Free-Range Kids

Viral 'Social Experiment' Parenting Video Peddles Outrageously False Claims About Stranger Danger

No, strangers don't grab 700 kids every day

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This purportedly helpful video, posted Saturday, is viral in every sense of the word. It already has nearly a million views, which means that people are sharing it like crazy, convinced that its creator, Joey Salads, is doing something other than creating terror and angst with his Stranger Danger "social experiment."

He's not.

The experiment consists of Salads asking parents at a playground if they've taught their kids not to talk to strangers—a lesson I don't endorse, since most strangers are good and you want kids to feel confident asking them for help if need be. "You can talk to anyone, you cannot go off with anyone," is the advice I prefer.

Mr. Salads proceeds to startle the parents by showing them that their kids do talk to strangers. He does this by going up to very young kids (kids so young they would normally not be at the park unsupervised) and asking them if they want to meet his puppies. Some go off with him.

Not addressed are a few salient facts, including the biggie: Isn't it more than likely that these kids feel fine going off with this man because they just saw him talking to their mom? What's more, their mom is right there! If she didn't want them going off, she would intervene.

After this bizarre scenario that he calls an experiment—without ever telling us how many kids he approached who did not go off with him—he says 700 kids are abducted a day. But Salads curiously omits the fact that this statistic includes all abductions, the overwhelming majority of which involve family members and often include custody disputes that were resolved by police in a matter of hours or days. Salad's video, on the other hand, is designed to warn parents about strangers, who abduct just 115 children a year, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

If 700 kids were actually grabbed by strangers on a daily basis, that would be closing in on 1 percent of all kids under age 9. So if you sent your kid to a grammar school with 500 kids, by fifth grade your child would have witnessed 25 kids—a classroom's worth—kidnapped the way they are on "Law & Order."

But the story of how easily a child can be lead to his doom is one that TV can't get enough of. Here is almost the exact same "experiment," on Headline News. As I said then:

A show that "tests" whether kids can be lured to a car with the promise of a puppy — the premise of this show — makes it seem as if this is a situation kids could very likely be faced with, something on par with, "Would your kids eat a cookie if someone offered it?" What is so hard to understand is that, first of all, the vast majority of crimes against children are committed NOT be strangers they meet at the park, but by people they know. So it is bizarre to keep acting as if the park is teaming with danger.

But this scary, misleading  message just seems to be one that everyone loves to share, as if it's a public service. As if kids already have way too much unsupervised time outside.

[This article originally appeared at Free-Range Kids.]