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Are American Parents Unreasonably Afraid of Abduction?

Your child is very, very, very unlikely to be kidnapped. Yet many Americans are convinced it's the most-pressing threat.

A Secure Life

Plenty of dangers present themselves in daily life. As a parent, exercising appropriate caution to keep your kids safe is crucial. Crossing a busy street? Hold their hand. Buying a new cabinet? Anchor it to the wall. Allowing them on the internet? Practice proper online safety. Thing is, when it comes to bigger issues, many parents tend to devote too much attention to highly unlikely threats such as abduction when more pressing concerns like, say, bullying, don’t get the attention they deserve.

Security product review site A Secure Life recently surveyed hundreds of parents across the country, asking them to discern their most common fears for their children. While legitimate fears topped the list (child will be hurt in an accident; someone will hurt or attack their child; their children won’t feel safe in the world), 14 percent listed kidnapping or abduction as their biggest fear. While abduction is irrefutably a heinous act that does occur in this country, the reality is that it occurs so rarely that there’s no reason a parent should feel as if it’s a lingering threat in a child’s life. It’s valuable to be concerned and vigilant, but numbers clearly show that there are much more relevant concerns.

In 2011, approximately 105 children were abducted in the U.S. While it would certainly be ideal if that number were zero, considering there are 74 million children in the country that same year, abductions only affected approximately 0.0000000001417 percent of children.

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Statistically, your child is very, very, very unlikely to be kidnapped. But exact numbers often aren’t clarified enough by the agencies that release them. Many reports lump together numbers regarding missing children or children taken by relatives, painting a skewed picture of modern “abductions.”

Other times, those numbers aren’t modern at all. A January 2015 NBC Nightly News report, for instance, told viewers that, according to the latest FBI study, more than 58,000 kids had been abducted by non-relatives in one year. The only problem was that the “latest” data was collected between 1997 and 1999 from a telephone survey, and from an era that predated cellphones and Amber alerts.

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This over-reliance on old, imprecise data and vague categorization conflating multiple issues helps create a misplaced fear that abduction is a way more prevalent, everyday phenomenon than it actually is. Of course, this concern can make for some important safety lessons, such as teaching your kid about interacting with strangers and being aware of their environment. But the fear shouldn’t be so prevalent.

Instead, it is worth it to be more concerned about bullying. A Secure Life found that bullying was the least commonly reported fear on their survey. Only eight percent of parents felt it was a top issue, a number that’s tragically out of step with the prevalence of bullying. Twenty-eight percent of students in grades six through 12 have experienced bullying, and 70.6 percent of students say they’ve witnessed bullying in school.

Abductions are real, and they’re a horrific prospect. But more U.S. parents may be devoting energy to a rare phenomenon when a much more prevalent one could be occurring to their child without them knowing.