It's every parent's nightmare. You take your child to the park, look away for a few moments, and suddenly he's gone.
What many parents take comfort in, however, is their trust that they've done a thorough job explaining "stranger danger" to their kids. An experiment conducted in August by Daybreak, a TV program in the United Kingdom, shows that parents need to think again.
In a controlled environment at a park in suburban London, the TV program enlisted a man—a vetted security guard with children of his own—to approach various kids, ranging in age from 5-11. He then told them that he had either lost his dog or his daughter. The kids were at the park with their moms, who were participating in the experiment and pretended to take calls on their cell phones.
"Do you want to help me find my lost dog?" the man asked 5-year-old Jack, according to The Daily Mail. "His name's Maxie."
He then pulled out a picture of a puppy to show Jack, who then accompanied the stranger across the park and happily called for the dog.
That took less than three minutes.
In fact, out of the nine children who were approached, only two refused. Not only that, but it took the man between 33 seconds and three minutes to lure the children away from their moms, according to the news site.
The results of the experiment had some mothers weeping, according to The Daily Mail, which also stated that each of the moms had felt confident that their children "would refuse to go anywhere with someone they didn't know."
"I’ve barely slept since this happened. There’s no way I will let Jack out of my sight again," his mother, Natasha, told Daybreak. "It’s taught me you simply can’t trust a child not to be tricked by a cunning stranger."
What the experiment also highlighted was the children's tendency to accompany a "friendly" person "in need of help."
"When I asked him afterwards why he’d done it," Natasha explained about her son Jack, "he simply said: “'But he isn’t a stranger, Mummy. He has a dog.'”
Other mothers involved in the experiment had similar stories.
"Just because the man looked nice and had a sob story, she left the play area with him," Sarah Ferrell told the news site about her 11-year-old daughter, Paige, who eventually balked and returned to her mom. "When I asked her why, she said she didn’t want to appear rude."
The story's reporter, Daisy McAndrew, is also a mom and was equally horrified, wondering how her children would respond.
"My own children started back at school yesterday. When I picked them up, I listened attentively to all their news," McAndrew wrote in The Daily Mail. "Then I did what I should have done a long time ago. I told them that strangers come in all different shapes and sizes.