Talking to your children is first step in keeping them safe

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

PHOENIX -- Parents will do anything to keep their children safe, but what many of them don't realize is that a simple conversation is the first step in protecting them.

Paul Penzone, who spent more than 20 years with the Phoenix Police Department and has seen more than his share of crimes against children, sat down with 3TV's Yetta Gibson Wednesday morning to share some practical tips for parents should the unthinkable happen.

There are hundreds of open missing persons cases in Arizona, many of them involving children who were taken decades ago.

Penzone said people who believe they might have a tip about a case, especially one involving a child, should not hesitate to contact authorities.

"The biggest mistake is to think your tip isn't valuable," he said. "That should be for law enforcement to determine."

When it comes to missing kids, Penzone said noting appearance is important, but so is behavior -- and not just the behavior of the child, but also that of the adult with him or her. If you suspect something is off, trust that feeling.

"Instincts are very powerful," Penzone said.

As for protecting your own children, Penzone said it starts with a conversation and some basic lessons. One of those lessons is letting children know that while they generally should respect adults, they should not necessarily listen to every adult.

"Teach them to understand when to be defiant," he said.

You want to empower your child.

"Having a conversation is the starting point," Penzone said. "Don't underestimate your children's ability to deal with a circumstance that most of us would ever expect to see.

It's not unheard of for a kidnapper to threaten a child's family to keep him or her in line. Penzone said parents need to address that head-on with their kids.

"The child needs to understand that that responsibility is not theirs," he said. "They have one responsibility and that's to get safe."

Penzone said in the majority of abductions in which the child gets free, it's because of that child's own actions.

"Recognize that whether it's screaming, kicking, fighting, running, those are all things that may save their life and you have to prepare them for that unfortunate moment that could occur," he said.

After having a pointed conversation with their kids, Penzone said the most important thing parents can do is have a plan should the worst happen.

"If you've gone through it in your head and you've prepared for a circumstance, you're more apt to respond properly, aggressively and safely," he explained. "If you've never thought about the possibility, you're so caught off guard that the likelihood you surviving or being safe is minimized. Be prepared. Know what to do."

In addition to teaching children to be wary of strangers, police say you should also teach them to fight for their lives. That includes screaming and doing whatever is necessary to draw attention to themselves should they find themselves in a potentially dangerous situation.

To help parents do everything they can to get their child back should he or she be taken, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has developed a checklist of immediate steps to take.

If you have any questions call the NCMEC at 1-800-THE-LOST® (1-800-843-5678) or through the Live Hotline.