'Stranger danger' viral video alarming, but not realistic
Emily Chan, CTVNews.ca
Published Tuesday, May 5, 2015 12:03PM EDT
Last Updated Tuesday, May 5, 2015 5:30PM EDT
Many parents expressed their alarm online this week after watching a viral video of a man testing how children in a park react to strangers.
In the video, YouTube prankster Joseph Saladino, known online as "Joey Salads," approaches three adults at a park and asks if he can speak to their children for a social experiment. Once they agree, Saladino walks his dog over to each of the children and asks if they’d like to go see his "other puppies."
To the adults' horror, all three children agree to leave the park with Saladino.
The video has been viewed more than 2,800,000 times since it was uploaded Saturday with the caption "One Share can save a child (sic)."
"I’m hoping that this video can actually be shown to the kids, saying, 'this is what could happen, and this is what I don’t want to happen.' " Saladino said on CTV’s Canada AM Tuesday.
But while the video could be a good conversation starter, an expert from the Canadian Centre for Child Protection said viewers also need to think critically about the experiment.
"I think it opens up a conversation, an important one, and I think we need to be realistic about what we saw," the centre's director of missing children services, Christy Dzikowicz, told CTVNews.ca in a telephone interview.
To start, Dzikowicz said, the children in the video are very young. She estimates the kids Saladino approaches are between the ages of four and five. When children are that young, she said, parents usually keep an eye on them at all times and step in during questionable situations.
"I’m not surprised to see in the video that four and five-year-olds are trusting," Dzikowicz said. "At that age, while we absolutely should be teaching our kids about personal safety, it’s unrealistic to think that they’re going to protect themselves."
A second critique Dzikowicz has about the video is that it uses a "fear-based" approach to teaching children about safety and strangers.
The "stranger-danger" approach is outdated and ineffective, she said. Instead of scaring children, Dzikowicz said parents need to help them feel safe and secure.
To do this, Dzikowicz’s organization teaches children to use the buddy system, and to always ask their parents for permission before going anywhere with anyone.
"Our primary lesson is: If you’re asked to go, and your parents don’t know, then say 'no'," she said.
Dzikowicz’s final concern is the video’s exaggeration of the threat of stranger abductions. Though they have an enormous impact when they do happen, stranger abductions are extremely rare in Canada, she said.
According to missingkids.ca, there were 33 reports of stranger abductions in Canada in 2013. In the United States, Dzikowicz said, the average is closer to 100 or 150 a year.
In the video, Saladino says 700 children are abducted every day. Dzikowicz said she is unsure where he got this information, but that it likely includes cases of missing children who were not abducted by strangers.
"I think it’s unrealistic," she said.
And as for whether sharing the video can "save a child," Dzikowicz said she does believe the video could be helpful. However, she said it is best used as a tool to start a conversation, rather than a lesson on its own.
"We live in a very safe country, we just need to be continuing to remind our kids to make good decisions," she said.