Child psychologist offers parents tips on how to talk to kids about stranger danger

Posted at 5:57 PM, Jul 20, 2015
and last updated 2015-07-20 19:57:36-04

SALT LAKE CITY – West Valley City Police continues their investigation into the murder of 12-year-old Kailey Vijil.

Police say a 15-year-old boy living in her neighborhood enticed the girl out of her home and killed her in a nearby pasture.

Since the tragic accident, neighbors in Kailey’s tightknit community are looking for answers of their own, wondering how to handle the sensitive topic with their own children.

Dr. Douglas Goldsmith is a child psychologist for The Children’s Center in Salt Lake City. He said there are disturbing details surrounding Kailey’s death and the 15-year-old male neighbor accused of her murder.

“That’s just a very unusual course of action to go preying for younger kids and say, ‘I want to play, I need your help.’ Older kids hang out with older kids,” Goldsmith said.

Goldsmith said the key for parents is to keep the lines of communication open.

“As parents we have a huge job to know who our children are with. We have a job to know who our children are communicating with. We’ve really got to keep track of who they’re sending messages to, who they’re talking to on Facebook,” Goldsmith said.

He suggest parents make firm rules about when kids can be outside, and when they should be inside.

“Children by themselves are targets in today’s world and they have to be hanging out in groups,” Goldsmith added.

For parents with children who knew Kailey and want to use this tragedy as a teaching moment, Goldsmith recommends they keep it simple.

“Parents should keep their responses to this very simple. ‘It was a bad thing. It was an older boy, but the police have him and so now we’re safe.’ That really needs to be the message for younger children,” Goldsmith said.

West Valley City police officers say it’s also a good time for parents to remind children about strangers.

“If you don’t know who they are, don’t talk to them. Get away from them. Find a safe place. Go into a business, a store, go into a police station, a library. Go to a public place and get some help,” said West Valley City Police Officer Mike Millet.

Millet also recommends families come up with a secret code word and teach kids to never go with anyone unless they know the secret code word.

One misconception parents may have is that more kidnappings are committed by a stranger. Studies show children are usually taken by a family member or someone they know.

The latest study conducted by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children put stranger kidnappings at 115 per year, that’s less than one percent of all reported abductions.