By now, you have probably seen the disturbing video of a man, a puppy and some very cute kids that is viral in every sense of the word. It already has 5 million views, which means that people are sharing it like crazy, convinced that its creator, Joey Salads, is doing something other than creating terror, angst and hate with his stranger-danger "social experiment."
But he's not.
In the piece, Salads asks some moms at a park whether they've taught their kids not to talk to strangers — a lesson I don't endorse, seeing as most strangers are good and you want kids to feel confident asking strangers for help if they need it. The advice I prefer is, "You can talk to anyone; you cannot go off with anyone."
Anyway, after the moms say they've taught their kids about stranger danger, Salads proceeds to startle them by showing that their kids do talk to strangers. He does this by going up to very young kids (kids so young they would normally not be at the park unsupervised) and asking them whether they want to meet his puppies. The kids go off with him.
Not addressed are a few salient facts, including the biggie: Isn't it more than likely that these kids feel fine going off with this man because they just saw him talking to their mom? What's more, their mom is right there! If she didn't want them going off, she'd intervene.
After this bizarre scenario that he calls an experiment — without ever telling us how many kids he approached did not go off with him — he says 700 kids are abducted a day, presumably by the type of person he's warning us about: a "stranger."
Which is interesting, as the U.S. Department of Justice puts the number of children abducted by strangers at 115 a year.
So he says 255,550 a year, and the crime stats say 115 a year.
If 700 kids actually were taken by strangers on a daily basis, that would be closing in on 1 percent of kids younger than 9. By the end of a decade, there would be 2.5 million kids abducted. That's more than on 10 seasons of "Law & Order"!
But the story of how easily a child can be led to his doom is one that TV can't get enough of. Almost every station has done the exact same "experiment."
The problem is that the very premise makes it seem as if this is a situation kids are routinely faced with, something as common as, "Would your kids eat a cookie if someone offered it?" What is so hard to understand is that first of all, the vast majority of crimes against children are committed not by strangers they meet at the park but by people they know. That means they are far likelier to encounter their abuser at the dinner table than at the park. So it is bizarre to keep acting as if the park is teeming with danger.
Secondly, there is something twisted and weird about only looking at risk when we think of kids. Every aspect of children's lives is seen as somehow dangerous: what they're eating, wearing, watching and doing and, of course, what could happen to them if they ever left the house.
Which, increasingly, we don't let them do — despite there being a crime rate that is similar to the one in 1963.
Joey Salads' scary, misleading message just adds a new level of terror and calls itself a public service.
As if parents just aren't worried enough yet.
As if kids have just way too much unsupervised time outside.
Thanks, Mr. Salads. You have emptied the parks, locked children inside and frozen parents' hearts with a big lie.
And a cute puppy.
Lenore Skenazy is author of the book and blog "Free-Range Kids" and a keynote speaker at conferences, companies and schools. Her TV show, "World's Worst Mom," airs on Discovery Life Channel. To find out more about Lenore Skenazy ([email protected]) and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.