Parenting and the Milk Carton Generation

I often notice that people around my parent’s age and older poke fun at my generation when it comes to parenting related issues. Sometimes I even hear other parents my age poke fun at themselves. We are the first truly “safety first” generation.

We are not only the generation that became parents with television, magazines and thousands of books about parenting at our disposal, but we are the first generation of parents with the internet.

We know every danger of every product. We are well versed in the pros and cons of every single parenting decision under the sun. Our kids wear helmets and kneepads and are in car seats for much longer than we ever were as kids. We even know the name and address of every sex offender within our neighborhood.

With the internet came information. Information by the truckload at our finger tips every waking moment. Some of the older generations jokes that too much information has made my generation of parents paranoid, over protective and even silly at times. To some degree they are right.

But my generation is not the way it is simply because of technology and information. You see, my generation was the first generation to see our faces on milk cartons.

Faces of kids, just like us, who disappeared into thin air never to be seen or heard from again. Faces like Etan Patz.

Etan disappeared on May 25th, 1979 in his SoHo neighborhood in New York City. Etan’s was the first face to ever be put on a milk carton, something my generation would become accustomed to seeing each morning when we would eat our cereal. It has been 33 years since Etan’s disappearance, and though there have been many leads over the years (as recently as this month) none have ever turned into anything. Etan’s parents still have the same phone number after all these years. Just in case.

Most adults my age have a child whose face on the milk cartoon we remember.

For me, it is a mix of two faces. The two girls who’s kidnapping in two neighboring communities changed forever the way we walked down the street. Michaela Garrett in 1988 and Ilene Mishelof  (who only lived one town over) in 1989. Michaela was my age and Ilene was two years older than me.

Most of you reading this are hesitating for a moment as you remember a specific high profile kidnapping that happened when you were young. The picture of the child still as fresh in your mind as the first time you saw it.

As adults we see their faces every time we go to the park and lose sight of our own children for a moment. Every time an odd looking stranger makes the hair on the back of our neck stand up. Every time our child is at school or at a friend’s house, and the phone rings.

You see, we are not the generation of parents plagued with too much information. We are the generation of parents who see pictures on milk cartons in our nightmares.

Sierra LaMar is a 15-year girl from Gilroy, CA. She has been missing for just about a month and her disappearance has dominated the airwaves where I live. Her case has struck such a nerve with nearby communities that some have already made changes to their school’s absence notification system. Sierra never made it to school the day she disappeared, but her parents were not notified until late in the day. This cost the search and investigation precious hours.

Now schools in the area (and more around the country to follow, I’m sure) are going to begin morning notifications so parents will no right away if there child never made it to school.

Technology has come a very long way in the days since Etan Patz’s face was shown on milk cartons across the nation. Today we have many things that didn’t exist when we were kids. Missing children agencies (In 1984, Congress passed the Missing Children’s Assistance Act. That led to the creation of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children), incredible strides in DNA and forensics, mobile technology that creates an instant task force for a missing child as well as services such as Life360, and the Amber Alert system (which has saved 554 children to date).

Non-profit organizations create mainly by parents of missing children have become critical in helping advocate for families of missing children and helping the media an law enforcement work together when searching for a missing child.

As amazing as these things are and despite how children have been helped and how many families have found resolution with all of those resources the fear still remains. Even with all that has changed in 33 years, what happened to Sierra LaMar is just as much as mystery as Etan Patz, though I pray the outcome will be different.

So the next time you’re at the park or your kids are riding their bikes down the street don’t be afraid to hold onto those apron strings a little tighter.

We are the milk carton generation, and we live with that. We are little extra cautious with strangers. We keep our kids just a little bit closer. We don’t just do it for our piece of mind; we do it for Etan and Michaela, and Ilene and Polly and Amber and Adam, and all the faces that will forever be etched in out memories.