WASHINGTON, DC, 7 August 2012 - Traffickers and predators have long known the signs of troubled children and teens. They seem to have radar that enables them to pick up on which children to target. Sadly, the lower a child’s self esteem, the easier it is for a predator to take advantage of them.
I ran away from home at age 12 after being abused and having no one believe me. I was a walking target for predators and traffickers looking for children to exploit. Most of their evil work had already been done for them before the predators even found me.
A child with high self esteem who feels valued, validated and loved is far less likely to be lured into the world of trafficking. If a child feels they are valuable and belong in a loving family, they will not seek out approval and acceptance in the streets as a run away.
We are all busy and stressed in today’s world, too much work and lack of relaxation can cause trouble at home. Sometimes we come home and rush to put dinner on the table while our children are struggling to get our attention. Instead of putting your child in front of the television or ignoring them, try to spend just a few moments of quality time talking or doing a simple activity. Depending on your child’s age, even making dinner together or running errands can work. Quality time goes a long way towards reassuring a child that you care even when you are busy.
When things get out of hand at home and communication breaks down, children can start to act out. Be sensitive to small changes as well as big ones in your child’s behavior. Some early warning signs to be aware of include:
- Stealing things from home, stores or school
- Violent behavior not seen before, aggression and anger towards friends, family or school friends or unexpected bullying
- Hurting themselves by actually cutting themselves is a big sign to look out for, other ways of hurting themselves like getting bad grades or starting to act out sexually, depending on the age of the child are things to look out for
- Withdrawal or isolating from family and friends for long periods of time can be signs of a troubled child
Take time to educate yourself online or at the library about the different warning signs of troubled children at different ages. For example a teenager might shoplift at the mall, stealing things they don’t even want in a cry for attention, while an elementary aged child might start to act out by bullying younger children at school. Drawing violent or troubling pictures in school or day care is also a warning sign. It is important to know your child’s teacher or day care personnel so they can give you information on how your child is doing, or if any changes are being noticed. Keep on top of any changes in teachers so you can introduce yourself to them and make sure they know your are an interested parent. Never be too busy to show your children love and affection.
Statistics vary but there are approximately 2 million children between the ages of 13 to 17 who for various reasons run away from home each year. Recognizing the early warning signs is crucial in helping to prevent run away children. Prevention can start right away at home:
- Rewarding good behavior, not only punishing bad behavior is important. Help your child to learn their talents and strengths and show them how to develop them by getting involved no matter how busy you are, in their activities.
- A sense of achieving and following through will do wonders for your child’s self esteem. Self esteem and self confidence are strong armor against predators and traffickers.
- Listen to your child. No matter what, learn to listen. If your child says they have been abused believe them and get appropriate help.
- Sometimes sports can be a big help in many ways, providing a sense of teamwork, belonging and discipline.
Most of all, pay attention no matter how busy you are to your child. Help your children to learn how to express emotions, teach them to use words not actions. Anger is a hard emotion to handle for everyone.
Talk to your children about the realities of running away from home in an age appropriate way. Teach them it is alright to say no to adults.
If your child does run away from home, and they call you, try not to express anger on the telephone. Talk to them and ask them to come home and to stay in touch with you, offer them the Runaway Switchboard telephone number 800-786-2929
No matter what anyone tells you there is no waiting period for reporting a missing child under 21. None
Remember, they are not running to something, but away from a specific problem. Working together to communicate, noticing the early warning signs and spending quality time with your children will all help to keep your children at home and out of the hands of predators and traffickers in the streets.
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