Stranger Danger

By: Danielle Banks
By: Danielle Banks

The stranger says, "Would you watch my puppy while I go get the park ranger?" Megan says, "Yeah!" Stranger responds with, "His name is Barney." "I know that!" says Megan while running to her mother.

What 3-year-old Megan didn't know is that she's being tested. Our mock stranger is trying to lure her away from the park. Megan's mom knows what we're doing and she's watching from a short distance.

"Do you know how to watch a puppy?" our stranger asks. "No! I can find him!" Megan says while darting off into the playground.

Megan has talked to our stranger, but wouldn't go with him. She's passed the test. Tina is very proud of her daughter. She says, "She didn't get too close and she kept her eye on me. I think she did what she was supposed to."

We'll be back at the park for another test in a bit, but you should also know that strangers don't always approach on foot. They are often only a mouse click away.

Lt. Michael Harmony says, "Anybody can be anything on the internet. Suzy, age 13 can actually be a 42 year old male and a parent will never know it. They can talk like a child, they can act like a child online until an actual meet is set up."

Harmony is a part of Operation Blue Ridge Thunder in Bedford County. They capture Internet criminals and teach internet safety to parents across the state. He says, "The internet isn't this awful beast that needs to be slain and done away with. It just needs to be educated."

And education is the key.

"So do you go into a stranger's house? No! We don't go into a stranger's house," says Sgt. Felicia Glick, talking to a group of kids at Timberville Church of the Brethren. The kids are getting a "stranger talk."

Glick says, "No matter how well you think your child is educated and understands about strangers it only takes a split second for something to happen and you need to keep your eyes on your child at all times when you're in public."

Four-year-old Lauryn is one of the kids Sgt. Glick spoke to. A week later, she's at the park and so are we. Her mother is present and has given us permission to test Lauryn.

The mock stranger says, "I'm looking for my puppy Sparky. He's a little wiener dog. Have you seen him?"

Lauryn responds, "I haven't seen him!" She quickly returns to playing, continues talking to the stranger, but still glances in her mother's direction. She follows him into a back part of the playground and that is a no-no. But when the stranger tries to get closer to her, she makes the right move.

The mock stranger says, "If you see him would you give him this stick? It's his little stick. He eats on this stick. If you see him, would you take it to him?"

Lauryn says, "I haven't seen him I need to talk to my mommy!" The stranger says, "That's a great idea. You go do that!"

She has also passed the test. Lauryn's mom says, "She really surprised me to be perfectly honest. I really thought that with a puppy, she loves animals that she would really go with him. I was pleasantly surprised that she came back to ask permission."

Not all kids will respond the same way as Lauryn and Megan so it's important that you continue to have "stranger talks" with your kids. Sgt. Glcik says you shouldn't frighten your child, but teach them to be aware of their surroundings.

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