I woke up this morning to see a message that one of my daughter’s long time friends had been reported missing. Without a second thought I shared the message to my social media platforms and sat there quietly. I have known this little, now big, girl for much of her childhood; she and my daughter started their gymnastics careers together. Her mom and I became real friends, not just friends in the sense that our kids were friends. This girl is sweet, she is funny, and she is feisty. What she is not is a “bad kid,” I think so often we see these posts of missing teens and we look at their pictures and we think to ourselves, “What went wrong” and that is something that has to change.
It’s More Common Than We Think
This girl comes from an amazing family. She is loved. She is smart. So if this is where she comes from, how did she go missing? As I write this, I am hoping she is just having a teenage moment of rebellion and sitting at a friend’s house, with her phone off. What I am trying to keep out of my head is the possibility that it isn’t that straightforward and innocent. We live in a very scary world, where young kids go missing daily. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children stated in 2019 they assisted with more than 29,000 cases of missing children. That is a huge number and the number that was associated with human sex trafficking is even more jaw-dropping at 1 in 6. These numbers and statistics are terrifying. Sadly this isn’t the first time I have seen a missing post from a family that we know. A year ago one of the girls my daughter went to elementary school with also went missing. Thankfully she was found and returned home safely.
The Need for Acceptance
Teenage years are no joke. They have access to the world and the world has access to them. The idea of who and what they need to be in order to fit in and be liked can lead them into crowds and behavior that further leads them into danger. There is not a one size fits all when it comes to raising our teens, but the one thing that we have to try and remember is that it is a very different world than when we were teenagers. Open communication is key. Mental health needs to be discussed and not brushed off as teenage moodiness, we need to talk about things like depression and anxiety. Drugs (illegal and prescription) and alcohol are readily available to kids as young as 5th grade. My daughter thanked me the other night for being so open and easy to come to with questions and being honest with the answers, to that I have to thank my parents for being the same way to me. When you talk to a teen, you’ll find that they aren’t much different than their little kid self, they are seeking acceptance and approval, seeking love and reassurance. We are all in this together, be a listener, watch for changes in your own child and the children you are around, be a safe place for someone to come when they need to be heard or seen.