A recent incident at AMK Hub involving a mother whose child was allegedly nearly taken by a stranger has been making its rounds on Facebook, and has the Singapore online community of parents spooked. Parents who grew up in the 80’s may remember the unresolved McDonald’s boys case that left the nation in shock and initiated a search that spanned across the region, and continues to haunt our generation to this day.
As parents, there really isn’t anything we would not do for our children, but in facing a situation such as this, what can we do for peace of mind?
When Being a Tech Geek Helps
When child safety becomes a concern, most fathers can always fall back on the one thing they can most relate to: technology. And one immediate solution that comes to mind? GPS.
The creation of the Amber Alert in the US has given rise to companies that provide GPS location devices and services specifically for locating your child. The devices can be in the form of non-descript handheld GPS tracker boxes, smaller devices that are easily accessorised or concealed, or even watches or bracelets, that can be carried, worn, or placed in strollers and prams, and are usually tied to a subscription-based service that ensures immediate response should you need to locate your child.
The idea is not lost on Singapore; both Singtel and StarHub provide fee-based (monthly or pay-per-use) locator services that allows you to track the whereabouts of your loved ones. You will also need to equip your child with a mobile number from the respective provider and a WAP/GPRS enabled phone that is always on. The caveat is that the service only works for phones within Singapore, though location accuracy can be pinned down to within a 50-metre range given the right environmental conditions.
Parents with iDevices for themselves and their children will have an easier (not to mention free) alternative. Apple’s Find My iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch app allows you to locate iDevices just by logging in with the respective iDevice’s registered Apple ID. Even if you’re not comfortable with providing your child with a phone, or your child is just too young to learn how to use one, equipping him or her with a S$288 iPod Touch may just give you that extra security to ease your worries, as well as an additional avenue of entertainment for your kid.
Safeguarding Your Child Online
Predators don’t just exist in shopping malls and outside schools; they hunt online as well. It pays to be aware of what your pre-teen or teenage child does online, particularly on social network and gaming sites like Facebook or Habbo, or even in their e-mails. This is an iffy area to delve in, seeing as a balance needs to be maintained between keeping your child safe from online predators and respecting your child’s online privacy with his or her genuine, legitimate friends. Your best bet is to have a proper discussion with your child about your concerns as a parent, and understand your child’s needs and boundaries as well, so as to properly accommodate each other.
Danah Boyd from Microsoft Research’s Social Media Collective, in an aside on her article about parents’ roles in teen password sharing, reflects on an interesting approach to ensuring you have a fallback access to your child’s online life while still maintaining trust with your child – by having your child place login and password information for frequented online sites and services into a piggy bank that can only be accessed by the parent by breaking it. The child will have a tangible promise that you are maintaining the trust relationship, and in case of your child’s safety being compromised, you will also have additional sources to seek out clues to your child’s whereabouts, clues that your child provides through his or her online activity.
Education is the Best Defence
Rachel Teo, a mommy blogger at catch-fortywinks.com and co-owner of early childhood education website Myplayschool.net, provides excellent advice on schooling your child about the perils of stranger-danger. Rachel writes that a child’s true understanding of the stranger-danger concept takes more than just telling your child, “Don?t talk to strangers!”. Her picture book recommendations (for children ages 2-5) dealing with the subject, coupled with her holistic approach to teaching your child how to identify and engage with strangers, enable both you and your child stay conscious of safety whilst mingling with other people. Educating your child also forms the most important preventive measure against predators.
Keeping an Eye on Your Child
Of course, all this will come to naught without your own conscious effort to keep your child safe and close to you when you’re out. Vigilance naturally plays a large part of any parent’s care for a child, and it also requires much discipline and habit-forming on the part of the parent. Whenever you’re out in public with your child, always keep your child in your line of sight, especially if he has a tendency to run amok. When faced with a stranger trying to communicate with your child or lead your child away, retrieve your child as quickly as you can, but don’t yell in panic at the stranger when your child is still with him or her; instead, first try to treat it as a misunderstanding or mistake, because if the stranger is acting with criminal intent, he or she may have no qualms putting your child in danger in order to save himself or herself. Any action you wish to take on the offender can be taken after your child is safe in your arms.
We may take for granted that in Singapore the crime rate is low, But as dads, we will always see ourselves as the protectors of our families. Whether the stories of attempted abduction are real or rumoured, just remember the case of the McDonald’s boys, and be mindful that we do need to play our part to keep our families safe in any case.
Do you have any more tips to share on protecting your child from stranger-danger situations, or have a differing opinion? Do share your thoughts in comments.