Still Looking for a Place to Park:Media must not contribute to public panic over kidnappings

The media are bored.

Over the course of the summer, the country heard about case after case of child abductions. No matter where you live, it seems there was a case nearby. That's because it was everywhere. No matter how big or small, it seems we hear about a new case every day.

One of the most recent took place in Oregon City, Ore. The remains of two teenagers were recovered this week after they disappeared last winter.

Sometimes with today's media, you need to do a little of your own research to make sure you have the real story. A little digging on CNN's Web site turned up a page containing actual statistics dealing with missing persons and child abductions. The information on the page was provided by the FBI, the National Crime Information Center, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and the U.S. Department of Justice.

According to the site, a total of 840,279 persons were reported missing in 2001. The FBI estimates that 85 to 90 percent of these are juveniles. For 2001, that would mean 714,237 to 756,251 juveniles were reported missing. This is apparently the smallest number of missing person reports made in a year since 1992, when there were 801,358.

Experts also continue to insist that stranger abductions of children are the rarest of occurrences.

Does this mean we should be quick to dismiss the cases of Elizabeth Smart, Danielle van Dam, Samantha Runnion, Alexis Patterson and Jennifer Short?

Absolutely not. If the media's recent obsession with child abductions results in an even lower number of missing persons cases over the years, then society as a whole has benefited.

What we must be careful to do is not to panic, and the media must make sure they do not contribute to a public panic. Parents must be sure not to panic. "I don't want anything to happen to my child," one might think, "so I'll lock him (or her) in the house where no one can get to them."

That child will also not know sunshine. That child will not know the joy of the playground. That child will not know what it's like to speed down the street on their bikes and laugh with their friends.

Maybe when we think back on our childhoods and think about what we did as children, we realize we'd be scared to death if our children were as reckless as we were. I loved my childhood, though. If I had been kept in the house, it wouldn't have been the same. And the fact of the matter is, when I got too reckless, I was grounded. So is the constant struggle between the parent for the safety of a child and the child for its freedom. A balance exists, as is the case for so many things.

Let's also make sure, when we glance at the television, we don't allow things to get to a point where we see the words "Child Abduction," shrug and move on. When we are desensitized to violence the way we often become, that's the reaction that results.

The media may get bored from time to time. Let's make sure we never do.


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