Creating Awareness About Abductions
I was channel surfing when I heard the news bulletin about Elizabeth Smart. Thank God she was found alive! I was astonished and joyful for the entire Smart family, but I couldn't help wonder what Elizabeth was going through behind all the smiles I saw on the news reports.
The Healing Starts
In any situation where a teen has experienced a traumatic event, counseling should be a top priority for the teen and the entire family unit.
"There are 'forbidden' conversations that have to take place, and the earlier the better," says Gail Gross, Ed.D.. These forbidden questions are asked early on in a safe environment for the teen.
Many times parents would rather not know the answers to these "forbidden" questions. Parents may not want to face what the teen had to do to survive, but the teen will need to talk about it. Their perspective on the ordeal may be entirely different than the parent imagined.
Counseling for the siblings and especially the parents will be essential to the healing process. "Parents need to deal with their own grief and trauma, so they don't accidentally give that to their children," says Gross.
Through counseling and the support of friends, extended family and clergy, parents can get in touch with what they are feeling and address their concerns in the confines of trusted individuals. Parents should resume their life as they did before the traumatic experience. Stability will bring comfort and security to the teen.
Creating an Awareness
The natural response for most parents and teens would be to proceed as normal and leave the past behind. Unfortunately, events and anniversaries will trigger memories of the abduction, captivity or other traumatic event. Sweeping emotions under the rug will not help your teen to move on.
"Teens will need to create an awareness of what has happened to them," says Gross. There will be days when the teen will be depressed or have a lot of stress. Through counseling and the loving support of family, constructive ways can be taught to deal with the pain. Visualization, relaxation, behavior modification, medication and other valuable tools can be used to aid in the awareness.
"Constructive ways have to deal with communication rather than the altered states that some victims use to dull their pain, like drugs [and] alcohol," says Gross. Parents need to become more observant of the teen's behavior. They need to learn to recognize when the teen is stressed. Is the teen sleeping too much or too little? Are they withdrawn or over active? Parents can truly make a difference in the recovery process by recognizing symptoms their teen will encounter in the aftermath of a traumatic experience.
Parents should ensure the teen's "survivor" status. This sense of self will give the teen empowerment, too. She can then learn to recognize when she is stressed or anxious when a situation triggers a memory. As the teen works through the troubled times, she will eventually realize that history doesn't have to control her and effect her daily life in a negative way.
Talk, Talk, Talk!
"The parents that are the most successful talk to their children about everything," says Gross. "This kind of up-front communication can arm your child against an attack and make your child less vulnerable."
Most of us assume our teens were taught about not talking to strangers in elementary school and already know the basics, but times have changed and so have our teens. Teens who are confident and have a greater sense of self may be better equipped to ward off an abductor. But teens who have been abused, neglected or those who are still reeling from the circumstances of a nasty divorce may be more vulnerable to the seeming kindness of a stranger who shows them attention. They may already feel like a victim and would have a hard time feeling powerful enough to fend off a would-be abductor.
Just as we prepare and teach our teens how to become responsible adults by earning money, showing up to work on time and keeping gas in the car, we need to prompt discussions on being aware of their surroundings in the event someone tries to lure them into their car or to their home. Gross refers to discussions like this as the "new normal." Abductions are a disturbing part of life to which we can no longer close our eyes and think it will only happen to someone else's kids.
According to Gross most kidnappers are cowards and are usually pedophiles, if they are sexually oriented. "We think kidnappers will kill us, but in reality the majority of them leave if we scream and fight back and draw attention to them," she says. "Kidnappers want to lure someone away without any trouble."
Gross says that if Elizabeth Smart or her sister had screamed, Elizabeth probably wouldn't have been taken. Parents have the obligation to teach their teens how to draw attention to themselves in a situation where someone is trying to lure them away. Simply use the same matter-of-fact way you taught her child about crossing the street safely. The intent is not to frighten the teen, but to empower them, so screaming "stranger" and fighting back becomes second nature.
The Elizabeth Smart story is a good conversation opener to approach your teen about self-defense against an abductor. Ask your teen what they may have done to avoid being taken from their home or a mall parking lot. Then pass on these tips from Gross:
- Stress that they use their own intuition. If something or someone about a situation just doesn't feel right, then avoid it.
- If they are taken by surprise, tell them to scream "stranger," thrash their arms (like a windmill) and kick so the offender can't grab them easily.
- If they are forced into a car, try to get the keys from the ignition. Open the car door or window and scream "stranger" while trying to escape.
- Do whatever you can to fight back. Don't worry about hurting the abductor.
- Never offer to help a stranger locate their car in a parking lot or find a lost pet or help with car problems.
These instructions may seem opposite of how our children are taught to help others and be kind to each another, but as Gross says this is the "new normal," and an adult who is truly in need won't be depending on a teen to help them. As always, it is better to be safe than sorry.