When we moved to our new town a few months ago, my eight-year-old son, Isaac, was worried that he wouldn’t make any new friends. Like me, Isaac is a bit introverted, and making new friends is difficult for him. To help ease his anxiety, we discussed ways we could meet new people. His five-year-old sister, Gillian, is a social butterfly and had a few suggestions of her own.
“Why don’t we just walk down the road and talk to strangers, like we did when we moved last time?” she said (which is exactly what we did when we made a cross-country move five years ago). Never once did it cross her mind that talking to someone she didn’t know could be unsafe. I was proud that she was eager to meet new people but also embarrassed that maybe I’d failed to give my kids the appropriate “stranger danger” talk. As a free-range parent, I firmly believe that kids need to be taught the difference between a stranger and someone behaving strangely who may harm them.
Not all parents have “stranger danger” talks with their kids, but if a new viral video by professional prankster Joey Salads is to be believed, no one talks to their kids about walking off with a nice guy who has a puppy. If you haven’t seen the video yet, here it is:
What bothers me most is that the viral video (which has been watched more than 1.1 million times since it was posted on Saturday) has parents terrified about letting kids talk to people they don’t know, but it doesn’t tell the whole story about the realities of abductions of young children by strangers. Salads calls it a social experiment, but, as free-range parenting crusader Lenore Skenazy points out, the video doesn’t show the kids who run back to their moms or the kids who refuse to talk to Salads. All we see is that 100 percent of the kids who are approached walk off with Salads and his dog, Donuts. Salads claims that more than 700 children are abducted each day—a stat that, if true, would be terrifying. But Skenazy points to US stats, which report that number to be 115. In 2014, the number of Canadian children abducted by strangers was 29—a number that hasn’t fluctuated dramatically since the Canadian government began collecting statistics back in 2010. Even the RCMP says that abduction by a stranger is a rare occurrence.
So where does this leave parents who are worried their kids will walk off with a stranger? Be reassured that it doesn’t happen often. Ultimately, by talking to strangers, we connect with other people in our communities who will be the ones our kids will trust. The more “strangers” we talk to, the bigger our village gets—a message that I think needs to be shared more often than one about how scary the world is.
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