Several years ago, before a rash of abductions made the headlines, before widespread sexual abuse in the clergy became news and before Michael Jackson was acquitted, five women got together to brainstorm a way to help children protect themselves from abduction, abuse and exploitation.
Mothers Advocating Prevention (MAP) developed a safety education program based on information gathered primarily from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Over the past four years, trained educators have taken the interactive, age-appropriate presentations into classrooms in public schools across the Palos Verdes Peninsula, reaching thousands of children.
In 2002, at the request of Jewish Family Services of Los Angeles, MAP safety educators trained mothers from Los Angeles day schools and helped create materials appropriate to the Orthodox environment.
Susan DiLeo, who serves on the executive board at Congregation Ner Tamid in Palos Verdes, is MAP’s executive director. She talked with The Jewish Journal about how parents can help keep their kids safe over the summer, and all year long.
Jewish Journal: What is the basic message MAP teaches kids?
Susan DiLeo: We teach children to follow five specific, simple safety rules we call the ABCs of safety:
A — Asking for help teaches them that if they get separated from a parent in public they need to know who ‘safe helpers’ are and how to find them. They need to find a cashier, law enforcement, or mom with kids.
B — Bring a friend simply is the buddy system; a child or teen alone always is a more vulnerable target.
C — ‘Check first’ teaches kids that they must let parents or guardians know where they are going and whenever there’s a change in plans. This rule is especially important for situations when kids are not with their parents — lessons, sports practice, parties, play-dates, etc.
D — Do tell. If someone says or does something to a kid that makes them scared or uncomfortable, they need to tell a trusted adult right away. And finally,
E — Explore the Internet safely. Many kids are more knowledgeable about computers than their parents. But household rules need to be followed about where they’re allowed to go online.
We explain how following these rules help children avoid being tricked by someone who might try to lure them, and we discuss various tricks predators use.
JJ: What happened to ‘Don’t talk to strangers’?
SD: We don’t recommend teaching ‘Stranger Danger.’ If a child is lost in public, their ‘safe helper’ most likely will be somebody they don’t know. Children see their parents talking to strangers all the time, which leads to confusion. Ask a child what a stranger is to them, and you’ll see how ambiguous the term is. Do they think the mail carrier is a stranger? My kids don’t. Most importantly, sexually abused children usually are exploited by somebody they know, not by a stranger.
JJ: What should parents know about summer camp?
SD: The ABC rules apply whether at camp, school or out in public. But parents should check out camps and summer programs carefully. Ask the director about background checks on individuals working there; make sure there’s adequate supervision and a proper camper/counselor ratio, especially with very young children. Inquire about all activities, field trips and transportation arrangements. I like to get recommendations from friends whose kids have already attended certain camps.
JJ: Some parents are uncomfortable talking about sexual abuse.
SD: Yes they are, but they don’t need to go into great detail. First, parents should discuss with their kids who trusted adults are in their circle of family and friends. These are people who might pick the child up from school unexpectedly, or whom the child could go to with a problem. Children need to know that they can discuss anything with their parents. We tell kids that their private parts are just that — private — and if somebody touches them in any way that makes them uncomfortable, they should tell a parent or trusted adult immediately, especially if that person tells them to keep it a secret. That’s a real red flag.
JJ: Parents tend to worry more about little kids, but aren’t middle school kids at greater risk?
SD: Yes, once kids hit middle school, they generally have more freedom to be away from home without direct supervision. Being out independently is new and exciting, and it can lead to riskier behavior. This makes the safety rules even more critical. We hear in the news all the time about teens and young adults who go missing.
JJ: What about the Internet?
SD: This is a crucial part of our program and one that parents are very concerned about. We teach kids never to give out personal information, to send pictures of anyone, or to make plans to meet in person somebody they met online. We show upper-grade children a video that demonstrates how savvy, online predators can find a person with only the smallest bits of information. You’d be surprised how kids leave clues in chat rooms about where they live without even realizing it.
Susan DiLeo and Julie Brown are founding members of Mothers Advocating Prevention as well as certified Safety Educators. For more information, visit ” target=”_blank”>www.meganslaw.ca.gov, and for more safety tips visit
Find the Gems
There once was a man who could provide only potatoes for his family’s subsistence. As the monotony and the poverty wore on, he prayed, and his prayers were answered. There fell into his hands a mysterious map to a magical Island of Diamonds.
Begging a boat, he set sail on a long and difficult voyage. One day, he spotted the island, gleaming on the horizon. Upon landing, he discovered a pristine beach covered with diamonds. His heart leapt as, carrying a dozen potato sacks, he pulled his small boat ashore and began to fill the sacks with diamonds.
He was so busy, he didn’t notice that the people of the island had come to watch.
"What are you doing?"
"I’m gathering diamonds; I’m going to be rich."
"Rich? Those won’t make you rich! The whole island is covered with them. If you want to be rich here, you have to find something much more rare and valuable. The most valuable thing here is potatoes."
"Potatoes? I know potatoes!"
So he dumped all the diamonds from his sack, and ran into the forest. In 15 minutes, he found a dozen potatoes. The crowd looked on in awe. They carried him from the beach, and installed him as king of the island.
After a year, he remembered his family and informed the island people that he would soon be leaving for home.
When finally he arrived in his home port, the whole town turned out to meet him. Fearing him long lost, he was greeted with tears of joy. Finally, his wife mustered the courage to ask:
"Did you find the Island of Diamonds?"
"I became king of the Island of Diamonds!"
"Did you bring back diamonds? Diamonds from the island?"
"Diamonds? Heavens no! I brought back something much more valuable than diamonds! Behold, potatoes!"
Why do we set out in life to find diamonds, only to return with bags full of common potatoes? How were we persuaded that potatoes are more valuable than diamonds? How were we enticed into collecting potatoes when we stood upon a beach covered with diamonds?
The most common Hebrew word for "sin" is het. This word comes from archery. Het literally means missing the mark, missing the target. This is not a failure of intent, nor a failure of fundamental morality. There are other words for that. Het indicates a failure of vision, a problem of distraction. And distraction may be the greatest spiritual problem.
"The great danger facing us all," wrote the American preacher Phillips Brooks, "is not that we shall make an absolute failure of our life. Nor that we shall fall into outright viciousness. Nor that we shall be terribly unhappy. Nor that we shall feel that life has no meaning. The danger is that we shall fail to perceive life’s greatest meaning, fall short of its highest good, miss its deepest and most abiding happiness, be unable to tender the most needed service, be unconscious of life ablaze with the light of the Presence of God, and be content to have it so."
Our nation has embarked on a great campaign to cleanse the world of terrorism and find some measure of justice in response to our tragedy. We certainly have the means. The question is, will we have the resolve? America’s attention span is notoriously short. We live for distraction. Soon, there will be new stories, new scandals, new crises to displace this tragedy from our headlines. Can we sustain the commitment to achieve this great goal? n
Contrary to the popular conception, Yom Kippur is not the holiest day of the Jewish year. Today is. True, Yom Kippur is the most severe. Yom Kippur demands fasting, self-denial, prayer and repentance. Its stringency supersedes even Sabbath. On Yom Kippur, we are all saints — all our intentions pure, all our resolutions robust. Because on Yom Kippur, it’s only abstract, theoretical, hypothetical. Today, we go back to the workplace, to the carpools, to the routine. Today, we go back to normal. And today, we discover if Yom Kippur really changed anything. Today is the holiest day of the Jewish year because today we see if we shall come home with potatoes or if we shall come home with diamonds.
From the Heart