According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, roughly 800,000 children are reported missing each year, more than 2,000 a day. Even though the vast majority of these cases end with the child found safe, and never having been in danger, the sheer number is still shocking.
When I was a kid, my friends and I spent our hours after school meandering the neighborhood. Mom and Dad had no idea where I was or what I was doing, and they didn't worry about my safety. In summer, I was gone at sunup. I was a racecar pulling in for a PB&J pit stop around noon, and dinner was just a distraction. I was gone for hours upon hours, and it was no big deal.
Today, it's a different world. My daughter is almost 10. If she is three minutes late from a bike ride, her mom and I are freaking out. If we lose sight of her at the park, we panic. When we're on vacation, I'm not only playing with her, but I'm also a CIA agent scanning the crowd for suspicious characters.
So how can we keep our kids safe in today's modern world? No tool or device will keep your kids safe 100 percent of the time, but here are five things you can do to mitigate the risks:
- Family talk: Take time to talk to your children about safety and abduction prevention. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has an excellent campaign called Take 25 that provides free tools, such as safety tips, conversation starters and mini lessons to help adults start safety conversations with children.
- ID card: Create and give each child a laminated ID card with his or her name, date of birth, address, phone numbers, etc. on it. If your child is too young to speak for himself or herself, consider writing this information somewhere on his or her clothing in permanent marker.
- Child ID kit: Prepare an ID kit for each child in the event that he or she goes missing. The kit should include a physical description, such as nickname, date of birth, height, weight, gender, fingerprints, hair and eye colors; any identifying features, such as glasses, braces, scars, birthmarks and piercings; any medical information, such as conditions, disorders, diseases and medications; and, most important, an up-to-date, high-quality digital photo. Be sure to take your kits with you on trips and vacations.
- Emergency hot spots: At a playground, amusement park or any other crowded location, always identify the nearest help and information centers, emergency stations and police posts. Inform your children where to go and what to do in an emergency or if they get lost.
- GPS tracking device: GPS tracking devices, like the kidsport GPS band, are developed specifically for kids and allow parents to locate their kids using their smartphones, iPads or computers. The kidsport GPS band features an alert button that sends you an immediate text if your child needs you; a secure latch to prevent unintended removal; a removal alert that texts you when the band is taken off; and a Geo-Fence Boundary Alert that sends you a text if the band crosses a boundary you set. Bands are on sale now as pre-orders and will be available this fall.
No parent I know can imagine what it is like to have a child go missing. It is our greatest fear. But by educating children and taking safety precautions, we can help reduce the chances of that ever happening. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has a lot of excellent information on child safety and what you can do as a parent or guardian.
Eric Long is a dad and cofounder of Precise Innovation, a company that developed the kidsport GPS tracking band for kids.