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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.

26 Responses to “Parenting and the Milk Carton Generation”

  1. Shari Lynn Alligood

    How true, those faces on the Milk Carton are what kept my mother & grandmother holding tighter onto my siblings & myself. They are also what has kept me still holding tighter & tighter as my daughter has grown up.

  2. Abby B.

    Ugh this article, although beautifully written, puts such a pit in my stomach. I cannot Ever imagine what this would be like for a mom. I will hug my family a lot tighter tonight and say a prayer for all the moms and dads that don't get to do that.

  3. beverly e

    I had never really thought about some of the points made in this article, such as the "Milk Carton" generation niche. Sadly, I am keenly aware that the freedoms and many of the simple pleasures that I enjoyed as a child are literally a thing of the past.

  4. miriama

    I think about this often. As a kid we rode our bikes without checking in from early morning until we dragged ourselves back into our yards late at night. True, we knew more of our neighbors back then but there was a freedom that is gone forever. I worried about my children and then when they got older I worried about the serial killers and murderers of young I am back to worrying about my grandchildren as well.

  5. Stephen

    It's sad that even with all this technology, there still seems to be little that we can do when something like this happens. Thankfully, we do have this technology which really can help in the long run.

  6. Calli

    I've never thought of it this way, that a whole generation is affected by the milk carton pictures. I read the Face on the Milk Carton as a teen, and I was enthralled with the book but it still didn't seem like something that could happen to me or my community.

  7. Mariam

    It broke my heart to read this article! The difference in our upbringing and the one we see today is way different because we face different issues nowadays. When I was raising my daughter in the 80s, the kids could go play by themselves in the neighborhood and pretty much came home when they got hurt or got hungry! We were not all freaked out at the idea of them playing among themselves in the neighborhood. And then crept in the children abductions that made every parent rethink whether or not we should let our children walk to school or not. This is a fallen world, and although we should help one another, I feel like we got more selfish as a society and we can't count on neighbors the way we used to. It is everyone to themselves. If the community as a whole could be more generous and show some solidarity, we could watch our children better to ensure their safety.

  8. Linda

    It is so sad to see kids vanish in thin air, and God only knows what happens to them! It has gotten worse and worse and as parents, it got to the point where we have to suspect everyone because they might not kill your id,but could molest and abuse them. I cannot even picture my children going for a sleepover at this age, and it is sad. But it is sometimes the people they trust that can hurt them because they are not defensive. I am talking by experience.

  9. Ashley

    She's absolutely right! As my son operates my cell phone expertly with one chubby little finger, it Is evident that life will be different for his generation as a child, and mine as a parent. No more playing outside until the sun goes down or walking to the bus stop with the big kid in the neighborhood. The buddy system just may not cut it when he is in grade school. I hope to find ways to balance this protection with the glorious naivety that it is to be a child!

  10. Ann

    The stats indicate that the world is far safer for kids than it was when we grew up, it just doesn't seem that way. But of course part of the reason kids are safer now is that we have put so many systems in place to keep them that way. So it's a great thing! I just hate that people are so scared when most don't need to be.

  11. Bri

    It is so sad that this has happened to so many people. I can't even imagine it. But I also agree and think that we have made our kids afraid of strangers and we just like to all keep to ourselves. What happened to the days when everyone knew their neighbors and hung out together. Now everyone sits in their houses and watches TV and plays video games. Maybe we could learn a little bit from this article.

  12. Chacoy

    Savannah Smiles was the little girl that came to mind when I read this. Although we need to hold them a little closer we still need to allow them to be kids. When we were younger, we didn't have constant supervisor and still had the risk of pedophilles, bullying etc. we just have to make sure that our kids know what to do if they are in the situation, travel in groups and know where safe houses are. As long as we have done our jobs as parents in teaching our kids about safety, then they should be okay!

  13. julie

    I am now a grandmother and yes when i was younger you did not hear or know of the dangers. I can remember sitting at my friends one night just to realize that there was a man staring on her porch staring in the window at us.this happened several times to a few of us. but then you did not hear about it on news or able to look up to see who lived around you.she was even approached one morning at the bus stop by a man who knew all her family imfo she did report to school but no one ever knew but those close to her. I can appreciate the way internet has helped.

  14. Devona Fryer

    I am so watchful of both my children. The scary thing is that they are getting older now and want to go places on their own. What do you think is a good age to let them go without one of their parents being there with them?

  15. Martha

    It is a different world from the one I grew up in. Sometimes my husband and I feel we are too over protective but then again our children are here, alive and safe. It's a shame and sometimes I wonder how things will be for my children when they are parents. Hopefully better.

  16. @dailyblessings

    I'm certain I am your parents age or a bit older (50's) but I can honestly say that my girls couldn't be tied any closer to me than they were when they were toddlers. I always knew there were sick individuals in the world and I was a bit more realistic even though I was in my 20's when I had them. In fact, this was right about the time that John Walsh had found out that his young son, Adam had been murdered. It was a highly publicized event. I would ask that you don't generalize the older generation as you do because we all love our children with the same passion.

  17. Teresa Thompson

    Im very happy that we've become much safer with our children. People werent as safety conscious when I was a kid.

  18. wendy clark

    It's so true that it seems things have changed from our kidhood–folks don't know their neighors and that means that we don't look out for one another's kids as part of our daily routine as our parents did

  19. Julia Reffner

    Yes, it is so true. We are so blessed to live in a neighborhood where our neighbors watch out for everything, but we still feel that sense of paranoia.

  20. Seth

    Safety is very important, and even though people can go overboard, it's better to be safe than sorry. We need to look after and care for each other.

  21. pam

    please tell me how to turn off the sex offenders feature, my kids won't use the app if it's on it

    • Life360

      Hi Pam! You can turn off the offenders icons by going to “Settings” then “Map Settings”
      You’ll need to do this on each phone separately.

  22. Grafffik

    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.

    – Incorrect sir or Ma’am My face was on milk cartons approx 1968 or 1969 🙂 We had my whole family on them, unfortunately it didn’t go nation-wide – for being one of the largest milk drinking families at the time

    However as for child safety , as one of the first milk-carton kids – I would ask all parents who have children which can handle cell-phones to please get them a pre-pay phone of their own (Like $30 in many stores) it will give them access to 9-11 even if you drop the service, maybe it will save a few kids out there. But please make sure they know how to use it properly first

    As for the cartons themselves – sorry I do not have them anymore 🙁


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