Friday, November 16, 2012

Raising Resilient Kids

Wednesday we attended a webinar entitled:

We learned that kids need us to engage with them, understand their needs, and help them meet those needs in orderly and constructive ways.  We can channel their efforts in ways that decrease their vulnerability, and increase their resiliency.

We should reflect on the environment that we provide to our kids. Does it meet their needs? Can we improve the resources that we provide, and our habits about how we provide them?

The speaker talked about the three different imperatives in a child’s developmental process and how we can recognize what needs our children might be trying to fulfill through their behaviors and decisions:

1)      The Exploring imperative causes our kids to seek out novelty, and engage in risk-taking and experimentation. This is also called the “seeking system”.

Our kids feel naturally compelled to do these things, and if we teach safe and appropriate ways; they will learn initiative, ambition, goal-orientation, and how to make plans and act on them.

We shouldn’t down these natural and important imperatives. Instead, we should stay alert for opportunities to properly engage the urge to explore.  Enriched environments with plenty of opportunity for safe and age-appropriate exploration, and rewarding feedback are so important for properly directing these natural developmental impulses.

Can you think of ways to provide these opportunities to the kids in your life?  Every day we have opportunities to do so.  Sometimes, it is easier and less complicated to say “no, you can’t do that” rather than ask ourselves “what does my child want from this activity, and is there an appropriate and interesting alternative?”

2)      The Discovering imperative causes our kids to use their resources to acquire the things (both tangible and intangible) that they need and want from their environment. This is also called the “play system”.

Again, our kids feel a natural impulse to do this, and if they are encouraged and their activities are properly channeled they will learn industry, creativity, follow through, planning, and persistence.

Sometimes, when our kids are following their Discovering imperative, it is easier and quicker to just do stuff for them, tell them to wait to try to accomplish a task until we have more time or it is more convenient, or to say the task is not worth doing rather than to provide resources and guidance. Sometimes, when they fail, our first impulse is to focus on the failure rather than on solutions. If they want something, it is quicker and simpler to simply get it for them and provide it to them (or tell them “no, you can’t have it” or brush them off with “if you want it, find a way yourself”) rather than help them work out an appropriate plan and encourage them as they work through the steps of the plan.

A better approach is to stop and think about what they are trying to accomplish, and engage with them as they explore constructive solutions.  Model problem-solving, constructive responses to set-backs, show them that set-backs can be overcome, and that flexibility, creativity, and persistence will lead to a rewarding outcome.

3)      The Engaging imperative causes our kids to want to connect, contribute, and matter to their environment.  They want to feel like they belong, and that their presence and actions matter. It causes them to seek attention and affirmation.  This is also called the “care” system.

Properly channeled and supported, this imperative will result in a strong sense of identity accomplishment, productivity, generosity, and healthy involvement in community, family, and friendships.

This is an area where the littlest things truly matter.  Taking a moment in the morning to stop preparations for work for just a second to make eye contact and give a hug, ask how your child is feeling about school that day, if they have everything they need, offer a word of encouragement so they know that their efforts and struggles are on your mind. This can can set the tone for your child’s day.

Showing up at parent teacher conferences, proof-reading and providing feedback on an assignment, attending their sports games or band concerts, learning the names of their friends and their friends parents, posting a proud status update about their accomplishments on Facebook; all of these demonstrate their importance to you.

It is also important to give them opportunities to contribute. Give them tasks to contribute to the family or community, ask for their advice or input on appropriate topics (allow them to engage with you as you explore solutions your problems – just as you do to help them), delegate responsibility to them, and then tell them how their help made your life easier or improved your performance. Contributing will help them build a sense that they matter, their actions mean something, and they have an important place in the world.

Why is understanding these imperatives and their influence on our children’s decision-making and behavior important to their safety?

We can’t be with our kids all the time, and we can’t protect them 100%.  Even the children of the best and most attentive parents living in the most safe and secure neighborhoods with the finest most positive school environments, cannot be certain of 100% safety from bullying, grooming by a predator, luring, abduction, depression, running away, substance abuse, or other dangers.

The more resiliency that our children develop, the more likely they will be to recover from difficulties, set-backs, and traumas that they may experience despite our best efforts to keep them safe.

Also in part, because the skills and competencies that we work to develop in our kids make them somewhat more resistant to these dangers.

 If we give our children healthy alternatives to exercise their urges for novelty-seeking, risk-taking and experimentation, they are less vulnerable to the more harmful, less appropriate avenues provided by youth culture.

If they are channeling their urge to acquire and build in healthy and positive ways, and know that they can trust us to be present to help them overcome obstacles, they are less vulnerable to the damaging short-cuts that none of us want for our kids.

If they know they matter, that their presence in our family, community and friendships are important and valued, they are less likely to seek that sense of importance from people who will misuse it to manipulate and harm them.

We say LESS vulnerable because even kids with the best parents and support systems can be vulnerable.  

We can give our kids the best chance they can have to get beyond whatever circumstances arise in their lives. Our kids, families, and communities can be empowered to prevent harm to them.  And in the cases where prevention is not enough, we can be empowered to help the survivors recover and thrive.

You are not alone in this task.  Missing Children Minnesota offers educational programs for children of all ages, parents, and education and childcare professionals.  We can help you educate your children and/or the children you serve.  Call (612) 334-9449 to engage our help.

As an activity to demonstrate what we are talking about in this blog entry:

We have taken a partial list of “lures”, or ways that predators get kids to leave their safety zone, from our AMECO sister organization, Heidi Search Center.  As you look over the list, think about the developmental imperative that is being exploited in each of these lures. Children who are having their developmental needs fulfilled and properly challenged, and are educated about safety, are less vulnerable to these lures.

·         AFFECTION: Predators target lonely, self-conscious or unhappy children. If he can make your child feel important and loved, your child is more likely to go with him and keep secrets for fear of losing love and companionship.

·         ASSISTANCE: Predators know that children are willing to help others and use this for their advantage. They will often ask for help in locating a lost pet, finding directions or carrying something to their vehicle.

·         AUTHORITY: Children are very trusting of people in uniforms. They need to be taught that a uniform does NOT always make the person a police officer, fire fighter etc. They have the right to ask for proper identification or to ask another adult they know and trust for help.

·         COMPUTERS: Predators are using the Internet to meet children. They are able to lie about themselves in order to win a child’s confidence. If they can get your child to give them their real name, address or phone number, the predator will have a map to your front door. Monitor your child’s internet usage. Take advantage of available parental controls. Even monitor teenagers, they are just as likely to fall for the internet lure.

·         DRUGS: Predators use drugs and alcohol to attract children and weaken their resistance. This makes them vulnerable to molestation or attack.

·         EMERGENCY: This lure is designed to prey on your child’s emotions. The predator may tell your child you have been in an accident and are hurt. By doing this, the child becomes concerned for your safety and will let his/her guard down making them available to the predator.

·         GAMES: Games can be used to build your child’s confidence, gain their trust or make contact with the child. Video arcades and even games in your home provide contact.

·         GLAMOUR: Ego building is very effective. A beauty contest, talent show or photo shoot can provide an opportunity for a predator to make contact with your child.

·         COSTUMES: A super hero or clown costume may be all it takes for a predator to get close to your child.

·         INJURY: A fake injury can be used to gain your child’s sympathy and draw them close to the predator.

·         BRIBERY: Money or gifts are often used to buy a child’s trust or confidence.

·         JOB: A job offer should be carefully checked out before accepted. Talk to the person who wants to give them a job. Babysitting is no exception. Check carefully before putting your child in a potentially dangerous situation.

·         PORNOGRAPHY: Children are curious about sex. Talk with them openly about it. Otherwise a predator can use this curiosity as a means to expose children to sexual acts for the purpose of videos or photographs.

·         THREATS: When all else fails, a predator will threaten a child with violence against their family or pets. This is done to gain control and silence a child or get the child to leave with them.

·         ICE CREAM VENDORS: Accompany your child to the ice cream truck. This lure has been successfully used to abduct children.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Question #3: "Why is Anti-Bullying Such a Political Football?"

October is national Bulling Awareness Month. To mark the occasion, we are preparing some answers to Frequently Asked Questions surrounding the issue of bullying. If you have a question that you would like us to answer, you can message us on Facebook.  We can’t answer every question individually, but we can try to get the “gist” of all of the questions and address the issues raised. If you missed the first two entries in the series, the links for them are right here:

 Q3 :Why is Anti-bullying Such a Political Football?

As a social strategy that depends on physical or social strength, there has always been the potential for bullying to have political over-tones. The targets of bullying are chosen because the bully believes that they are acceptable targets for unacceptable treatment. While some bullying happens because the bully has a personal problem with a single individual and justifies their treatment of their victim on those grounds, there is another dynamic where groups of people become viewed as fair game for anybody to mistreat.

In a local areas, children of racial, cultural, religious, economic, social status or sexual minorities can be at higher risk for bullying.  If the children in a neighborhood see that authority figures take an attitude that certain groups are undesirable or suspect, they are more likely to choose them as targets of bullying, less likely to become part of the support network for the victims, and the victims are more likely to internalize the message that they “deserve” this treatment and be unprepared to stand up for themselves.

Anti-bullying programs that  include the message that it is unacceptable to bully someone because they belong to a disadvantaged minority are sometimes accused of being part of a political agenda or strategy, because this issue intersects with other social justice issues.  Thus, political activists on both sides of the social issues are compelled to become involved in the discussion.

However, no anti-bullying educational program can be effective unless it includes material that makes it clear that it is unacceptable to bully anyone. If there are groups of people that are implicitly viewed as acceptable targets for mistreatment, an anti-bullying program must explicitly state that they are not acceptable targets for mistreatment in order to be effective.  Additionally, official policy and implementation of policy must be in line with that message.  Without these actions, an acceptable class of victims and a climate of “open season” can result.

The experience of Jamie Nabozny illustrates this phenomenon very clearly.


The right to believe whatever you believe, and speak to defend those beliefs, is very important. It is fundamental to all other rights. The right of human beings to be safe from malicious harm is also very important and fundamental to all other rights.  If you can't be secure in your person, you can't be secure in anything else.
The job for us as parents, educators, and peers of those affected by bullying is to understand, teach, and strive to model behavior that makes it clear:  you do no honor to your beliefs when you harm another person in their name, and that we do not believe that any sort of violence, harassment, or defamation is supported by appeals to belief or opinion.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Question #2: "Why is it the School's Job to Worry About Bullying?"

October is national Bulling Awareness Month. To mark the occasion, we are preparing some answers to Frequently Asked Questions surrounding the issue of bullying. If you have a question that you would like us to answer, you can message us on Facebook.  We can’t answer every question individually, but we can try to get the “gist” of all of the questions and address the issues raised.

 “Why is it the school’s job to worry about bullying?”

Being in an unsafe environment affects the quality of learning for everyone.  Even if your child is not being bullied, the abusive environment caused by bullying is distracting and stressful for everyone. Teacher time and school resources are expended trying to resolve conflicts, rather than teaching. Even if your child is “not one of those kids”, you should be aware that bullying behavior affects his or her learning environment.

Kids that are subjected to bullying in school sometimes also suffer from difficulties outside of the school environment (a disordered home environment, neighborhood violence or crime, etc.) that can make them more vulnerable to abuse from their peers.

For these students, it is absolutely critical for schools to be a safe place to learn and improve themselves. The National Survey of Children’s Exposure to Violence ( by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) shows that children who are exposed to violence in multiple areas of their lives are at greater risk for many problems in every area of life. They can develop very serious health, legal, emotional, and academic issues that challenge their ability to be independent and productive individuals.

However, if there is even one place where a child who is experiencing difficulties in every other area of life can abandon their hyper-vigilance, relax, recharge, and focus on visualizing, planning, and pursuing a fulfilling future, their risk of adverse outcomes is reduced.

Schools are obligated to provide a safe and secure learning environment for all students, and the infrastructure is already in place for the delivery of many services and supports for this purpose. Effective anti-bullying policies and procedures that protect all students are just another part of what is already a core mission for our schools.

However, one clear difficulty is that bullying behavior does not happen exclusively within the school’s preview. Bullying tends to follow students back and forth from the school to off-hours activity, and back again through use of the personal cell phones and computers. The schools have limited authority to deal with these activities when the fall-out occurs off-campus. But with the cooperation of parents, students, communities and schools, progress is being made every day in individual districts across the country.

 What are some things that schools can do in order to address bullying?

·         Have a strong, effective, authentic, anti-bullying policy for in-school behavior. “Zero Tolerance” has become an unpopular phrase. We have all seen highly publicized cases of policies that are designed with inflexible, severe, excessive, “one-size-fits-all” punishments. This application of policy takes away any discretion on the part of the staff to tailor the consequences to the behavior, help resolve conflicts, and provide resources for students who need help or support.  These policies are not only ineffective, but they cause parents, students and the community to view the issue of bullying as a joke, and an issue that is best ignored.
       “Zero Tolerance” should  instead be understood to mean that EVERY reported incident will be dealt with in an appropriate way.  It should mean that every case of bullying that is brought to the attention of the administration will be recorded, taken seriously, appropriately addressed, and resolutions recorded. Consequences should be tied to, and appropriate for the infraction.

·         Have a clear policy about the appropriate use of electronic devices on the school grounds or school-sponsored events, and enforce that policy consistently.  This policy should be reviewed and updated as needed to respond to new technologies, and new trends in usage.

·         Invite the public, including students and parents, to be part of the discussion about bullying and create a response to bullying that is supported by the community (and enlist the prevention education programs provided by organizations such as Missing Children Minnesota, or our AMECO partners at the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center).

·         Train students, faculty, staff and parents for in-school prevention models such as the peer-support model (where students are educated to act as bystanders and witnesses to support the victims of bullying, to report bullying activity, and/or to send a message of non-acceptance of the bullying behavior).

·         Provide training and resources for conflict resolution, and refer children and parents to resources that can help them cope with the stressors that may contribute to the bullying.

Ultimately, the people who have the most impact on student behavior are peers and parents.

Parents can model respectful behavior toward all people at home, and teach their children (by example, and as part of an ongoing dialogue) that while they might not like someone’s personality, actions, beliefs, or habits, they are expected to treat every person with respect, dignity, and fairness.

Students can affect their environment by not accepting or excusing bullying behavior in their friends, by reaching out for help to appropriately resolve conflicts before the situation escalates, participating in anti-bullying programs or efforts in their school or community, and by reaching out to the victims of bullying to offer support.

You can call Missing Children Minnesota to bring our prevention education programs to the children in your life by calling (612) 334-9449.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Why is Bullying Such A Big Deal "All of a Sudden"?

October is national Bully Awareness Month. To mark the occasion, we are preparing some answers to Frequently Asked Questions surrounding the issue of bullying. If you have a question that you would like us to answer, you can message us on Facebook, or leave a question in the comments.  We can’t answer every question individually, but we can try to get the “gist” of all of the questions and address the issues raised.

Question One:  Why is Bullying Such a Big Deal “All of a Sudden”?

When bullying is brought up in conversation, a common sentiment is:  “kids will be kids”. We hear people express this as part of a view that bullying is a normal, healthy “rite of passage” that prepares our kids for the difficulties of an adult world.

Another is: “That has nothing to do with my kids.”  If someone’s kids don’t bully, and are not bullied, they don’t have to think about it. They forget that an unsafe or disruptive environment affects their children, even if they are not the perpetrators or victims of bullying. They overlook the fact that bystanders and witnesses participate by providing an audience and tacit support for the bullies if they do not take an active role in stopping it.

Another common sentiment is: “kids are so cruel”, said with a headshake and a helpless shrug. It implies an acceptance that bullying is an unfortunate, but unavoidable reality.

For most of us as children, this was the reality.  Some kids just got picked on and tortured.  If they could change their appearance, behavior or find some other way to avoid it, they might be able to put a stop to the bullying, but otherwise, they just had to outlast it, and wait until the bullies gave up or grew up.

We accepted treatment for our children that we would never accept for adults. Some behaviors that are dismissed as “bullying” in our schools would result in criminal charges, or a civil suit if committed in our adult workplaces.

Unfortunately, the times we are living in make it necessary for us to deal with this increasingly difficult and destructive problem.  For one thing, the social dynamic that used to be limited to just a school, sports team or scout troop environment has become a 24-hour crowd-sourced phenomenon that follows our kids everywhere there is a peer with a cell phone or a computer.

When bullying goes online, the bullying persists even after those who instigate it stop their behavior. The images and “memes” (online jokes, sayings, images or other content that are passed “virally” from person to person on the internet) live on forever. There IS no “outlasting” it. The bullies may move on, but the content they put on the internet is there forever.

Further, a compromising image, personal information about the bullied person such as their home address or phone number, or other identifiable information revealed by others in the process of bullying online can actually endanger our kids.  Having this information distributed on line, or through cell phones, exposes the bullied kids to predators at the same time that it causes depression, insecurity, helplessness, and a desire to flee their circumstances. These feelings can add to their vulnerability.

Exposure to bullying increases the risk of suicide, running away, victimization by predators who are on the lookout for kids in despair, poor academic performance, substance abuse, violence against the victim, as well as violent acting out from the victim.  Pranks involved in bullying can result in the bullies, their victims, or both, becoming involved with the criminal justice system when pranks or retaliation get out of hand.

The stakes have always been high in bullying, but the ability of bullies to “mass produce” abuse through new technology has increased the risk of the worst outcomes for our children.

Bullying has always been a problem, but the problem is reaching critical importance for our schools, our communities, and for all of our kids. We need to teach our children to recognize the signs of bullying, help them develop skills for dealing with bullying, to avoid bullying behavior, and empower children who are by-standers to bullying to step up and speak out.
Missing Children Minnesota has programs to help children make safe choices, as well as a program for internet ettiquette and safety.  Call (612) 334-9449 today to find out how to bring these programs to the children in your community.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

A more complete approach to personal safety for children.

When you ask people about abduction and bullying prevention for children, too many people think of physical self-defense skills first and foremost.

These skills can be useful in a small number of cases, but in most cases, the most critical skills are social, problem solving, anger management, and communication skills.

People who are going to hurt our kids most often try to manipulate our children into participating in their own harm, because they know that the more participation they can get from the child, the less likely they are to be exposed, arrested, and held accountable.  Recognizing this manipulation, understanding what is appropriate and inappropriate, and knowing what to do when someone tries to manipulate them are all crucial skills for our kids to learn.

Bullying is a social problem, and a complex one at that. There is often not a clear line between the bully and the bullied, and the people involved will sometimes change roles.  We can teach kids to recognize bullying when they see it in the behavior of both others and themselves, and make choices that will reduce bullying and harm for everyone.

Education programs from Missing Children Minnesota give kids, parents, teachers, and community leaders a firm foundation to develop abduction and bullying resistance skills in children.

You can contact us for information about our programs at:

(612) 334-9449

We would love to help you bring our programs to children, parents, teachers, and community leaders in your neighborhood.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

You can work to bring the missing home by being aware of the open cases of missing kids in Minnesota, and across the country.  The BCA Clearing house page of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety and The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension list many of the posters of people currently missing in Minnesota.

Please take a little time to look at the posters.

Today, we will feature:.

LeeAnna Marie Warner

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Five things YOU can do to "Make Noise" for kids!

April 18th, the Association of Missing and Exploited Children Organization (AMECO) launched the “Make Noise” campaign.

Introducing the speakers who would be addressing the combined audience of law enforcement and non-government organization representatives, Wendy Jolley-Kabi described a conversation with Patty Wetterling, mother of Jacob Wetterling (missing since 1989).  Wetterling reportedly requested that there not be a “moment of silence” for the missing, but instead that we make noise for the missing and exploited children.

As a charter member of AMECO, Missing Children Minnesota wholeheartedly agrees that we need to make some noise. The time has come to put the issue of missing and exploited children before the public, and empower our communities to end these problems. There has been some cynicism against “slacktivism” in the social media lately.  Somehow, we seem to have gotten the idea that “awareness” cannot solve anything.

With the issue of missing and exploited children, nothing could be further from the truth.  In a time where organizations that serve children and families with prevention education and search support remain under-funded, “awareness” is the life-blood of action.  We need the engagement of our communities to do our work.  We need to be invited to present our programs.  We need parents to call us when they have questions about how to protect their children. 

Parents need to be aware of their resources for prevention and for searching in their time of need.  Children need to be empowered by awareness to keep themselves safe.  Potential abductors and exploiters of children need to be aware that they will be found and prosecuted if they harm children.

Awareness isn’t the end of the line of what we can do, but it is the only solid beginning.  This is not a problem that can be solved with ignorance and apathy.  So, now, what can you do to bring safety to the kids in your life?

1)      Talk to your child’s school, your church youth leaders, your scout troop leaders, your day-care provider about bringing Missing Children Minnesota’s prevention education programs to the children that they serve.  Our programs are age-appropriate, non-threatening, simple, comprehensive, clear and empowering for kids and parents alike.

2)      Contribute to Missing Children Minnesota.  The great thing about contributing to an organization like MCM, is that it is a literal truth that “every little bit helps”. As a very small organization with a five-figure budget, we literally notice every $5 donation, and we spend it very carefully. We don’t just appreciate your $5 donation, we make it mighty!

No group is turned away for inability to pay.  Over half of the prevention programs we do are offered at free or reduced rates, and the full rate is merely “at cost”.  The maximum fee is the cost of presenting the program: usually averaging out to about $2/ child.

3)      Open the lines of communication: "Like” our page on Facebook, or follow us on twitter.  We frequently bring information about missing kids, and about current issues that will help you make a noise for kids as well.   If you are a member of an underserved community, or have special skills or insights that will help us engage with your community, reach out and let us know what we can do to partner with you.

4)      Sign up to get electronic Amber Alerts in your area at

5)      Sometime between now and May 25th (National Missing Children Day), plan to “Take 25” with your kids.  Take twenty-five minutes (or more) to talk to them about personal safety.  If you need a hand with this, you can take a look at our blog, or our facebook page for ideas on age-appropriate conversation starters, safety tips, and more.