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4/14/2012 9:56:00 PM
'Dateline NBC' series puts parental warnings to test

NEW YORK (AP) - Correspondent Natalie Morales ended up in tears when she put herself and her 8-year-old son through the same parenting test that "Dateline NBC" is subjecting others to for a series that starts Sunday night.

Using hidden cameras and actors, the network set up scenarios to see if kids really follow their parents' instructions to avoid strangers, don't get into a car with a drunk driver or don't cheat.

The results will probably depress you.

Time and again, children gave their names and addresses to a "stranger" who had taken their picture and talked about putting them on TV. Promised free ice cream, they climbed into a van driven by an actor who could easily close the door on them and speed away. Parents watched it all on monitors nearby.

"I would have lost my money if I put a bet on it," one cringing parent said after watching a youngster climb into a car with an actor pretending to be drunk behind the wheel.

For four consecutive Sunday nights, "Dateline NBC" will show the scenarios, which also test whether kids would cheat or discriminate if given the opportunity. NBC hopes parents and children watch the programs together and discuss them, said Liz Cole, executive producer of "Dateline."

Four mothers who work at "Dateline" came up with the idea, an outgrowth of a show on bullying that aired last year. Not "news" in the strict sense, these types of shows tend to do well for newsmagazines: ABC's "What Would You Do" series on "Primetime," which sets up various social experiments, is particularly popular among younger viewers, which news shows have trouble reaching.

"It's reality TV at its best," Morales said, "because these are truly teachable moments."

During the special on driving, several teenagers swear to their parents that they never text or talk on their cellphones when behind the wheel. Their cars were equipped with cameras for a few months, and even though they knew they were being watched, most youngsters exhibited the behavior they said they would never do.

The teens were also set up with actors who pretended to be drunk or high on drugs. Despite the doubt on many faces, most let the actor grab the keys and get behind the wheel. It's the power of peer pressure; too many youngsters go along with the crowd unless someone is strong enough to take a stand. In the "Dateline" episode, a girl whose uncle was killed in a drunk driving accident was the strong one.

Parents need to be persistent and specific with their instructions, the "Dateline" experts said, and be mindful of their own behavior. If you don't want your children to text and drive, don't do it yourself.

"We've all had that moment when kids are throwing back what you should or shouldn't do to your face," Morales said.

Aside from not getting into vans or giving out personal information to strangers, one tip "Dateline" offers regarding strangers is for children to stand up and look straight into the person's eyes. Confidence could scare away someone looking to prey on a vulnerable person.

Watching their children via the hidden cameras is frequently nerve-racking and emotional. "Dateline" dials up the drama, with Morales saying it "could be their worst parenting nightmare or their proudest moment."

She doesn't shy away from the experience herself, setting up her son Josh in the experiment with the actor driving the ice cream truck. "It's hard for me to watch," she said, before the tears flowed.

Did she cry because her son had learned his lessons well or forgot them?

That's a "Dateline NBC" mystery to be revealed Sunday night.









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Reader Comments

Posted: Wednesday, April 18, 2012
Article comment by: Stranger Danger

Statistically the majority of abductions and molestations are commited by relatives, not strangers. But I guess the network has to do something to sell advertising.

Posted: Monday, April 16, 2012
Article comment by: Tricia C.

(on second thought): Common sense must rule in teaching children who to trust there is a double edge to this kind of programming, in that it is teaching the children not to listen to their gut. My son is taught to listen to his gut instinct and not blindly trust (or fear)anyone, whether they wear a badge or not. Crazy isn't just doing the same thing over and over w/o making progress, it's going from one extreme (don't trust any stranger unless they're a teacher or police or some other authority figure) to the other (don't ever trust any authority figure because they are all bad and only you know right from wrong). Either person on either side of this extreme is crazy. And does anyone really think that a predator may watch this and go "By George, give out free candy to lure kids, Ida never thunk it"? predators unfortunately do not need a tv show to give them "ideas" ...

Posted: Monday, April 16, 2012
Article comment by: Rita Stricker

Yeah, boys and girls, next time a stranger with a badge pinned to his or her uniform tries to put his or her hand down your pants, kick, scream, and run away. Because your parents, who turned you over to that stranger in the first place, are quite clearly unwilling or unable to protect you.

Posted: Monday, April 16, 2012
Article comment by: Don't you hate it

when you're all ready to post snarky comments and then scroll down and find someone's beat you to the punch? (Never thought I'd agree with Coyote Contraire, but there it is.) The only thing missing a big thanks to DARE and MATForce for their unending efforts to make remove parents and teachers from ever-shrinking list of "trusted adults."

Posted: Monday, April 16, 2012
Article comment by: I missed the segment where NBC blew up a Chevy pickup with explosives

Was this segment just as overdramatised and overwrought as that fear-mongering was?

Did it get the NBC edit "treatment," like the recent Zimmerman tapes?

Fear sells much more effectively than sex. "BTW, has anyone mentioned your breath to you?"

I watch "60 Minutes," instead, just waiting for "The Simpsons."


Posted: Monday, April 16, 2012
Article comment by: Living Today

I had almost forgoten how terified I'm supposed to be of the world and my fellow human beings. Thanks NBC for the reminder.

Posted: Monday, April 16, 2012
Article comment by: Coyote Contraire™

The word "stranger" used to refer only to someone you didn't yet know.

We don't even have to use the phrase "danger stranger" anymore. Just the one word will do. Now "stranger" signifies only something evil, somebody dangerous, someone to be afraid of -- a sure sign it's time to run away or to start screaming and flailing. That's what we teach our kids now: Scream and flail. The essence of Safety.

In the '60s there was a saying, "I've never run into a stranger, just a friend I'd haven't met". Psychedelics talking, I suppose. We've come a long way, Sadie.

Now we see an ice cream vendor on every corner.

In Fear We Trust. What a great national slogan.


Posted: Sunday, April 15, 2012
Article comment by: dee rupp

Your show was great tonight,but parents should also remember to teach their kids to stick.together and not let friends get in vechicles either. That way they never have to suffer when a friend falls victim to a predator because they didnt say let not do this

Posted: Sunday, April 15, 2012
Article comment by: Trouble Is

you have to many so called experts that think they can tell you the best way to raise your kids

Posted: Sunday, April 15, 2012
Article comment by: Elaine Roy

The purpose of this program is no doubt well-meaning. However, this just might be a teachable moment for someone other than a good parent. A predator now has some great ideas on how to lore children into giving them their information and an ice cream truck to entice kids into willingly go with a "friendly" adult is indeed an ingenious idea.

Posted: Sunday, April 15, 2012
Article comment by: andrea b

As an adult, I would like to think that I would know what to do in a given situation. True, we don't also do what we think we would do. This show has definately she light upon what a child is taugt to do, versus what He/she may do. In the case of Ms. Morales son, he said something profoundly moving. He said to his friends (of the ice cream man) "....he could of been a stranger". I wondered why he thought he was not a stranger, was it the familiarity of the ice cream truck, the music.

Posted: Sunday, April 15, 2012
Article comment by: Linda Thompson

I would love to see the episodes on strangers, combined in one short film, made available to schools and parents to show to children. They would be much better than the films that are presently being used to teach about strangers. We as parents and teachers can talk all day long but these exanples would present real life scenarios, As discovered it opened the doors for mistakes children make and discussion on how not to trust even those who seem trustworthy. Advertise that these would be available to order over the internet for a small fee to cover costs and postage. What a service to our young. If it saved just one child it would be worth everything. I would love to be the first to order the cd for my grandchildren. I would further make local school districts that it is available. Thank you.

Posted: Sunday, April 15, 2012
Article comment by: Tricia C

If it prevents a child from giving out personal info or getting into a car with a stranger than it's probably worth it. The fact is some of this "fear" we have to install in our children is out of necessity not because we want to. I can't believe some people would be against a child being taught a healthy dose of fear, than again I can't believe that their are some creeps that would prey on children.

Posted: Sunday, April 15, 2012
Article comment by: Boo Radley

"It's reality TV at its best"
Its never to early to start messing with how a child perceives the world and start to install all the fear you've allowed yourself to except.




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