Special Report: The new stranger

TOLEDO, OH (WTOL) - You've probably talked to your children about "stranger danger."

You think they got the message, but did they? If your kids were approached by someone they don't know, would they do what you taught them to?

In a social experiment, we identified three children who, with permission from their parents, we put to the test.

We picked a location -- a neighborhood park -- booked an actress, borrowed a puppy and our crews carefully placed a number of cameras around the park to capture what happened.

Here's how it went: With their mothers looking on, best friends Tommy and Archie, both 9, thought they were spending the evening after school playing on the monkey bars. Then, our actress made her initial contact, asking the boys their names. She spent a few minutes engaging the boys and when she earned their trust, she made her move.

She asked the boys to help her feed her puppy and the boys agreed.

As she led them to the parking lot, two women, who had been watching our actress interact with the boys, stepped in.

"Excuse me! Boys, where are your parents?! You're walking off with someone you don't know!" said one of the concerned witnesses, Marcie Jackson.

The boys responded by saying our actress just needed help with her dog.

"Grown-ups never asks a kid for help!" Marcie yelled to the boys.

That's when our crew stepped in and explained our experiment.

Tommy and Archie's moms were comforted by the interference of the women on the playground.

"I love that she said, 'go find your moms,'" said Tommy's mom, Megan Hopkins.

The boys' moms were still soaking in what had just happened, and realized a woman in a sparkly ballcap and pink sneakers isn't the kind of person their boys identify as a stranger.

"I think it's good to learn about things in the classroom, but real world experience, sometimes when push comes to shove, you do things you wouldn't expect yourself or child to do. It's a puppy, it's a person who's friendly and outgoing and nice," said Archie's mom, Katie Talbott.

We tried the experiment a second time.

This time, we traded the puppy for a popular kids' toy, and L.O.L. Surprise Doll.

Our actress engaged 7-year-old Kenzlie and asked the girl if she knew about the popular toy. Kenzlie then began opening up the toy and the actress told her she would get her another one from her car.

The girl followed our actress to the parking and that's when we stepped in.

Kenzlie's mom watched it all happened

"Very, very nervous," said Sabrina Haskell, "Obviously I knew what was going on, but scary. We talk about stranger danger all the time, but you think you know what your kids are gonna do, until they get an L.O.L. doll."

Dr. Okehinde Obeto, a pediatrician with Mercy Health, talks to parents about bringing up the topic to their children. WTOL 11 showed her the video from the experiment. She said we need to get away from the phrase "stranger danger" as, to a child, a stranger is someone scary.

"I say more like, don't go away with people you don't know. Anybody you don't know. Don't go anywhere with them," said Dr. Obeto.

Dr. Obeto said you should start talking to your kids around age 4 or 5 and reintroduce the topic every year. To help it really sink in, she said try role playing.

If your child does get approached by someone asking for help, he or she should ask for permission first by whoever is taking care of them at the time.

"Somebody comes and say, 'Oh, I'm looking for directions. Can you help me?' Take a step back and say, 'I'm not allowed to talk to people I don't know' and run and get whoever you're looking for," said Dr. Obeto.

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