John Merrow offers sage advice about how to protect your child from predators. Do not put their name on their backpack, lunchbox, or clothing.

He writes:

The adult and child walking in front of me were complete strangers, people I had never seen before. The man, who looked to be in his early 30’s, was casually dressed. He was holding the hand of a young girl, probably about five years old. Perhaps the girl, Sophie, was his daughter and they were on their way home from school or a music lesson.

If you’re reading carefully, you may be thinking, “Hold on a minute! You wrote that you had never seen those two before, and yet you assert that her name was Sophie? That doesn’t compute, buddy. You’ve lost your credibility….big time.”

I did what I have done on other occasions. I called out, “Excuse me, sir,” and the man stopped and turned around. “Hi, Sophie,” I said, and the man looked at me sideways, probably wondering why an old man with white hair was striking up a conversation.

“Do I know you,” he asked, somewhat suspiciously?

“No,” I said. “We have never met, but I know your daughter’s name is Sophie. I probably shouldn’t know it, but I do–and so does everyone else who sees her backpack.”

He seemed uncertain as to how to respond to my blunt, even rude, comment, and so I continued talking.

“I reported on children’s issues for 41 years on public television and radio,” I said. “And a story I did on child predators back in the 1980’s has stayed with me. I spent a day with cops searching for a suspected pedophile, and at one point they hauled in a man who was lingering outside an elementary school. He hadn’t done anything, so they couldn’t charge him, and he denied being a predator. But he did tell them—and me, the reporter–how pedophiles are successful in persuading children to go off with them.”

The father was now paying close attention.

“The biggest gift,” this (probable) predator said, “is clothing or a backpack with the child’s name printed on it. All he has to do is call the child by name to catch them off guard. The 5-year-old won’t recognize or remember him, but children see many adults throughout their day. But the man knows her name, and so she might assume that she must have met him. Of course, her parents have taught her not to talk to strangers, but this man knows her name, and so she lets down her guard.”

I have not been able to erase from my memory his final words: “Game over.”

Unfortunately (from my point of view), personalized backpacks like the one Sophie was wearing are big business. A Google search turns up 43,100,000 hits. That’s 43 MILLION! A search for personalized lunch boxes– another gift to predators–produces 10,000,000 hits. Disney will gladly sell you all sorts of stuff with your child’s name emblazoned on it, as will hundreds of other large companies.

Open the link and read on.