Here's the latest "Parents, Please Commence Freak Out" video. It reminds me of the Joey Salads video, obviously, but also of the parents who had their 6-year-old snatched, blindfolded, and taken to a basement where the "kidnapper" threatened to nail him to the wall—all of that, just to teach him not to talk to strangers. That boy's mom and grandma wanted to keep their child safe, but I would not be surprised if any natural "gut instincts" of his have been shattered for life. (Not to mention his trust in his loved ones.)
The same goes for these young ladies exploited by admitted prankster Coby Persin. The video shows Persin, who looks to be about 30, pretending to be a teen as he chats with underage girls online. The girls eventually agree to meet him in person; Persin secretly brings along their parents, who jump out from around the corner and terrify the poor girls as Persin berates them for agreeing to the meeting in the first place.
"I could be anyone…you shouldn't talk to strangers," insists Persin to the girls.
Worst of all is that the parents heap guilt and rage upon their daughters for not being sufficiently wary of all other people. The terror of a kidnapping mixed with the horror and soul-melting shame of being tricked and trapped by your own parents is something I wouldn't wish on anyone.
And what is the message? That young people shouldn't trust anyone online? That's like telling them not to trust anyone they meet in the offline world, too. As I wrote in my rebuttal to Joey Salads, a video that "tests" whether kids can be conned by an evil stranger makes it seem as if this is a situation kids are faced with every day. But kids are not in constant danger of being abducted by unknown assailants. In fact, the vast majority of crimes against children are committed by people they already know.
Does it make sense to teach kids about Internet safety? Absolutely. They should be warned that everything they post online can be made public, and that sharing too much information is often a bad idea. But it is stupid to assume that Facebook is teeming with stranger danger.
This video also reminds me of the scary hitchhiker warnings of the 1960s, "Never pick up a stranger." (Which also became the slogan for an anti-freeze, but I digress.) Unfortunately, it's the kind of scary, misleading message that everyone loves to share, as if they are performing a public service.
At the end of the video, Persin claims that there are more than 750,000 "registered child predators" in the U.S. That's incorrect. There are indeed more than 750,000 registered sex offenders, but the majority of the people on the registry do not pose a threat to kids.
That's not just me saying this. Here's a piece in The Economist quoting a study done by the Georgia Sex Offender Registration Review Board (not a state that's soft on crime). The study found that of the 17,000 people on Georgia's state registry, 5 percent were "clearly dangerous" and just over 100 individuals were "predators" compelled to prey on kids.
The Persin and Salads videos are premised on the idea that children are in constant danger and stranger abductions are common. They are not.