Many people have a lot of difficulty teaching their children to think defensively, despite the fact that experts agree that this is necessary, and part of the training you should be providing to your children. A parent's first job is to keep his child safe, and this means providing them with some instruction as to exactly how to do this. Teaching your child about safety begins when they are small. What makes us all so uncomfortable is that we are trying to raise our children within the illusion of a safe environment in which they will want to go forth into the world and take some chances there and be successful in it, while simaltaneously admitting that in some ways, the world can be a very dangerous place. In addition, a lot of people have difficulty talking about "stranger danger" without being able to answer questions about what the kidnapper might do to the child following the kidnapping. The goal here is keeping safe from everyone from bullies to those who would abduct a child, without instilling such fear in your child that he/she are afraid to go to school, or worse, afraid to live a life. We must expose them to the possibilities while providing balance also.
The way I chose to do this with our children is not based on any particular statistics, but it conveyed what I was trying to put across. I told them when they were small that 90% of people would never do anything to hurt a child, and many of them would risk their lives to save a child they had never met. However, 10% of people would hurt a child due to some kind of mental illness. I illustrated the ten percent point using M&Ms candy, but you can use Smarties or whatever you would like. I also made clear that not every person who has a mental illness is a threat to children. Over the years I have found discussions which occur with small amounts of candy as a teaching tool, particularly effective........even if you can work it in somehow to college classes. Since we never know who the ten percent of people who would hurt a child are, we have to be careful with everyone, and we follow certain rules.
Children are natural helpers, and they love to help everyone including adults. The first thing they should be taught is that it is not appropriate for an adult to ask a child for help. A child can certainly call a parent to call police for someone, but if a person the child does not know, appears with a dog leash, and says, "Can you help me look for my dog ?" then the child needs to recognize this as a red flag, run home and report this to a parent at once. This leads me to a second point. Do not ever assume that because someone has a "prop" of some kind that they are who they have indicated. A man with a leash may not be looking for a dog at all. A man in a wheelchair may be perfectly capable of standing and attacking you. Children need to be taught that sometimes, a prop is a prop and that things are not as they seem. They also need to know that it is alright to be rude to an adult. Certainly, I would like my children when they were small, to be polite to people I work with, as we encounter them shopping perhaps, but children should not be fearful of retribution from you, should they not linger or speak to people that they may not really know. It's ok for them to be rude or abrupt and get away, if they do not recall this person. A child should never go closer to a vehicle when the adult "asks them for directions". A child must never go anywhere with an adult they do not know, or allow themselves to be picked up by someone who does not know your family's secret code word. Teach your child to trust himself. When your child has a feeling that something is not right, or someone makes them uncomfortable, then they should be taught to retreat and report this to you. Children are bright people, and when their, or for that matter, your intuitiive feeling is that something about a teacher, a priest, or someone else is not right, this should be considered. This also paves the way for your child to tell you other things they feel uncomfortable about. Make sure you create a place in your home in which you will listen to their concerns without laughing or belittling them, because sometimes, their perception of something, might not be accurate. Remember that boys as well as girls need to be taught all of these things as well, in fact, they may need even clearer instruction because we are less likely culturally in general, to validate the intuitive worries of our boys, than we are girls.
I have also spoken of the code word our family used, in which we indicate that it is time for the entire family to retreat without explanation from an event or area. It can be "called" by a child or an adult, and once the family has withdrawn from the area, only then do they need to indicate why they called the family withdrawal code. Sometimes they have seen a man with a gun, or someone who frightened them, or something else. First, we keep our family safe, and then we investigate whether we need to call police for some reason. In all the years we had this program in place, it was never abused, and called only a couple of times, appropriately. All of their lives you need to be teaching your children to be observant. They should notice license plates. They should notice a car which appears to follow them. They should notice any adult who seems too friendly or too interested in them when an adult is not present. This is tough for me because I love children and would normally like to talk to them, however, we must teach them that it's only appropriate for a stranger to engage a child in a conversation when their parent is present, unless the adult is a teacher of theirs or a coach. A child should be taught that a request to keep a secret is a red flag. Certainly, a father asking you not to divulge mom's gift to her is an innocent secret, whereas, a stranger saying, "Don't tell your mother I gave you this special candy."........might not be. Children should be taught not to eat or drink anything given to them by people they do not know. It's also good training not to leave your drink exposed, leave for the bathroom, and then return to it. Many a young lady has been drugged in a bar in such a scenario. Children should learn to travel in groups of twos or threes. Most abductions occur when a child is alone, and the other children would therefore be unable to provide a description of the abductor. Here in the Us in the last few years, there has been an overestimation of the things a child can do safely by themselves in the last few years. Children may be incredibly intelligent and capable academically, but when you leave a child alone, there are many things which could happen in your home that a child would be totally ill prepared to manage safely. Make sure that you consider the intellectual and emotional capabilities of a child as well as the legal guidelines when making decisions about leaving your child at home, and for how long. When you leave two children at home, you might be leaving a more dangerous situation in play, than you would be with one, as siblings often will not listen to each other, and a younger one will often not accept the authority of an older child, even in an emergency. Consider all these things when making your decisions.
When you select babysitters, whether they are temporary or long term for larger pieces of the day than simply an evening, check them out thoroughly. You are leaving your most important assets with them. Sadly, children have been molested, raped, and murdered by a babysitter who seemed "like a nice person my neighbor used as a sitter". Of course, most babysitters would do a great job, but you don't initially know who those are, as opposed to who those aren't.
In conclusion, a child doesn't need to be terrified of the world in order to be safe. In fact, if you relate this information, piece by piece, they will garner something quite different. They will feel empowered as they understand that they can be important parts of keeping themselves safe. They will also see evidence of the truth, which is that they are the most valuable concerns that you, their parents, have on Earth.
UPDATE: January 23, 2012
Following my writing this post, the following article was published telling of a young girl who saved her own life. She took the opportunity she was given, and escaped.