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Taking Good Advice a Little Too Far?

Reported by Judy - June 22, 2005

The advice never to talk to strangers given to Brennan Hawkins by his parents may have kept him wandering in the wilderness longer than necessary. That's one thing that came from Brennan's parents, who held a news conference carried live on Wednesday (June 22, 2005) during part of "The Big Story" with John Gibson.

Brennan was found Tuesday after spending four days alone in the wilderness in Utah. He had disappeared while camping in high elevations last Friday. Brennan's parents told reporters that he saw people searching for him before he was found on Tuesday, but he stayed away from searchers, according to Fox News reporter Alicia Acuna, because his parents told him not to talk to strangers and that "his biggest concern [was] that no one steal him."

Imagine being cold, hungry, thirsty, lost, and alone and being too afraid to even talk to strangers.

Fox News loves stories of missing white children. Seeing those stories on Fox and in other news outlets may lead parents to think the danger of abduction is much greater than it is. Brennan apparently had it drilled into him never to even talk to strangers. Certainly, children need to learn not to get into a car with strangers, but not even talking to them is another issue.

According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, 115 children were involved in long term "stereotypical kidnappings" during 1999, while 58,200 children were abducted by nonfamily members. By far the most children -- 797,000 -- were abducted by family members.

It's a real dilemma for parents -- how much fear to instill in their children in order to keep them safe. Their judgment of the danger to their children can be affected if they believe the danger is higher than it actually is. In poor Brennan's case, trying to stay safe put him in real danger.

Fox News would do well to reconsider its policy of giving maximum coverage to missing children stories. Such coverage can certainly help in local areas where volunteer searchers are needed, but whether every case is automatically treated as a national story deserves some serious thought.

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