For well over two decades, we at Kidpower have seen Stranger Danger films of kids being approached by a man they don’t know who tries to trick them into going with him – with the consent of their parents – in the name of testing their ability to stay safe. One of the most recent that many people asked us to comment on was, “CHILD ABDUCTION (Social Experiment) – Child Abduction Prank – Are your kids safe?” from the Joey Salads prank videos YouTube channel, which had 7,212,702 views in less than one week.
These tests make interesting drama – but poor safety. It can be heart-stopping to see kids go with a friendly stranger holding a leash and asking them to help him find a lost dog or inviting them to see his puppy. And I feel a wave of sympathy for the shock of their parents as they see their kids walking off trustingly with a man they don’t know.
But how does being publicly shamed for being tricked make kids safer? How does secret testing of kids done with the consent of their parents improve their trust? What does it do emotionally for kids when their failures are seen by millions of people?
Long ago, I was called by a reporter from a TV station that had set up one of these tests. She said that one of the girls, when approached, did NOT go with the stranger. Instead, she grabbed her friends and ran with them to their parents, who were across the park. When the parents were asked why their child acted so differently, they said, “Because of a program called Kidpower!”
I told the reporter, “We really disagree with your doing these tests – and of course I’m glad that the girl who had our training knew what to do.”
“But HOW does Kidpower do this?” the reporter asked.
“By coaching the kids to practice how to recognize potentially unsafe behavior – such as an adult they don’t know approaching them – and how to leave quickly and Check First with their adults,” I explained, and then added, “It would be a great public service if you would show kids being successful in practicing safety skills like these on your TV station.” (Alas, they didn’t.)
I believe that most people who test kids like this mean well. Worried parents want to know that their kids are safe. Media people believe that they are helping to educate the public. As one grandmother wrote on our Facebook page recently, “I kind of want to hire this guy to test my grandkids. You can have a perfect plan, but will your kids remember what you taught them?”
Beth McGreevy, our Communications Director, gave this reply, “I understand how it may seem like this is a way to know what kids will do – but testing doesn’t teach. This video shows a kind of ‘ambush’ on a child that can create fear and shame rather than learning. Instead, commit to practicing safety plans with them over and over – in fun and positive role plays, not scary or creepy ways – to make sure they know how to do what you want them to do.”
As Marylaine Léger, our Montreal Center Director wrote, “After having seen thousands of posts regarding this video on child abduction, I invite all online readers to use a Kidpower Safety Principle: Think First Before You Act! Watching and sharing these films feeds fear instead of feeding empowerment. Videos like this one unfortunately add to our fears, rather than sharing useful and helpful information that increases our power to act for our children’s safety as well as empower them to know how to act for their own safety as they grow. This is a good time to Think First before you watch, click, or share something that can be harmful to kids!”
She pointed out that, “This video is especially misleading because of the young age of the targeted children and parents who were close by, agreeing not to intervene for the sake of the experiment. The younger children are, the more likely their adults will be very close by supervising. The older children get, the more adults can work at preparing them for more independence.”
The more children of all ages have opportunities to practice how to apply safety rules in their daily lives – while having fun, not while generating fear – to apply safety rules, like “Check First Before Changing the Plan,” the better prepared they will be to act safely when faced with a real-life unplanned situation, including an unsafe one. Kids are safest when their adults know where they are, who is with them, and what they are doing.
Parents and other caring adults can use Kidpower’s Positive Practice Method to coach their kids so that they are successful in rehearsing skills about staying safe with people they know and people they don’t, using examples that are age-appropriate, relevant and fun, rather than scary.
Here are some resources that can help:
Our books, the Kidpower Safety Comics, provide an easy, fun way for kids to learn about Checking First before talking, taking or going with someone they don’t know; how to set boundaries with people they know; and how to be persistent in getting help everywhere they go.
One more important thing that you can do:
Share THIS video from KKTV 11 News!
KKTV 11 News and Kidpower demonstrate the importance of teaching kids to be safe when they are out and about this summer by practicing important “Stranger Safety” Skills.
Just imagine how many children and their parents would learn and feel empowered if over 7 million people cheered and shared the news about kids who successfully practiced how to take charge of their safety and well-being!