But what is the real lesson here?
What I'm not certain about - despite many comments from parents that will now be talking about stranger danger and 'tricks' with their kids - is that this is the lesson we need to really be focusing on.
From the National Center for Missing And Exploited Children kidnappings by strangers are extremely rare. Reading Gavin de Becker's book, Protecting the Gift, he speaks about how this fear of strangers grips many of us parents into going above and beyond to protect our children - from paying for dental impressions of our children's teeth to fingerprinting. We are so afraid of strangers that people in the grocery store apologize for saying hello to my children because I am, apparently, supposed to teach my children that anyone they don't know is potentially evil and scary. Which means - if my child ever did get lost, they would probably be so scared to talk to anyone they might not get the help they actually need.
Do I want my children talking to complete strangers in the park and walking off with them, if that should ever happen? No, of course - but that's why I, and all those parents in that park, were sitting there watching their kids. I rarely take my children to large parks without my husband, because I can't watch them properly on my own.
Should we really think that even if we tell our children that candy, toys, or puppies are a red flag - that it will help them avoid these situations and know to get away? My guess, knowing how innocent and naive my young children are - probably not. Which is why I don't trust my kids to protect themselves - because they're kids.
Now, knowing that 1:4 girls and 1:6 boys are at risk to be sexually abused by someone they know as much as 95% of the time, I would propose a new 'social experiment' that wouldn't be so socially acceptable. Would a young child be able to avoid a situation where a sibling, grandparent, neighbor, babysitter, friend, coach, teacher, friend's parent, religious figure, tutor, mentor, music teacher, or doctor tried to touch or talk to them in a sexual way? Tricks like candy, threatening, or simply asking a child to keep the abuse a 'secret' are some of the ways the very people we trust with children violate that trust.
If so many parents think their children would avoid a friendly stranger with a puppy, then I bet a lot of those same parents believe their children would be able to stop someone they know, trust, and probably love from sexually abusing them.
This video scares me, not because of the stranger with the puppy, but because how much false trust these parents have in their child's ability to identify dangerous situations and keep themselves safe.
Every day parents come to our website looking for tips on how to talk to their kids about sexual abuse, but our site statistics show that what many of these parents are not doing is learning how to minimize risk. How to identify possible red flags of a predator or grooming situation. Or how to pick up on warnings signs that a child may be have been sexual abused. Parents seems very concerned on how to talk to their kids, but much less in what they should be doing.
So yes, be wary of stranger danger - but how about we support more awareness for the fact that children are exponentially more at risk to be abused by a family member than they are to be lured away by a stranger?
Is that too much to ask for the safety of our children?
If this video can go viral, can we do the same when information is posted to prevent sexual abuse? Or do we prefer to continue to perpetuate hysteria of stranger danger and turn a blind eye to the real predator - the one we already trust?