A Lincoln County, Missouri, woman grew concerned that her 6-year-old nephew was "too nice"—too liable to be taken advantage of by a stranger, according to The Washington Post. And so, with the permission of the boy's mother, she hired a gas station attendant to kidnap him at gunpoint, tie him up, blindfold him, and drive him to a basement (the boy's own, unbeknownst to him).
The aunt who thought up this brilliant plan joined the kidnapper in the basement. She told the boy he would be "sold into sex slavery," and never see his parents again. To underscore her point, she pulled his pants down. According to The Post, she was disappointed that he didn't even try to resist.
Eventually, they let him go and explained:
Then he was left alone, in the basement — bound and unable to see — before the family called the whole thing off.
When they finally unbound his hands and feet, they told him to go upstairs, where he got a lecture about "stranger danger." According to police, the family didn't think they did anything wrong because they were simply trying to teach him a lesson.
Officials at the boy's school learned of the kidnapping and contacted the authorities. The police have arrested the boy's aunt, mother, grandmother, and the gas station attendant. The charges range from felony kidnapping to abuse and neglect of a child. The boy is now a ward of the state.
Obviously, these people acted completely insane. But underneath that insanity was a desire to protect their child from what they viewed as a legitimate threat: stranger danger.
Unfortunately for them—but quite fortunately for children everywhere—these fears are largely misplaced. While bad people do hurt kids, instances of that are rare. There are not hordes of child molesters lining every street corner, just waiting to abuse and murder any kid they can get their hands on.
Frankly, it's unwise to make kids unreasonably distrustful and fearful of strangers—a kid might find himself in a situation where he needs to ask for help from somebody he doesn't know. Of course, it's unwise and incredibly traumatizing to subject a kid to the kind of ordeal that this boy faced.
Sadly, this isn't the first time a family member has ever considered drastic action to make a kid paranoid about strangers. Reason's Lenore Skenazy—host of Discovery Life Channel's World's Worst Mom and advocate of free-range parenting—encountered a mom who wanted to hire a man to fake kidnappings of children in order to teach them lessons. Skenazy writes on her blog:
And on a strange side note, last week on my show World's Worst Mom, a mom I was trying to help had had this same idea, except as a business: She would hire a man with a van to "kidnap" kids off the street, to scare the pants off them. (Perhaps literally, like the parents above.)
Maybe that's not such a great idea, I tried to tell her. And I guess it's not even that original. (BTW: The schedule for my show is changing, so you can find out when it's airing here.) I guess if I get a second season, I may be heading to Missouri.
Read Skenazy's full Reason archive here.