A few weeks ago, someone posted a parent warning on Facebook. There was concern expressed by a young mom that a creepy guy followed her and her infant through a store. After shopping, she requested an escort from store security to her car where they found the man and two others waiting. The guys took off, and police were alerted.
Strange things like this happen all the time, but few go public as they’re brushed off as hysteria or overreaction. As your Auntie I want to tell you to trust your gut instinct and practice some safety measures for yourself and your kid while shopping.
It’s not about raising your anxiety or that of your child, it’s about thinking and being present at the moment (which can be a challenge when you’re a new parent and sleep deprived).
For the most part, you’re safe as you shop and go about daily life, but you also need to use some common sense.
My son, now age 19, went missing in a local Wal-Mart when he was about three years old. It was the most terrifying minutes of my entire life.
I always… like always… put him in the cart while I shopped, but that day he wanted to walk and I let him. Well, imagine my panic when I glanced away for a couple of seconds only to turn back and find him gone. Oh, my God! I called his name and searched the immediate area and then stepped out into the aisle—it was at that very moment I realized how huge the store was and I couldn’t see anything except a sea of merchandise and a bunch of strangers.
I screamed—I’m sure I sounded hysterical, but staff came immediately to ask what was going on.
They were amazing.
One employee stayed with me while another ran to the front. A Code Adam was called, and the store locked down. Staff monitored the doors and didn’t let anyone in or out of the store. More employees suddenly appeared in the area doing a sweep search. They quickly found my son hidden in the center of a clothing rack and returned him to me. I can still feel that sense of panic all these years later.
The reason I tell you this story is not to make you paranoid, but aware.
There are a lot of creepy people out there that prey on the innocent.
When your child is an infant, many coo over the baby and want to touch them. That’s not okay, and you need not let some stranger wiggle the baby’s finger or whatever. Set your boundaries and stick to them. If someone is offended, it’s their problem, not yours.
There are also those who want to engage youngsters in chit chat. I still see it all the time. Most of the time it’s simply a person being friendly and there’s nothing behind the conversations, but you never know. Here are some examples.
- ‘So, what’s your name?’
- ‘My name is…’ (this is important because now that the child knows the person’s name, they’re no longer a ‘stranger’)
- ‘How old are you?’
- ‘Do you have brothers or sisters?’
- ‘I bet your daddy thinks you’re special…’ (leading statements like this are used to illicit information)
- ‘Do you shop here with your mommy a lot?’
- ‘What school do you go to?’
- ‘Do you like candy?’
- ‘I bet you’re a good girl for your mommy, aren’t you?’
These may all sound innocent (and most times it is), but they’re leading questions and kids don’t know what is appropriate and what is not.
Remember, there’s no need for you to apologize to a stranger. Don’t be rude, but be firm with your boundaries.
You can either walk away or tell them they should not be questioning children. If you have a weird feeling, report the incident to the store.
A few other common sense suggestions…
***Don’t leave your infant or kids in an unlocked car as you go off to return the cart.
***Don’t send your kid or preteen off on an errand in the store unless you’re confident in their ability to not engage with strangers under any circumstances.
***Don’t leave your kids in the toy department as you shop elsewhere in the store.
***I vividly remember the fatigue and frustration of shopping with kids but don’t cut corners. Leave them home if you can but if it’s not possible then keep them in your sights.
Sometimes creepy people will cross your path and it’s best to be prepared and educate your child. Do your research, trust your gut, and report what you consider suspicious.
Here’s one site where you can read about teaching kids about strangers, but this is one of many. Read up. Talk to your kids and be smart.
Auntie Lesson: For those who don’t know…
What is a Code Adam:
“Code Adam is a missing-child safety program in the United States and Canada, originally created by Walmart retail stores in 1994. This type of alert is generally regarded as having been named in memory of Adam Walsh, the 6-year-old son of John Walsh.” (as per Wikipedia)
Here’s what happened….
Adam Walsh was playing on his video games only a few aisles away from his mother as she shopped nearby. She went to find him but he was gone. Tragically, Adam had been abducted and murdered.
His legacy is the Code Adam and a reminder that there are some people who are evil.