of stranger abduction first hand. The fortunate ones will just be molested and later released. Many others will be kept. The reality is, there are tens of thousands of known abductors and molesters out there. There are about 1.8 million missing children in the United States, and 20,000 to 30,000 will not see their parents again.

The only chance a child has against them is your willingness as a parent to sit down and talk about it. Obviously, this isn’t an easy subject. But if you approach it as safety rules, like a fire drill, it doesn’t have to be frightening. Please don’t leave your children out there unprotected. Talk to them.


First, it’s important to reassure your child that child abduction is rare. Most people are good and care for children. However, there are certain situations they should be prepared to deal with if they arise.

What if an adult wants you to do something you don’t want to do?

First, every child should know that he or she has a right to say “No!”. We have a tendency to tell children to obey adults. This makes them vulnerable to every adult. There are only certain adults they should obey. And you should tell them who they are. Teach your child to protect their personal space from unwanted intrusion.

What if an adult asks you to keep a secret from your mother or your father?

No adult should ask a child to keep a secret from their parents. If an adult, even someone they trust like a babysitter or a relative, ever tells them to keep a secret, they should tell you immediately. Molesters depend on the fact that a child will keep their secret.

What is a stranger?

Children should know that a stranger is any adult they don’t know well. That doesn’t mean they’re bad. It just means they haven’t earned your trust yet. Even someone they see every day, like a neighbor, is a stranger if they don’t know them well.

What if a stranger wants you to come to his car or house?

If a stranger pulls over and asks for help or wants to show you something in his car, don’t go to the car. Stand back and be ready to run. You should explain that while it’s OK for a child to ask a grownup for help, grownups shouldn’t ask children for help. They should be asking other grownups. Abductors will use many lures to draw children to them:

  • They ask for help, like directions for finding a pet.
  • They seduce children with gifts, candy, money or jobs.
  • They make threats.
  • They pretend to be authority figures, like police and clergy.
  • They say its an emergency. “Your parents are hurt. I’ll take you to the hospital.”

What do you do if a stranger says he’s come to pick you up?

For the safety of your child, you should have a secret code word that just the family members know. If you ever send someone to pick up your child, give them the code word. Your child should not go near the car unless the stranger knows the secret word.

What do you do if you think that someone is following you?

Don’t be alone. Immediately run to a friend’s house or the nearest store and tell them.

What if a stranger ever threatens you or tries to grab you?

Shout “HELP” and “I don’t know you” and “call 911”. And get away fast. Make a big scene so people will come. Carry and use a personal attack alarm. Most abductors and molesters will run away if their victim fights and attracts attention with noise.

Can you dial your full phone number? What’s your full name and address?

Make sure your child knows their full name, phone number and address, including state. Make a game of teaching them to call home long distance. Or if they’re too young, teach them to dial 911 for help. Tell them if they are abducted, a phone call home or to 911 can bring them home.

What if you’re home alone and someone calls for your mother or father?

A child should never tell anyone they’re home alone. Just tell them “My parents can’t come to the phone right now. I’ll take a message.” And never open the door to any stranger.

What if you get separated while you are shopping or in another public place?

Whenever you go shopping, set up a meeting place. If you get separated, don’t search for each other. Immediately go to the meeting place. Or ask a police officer, guard, or employee for assistance.

Encourage children to walk and play together, to watch out for each other. Young children should not be out alone, especially in the evening.

Explain that if they’re ever lost or abducted that you will look for them until you find them. No matter what. This is critical. Most abducted children are told by the abductors that their parents don’t want them anymore. If they believe it, they have no place else to go.


Never leave your child alone in public. Especially in a car or a public rest room.

Thoroughly check out any babysitter or daycare facilities before you entrust your child to them.

Encourage your children to talk about their concerns. And pay attention. If something or someone is upsetting them, there’s usually a reason. So never belittle your child’s fears, real or imaginary.

The more attention a child gets at home, the less susceptible he or she will be to the lures of a pedophile or abductor. Be involved with your child’s activities. Know who your child’s friends are and what adults he or she spends time with. If there seems to be a change in the way your child reacts to a particular adult, find out why.

There are many self-defense and martial arts programs available that can help your child prepare for a physical confrontation by learning simple defensive tactics without years of study.

Have your child carry a personal alarm as a deterrent, so help can be summoned when needed.

Avoid dressing your child in clothes that display his or her name. A stranger who knows your child’s name can quickly seem like a friend.

Always keep a good up-to-date photo of your child. It could bring them home. Fingerprints can also be helpful for identification.

Explain to your children that if any stranger tries to get them alone or into their car, you want to know. If it seems suspicious, report it to the police. The next child may not be as well-prepared.


There is nothing in the world more important than the safety of our children. But it’s impossible for the local police to watch over every child. You must make a personal commitment to help watch out for all the children. If there’s a suspicious person hanging around places children frequent, get a description of him, his car, and license plate. Then call the police. Molesters and abductors are out there, and they usually study their victims before they strike.

If you think you know someone involved in molesting or abducting children, call the police. Molesters graduate to abduction. If you see anything suspicious report it. Don’t wait. Don’t talk yourself out of it. Your instincts could save a child’s life.

This award winning page is copyright © 1994/2004 by Neil Ohlenkamp, Encino Judo Club. All rights reserved. Last modified July 4, 2004.