Stranger danger. It's every parent's very worst nightmare, and according to one British television show, it deserves your attention.
That's according to ITV News program "Daybreak," which recently conducted an experiment that has terrified some parents and outraged others with its conclusion that the majority of children can be easily lured away from their parents by strangers.
The "Daybreak" investigation took nine pairs of volunteer children (ages 5-11) and parents, and placed them in a carefully controlled park scenario. As hidden cameras rolled, the parent stepped away to "take a call," and a Close Protection Officer acting as a random stranger attempted to lure the child out of the park. In seven out of the nine examples, the stranger was able to lure the child away within two minutes of their meeting.
In a follow-up interview with the "Daybreak" hosts, parent participant Natasha confessed the experiment had left her shaken.
"I haven't slept in two weeks," Natasha said. "It's just been a whole rude awakening for me. I literally am more vigilant now. ... My eyes are everywhere now."
While Natasha thanked the show for highlighting the potential dangers posed by strangers, the experiment has also drawn criticism from some who called the program "scaremongering," reports The Independent.
A debate over the merits of the program also heated up on Twitter.
This Stranger Danger feature is a brand new low for @Daybreak. Trying to insight fear and panic is not responsible journalism. Shame on you.
— PaulJBoo (@PaulJBoo) September 4, 2013
— Cheryl McKendrick (@Cheryl_Chumpy) September 4, 2013
— Dorothy Brown (@Brackens1) September 3, 2013
And then there are the facts. "Daybreak" concentrated on complete strangers; but among the hundreds of thousands of children who disappear in the U.S. every year, only around 115 of them are taken by complete strangers. As noted last year by Lisa Belkin, senior columnist for The Huffington Post:
British writer Warwick Cairns, author of "How to Live Dangerously," has calculated that if you wanted to guarantee that your child would be snatched off the street, he or she would have to stand outside alone for 750,000 YEARS.
Nevertheless, children's charity Kidscape, which partnered with "Daybreak" for the experiment, defended the intentions behind the investigation.
"Many harrowing headlines related to online events have increased awareness of cyber bullying in recent years," the charity wrote in a statement. "[This] experiment refocuses our attention on the importance of stranger awareness in the 'real world.' ... [The] investigation has highlighted the potential consequences of our children not being taught appropriate ways of keeping safe in situations involving strangers."
Parents need to be reminded of such dangers in order to help teach children skills to prevent such dangerous situations, Kidscape continued.
To that end, Daybreak created a list of five tips for parents to use to keep their kids safe. These tips include reinforcing the idea that a "stranger" doesn't always have to look scary, instructing the child how to say no to strangers bearing gifts and practicing contingency plans at home.