It’s a well-known tool taught by parents to children to help them avoid “stranger danger” and in Arizona it helped one girl escape a potential kidnapping — a code word.
Brenda James, the 10-year-old’s mother, said her daughter had been playing at a park last Wednesday when she decided to make her way home.
As she walked, a white SUV pulled up next to the girl and the man inside spoke to her.
“He told her that her brother had been in a serious accident and that she needed to come with him,” James told NBC-affilliate KPNX.
She didn’t and went a step further, asking the man for the “code word” she created with her parents to know if a stranger is safe.
“We actually just came up with it a few months ago,” James said. “I never thought it would be used and I’m very proud of her for remembering that.”
When the man didn’t know it, the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office said he drove off. Police say it was a smart move by the parents.
“Kudos to the parents of this child for having a code word and talking about to their children about stranger danger,” Sheriff Mark Lamb wrote in a Facebook post. “We hope by putting this out, it will encourage parents to have that conversation and create a plan with their children, so they know what to do if they are in that situation.”
Some parents in the community say they’re concerned about the situation because children have reported seeing the SUV in the neighbourhood.
The children have said the vehicle has been seen circling the park several times a day. Police say the description of the suspect is vague, only describing him as a white man, possibly in his 40s with a beard.
Christy Dzikowicz, director of the child safety and family advocacy division at the Canadian Centre for Child Protection, told Global News she found the child’s reaction “amazing.”
“She had the presence of mind to follow through with something she talked about with her parents obviously and so I think the lesson for all of us is that we need to have these conversations with our kids all the time,” she said.
Dzikowicz said it’s important because when kids are in a situation, they have a plan, and parents should practice using a code word to keep it “fresh in mind.”
Not every family needs to use a code word however and Dzikowicz said it can depend on age. When kids are in their earlier years, supervision is important. As they grow, a buddy system can be a good strategy, and when they get to their teen years, having a cell phone is another way to stay in touch.
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James said the code word saved her daughter’s life and is stressing why it’s important to have.
According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, children who are able to get away from potential threats are able to do so because of something they did.
“Eighty per cent of the time children are able to get away from the would-be abductor is because of something they did on their own volition,” Walsh told 98.1 KMBZ radio.
“And that’s kicking and screaming or using the code word.”
It’s a statistic that Dzikowicz agrees with.
“We often teach kids to be compliant with adults but we need also to remind kids to trust their instincts and use their guts,” she said. “If they feel like it’s an unsafe situation, absolutely make as much noise as possible and resist going with a person.”
She said it’s not about making our kids scared, but ensuring they’re educated, safe and prepared.
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