Suspect your elders

August 27, 2002 12:00 am

Waiting for a school bus.

Playing in the park.

An aisle at the local grocery store.

Sound asleep in their own bed.

These are places where parents shouldn't have to worry about their children's safety.

Shouldn't, but they must, a painful reality driven home most recently by the sorrowful resolution in the disappearance of two Oregon City girls, Miranda Gaddis and Ashley Pond.

It is important to recognize that, despite what seems like a rash of child abductions, the number of abductions — particularly those by strangers — is declining.

The attention paid to abductions by the media, on the other hand, is increasing, perhaps imparting a false sense of insecurity on the public — or offering a sobering wake up call for parents.

Because while parents warn children not to talk to strangers or to go anywhere with strangers, they might not think to warn children against their family's friends and neighbors.

And these are precisely the people committing the majority of the crimes against children.

Parents are now called upon to help their children learn the boundaries of appropriate adult-child relationships.

It's no longer as simple as "Respect your elders."

Now children might be advised to "Suspect your elders."

Just because a man or woman is a friend of the family, children must know: If you are made uncomfortable by someone, regardless of who they are or what they say will happen if you tell, you must talk to someone — a parent, a teacher, a minister, a police officer or other trusted adult.

This is a lot to ask of a child: Recognize which adults are a danger and which can help.

And in families where those who should help the most, like parents, have hurt a child in the past, the challenge is only that much more daunting.

Did the world suddenly become a more dangerous place? We hope not. But parents have become glaringly aware of the dangers that can and do exist.

It's a tough job keeping your kids safe without cutting them off from the world and opportunity for growth.

It's a tough job, but somebody's got to do it. Good luck.