05/06/2015 09:35 EDT | Updated 05/06/2015 09:59 EDT

Viral Social Experiment Raises Awareness About Child Abduction

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It’s a lesson most parents try to drill into their children from an early age -- don’t talk to strangers. But if a stranger approached your child with an adorable disarming puppy, would he or she be able to resist?

That’s what famed YouTube prankster, Joey Saladino (a.k.a. JoeySalads), set out to test in a recent social experiment he shot on a playground. In the video that has now gone viral, Saladino approaches three mothers sitting on a park bench watching their children play. He asks each mother how often they teach their children not to talk to strangers.

“Every day,” the mothers reply.

So with the mothers' permission, Saladino strolls up to the children and introduces them to his puppy, “Doughnuts.” He then asks the children whether they’d like to go with him to see more puppies. To the mothers’ horror, all three of the children say yes, take Saladino ’s hand and walk away with him.

“Over 700 children are abducted a day,” Saladino informs at the end of the video. “That’s over a quarter of a million a year. Are your kids safe?”

The video has been viewed more than 30 million times on Facebook and YouTube. However, not everyone is convinced that Saladino's video is as helpful or revealing as it has been reported to be.

Some parenting experts and bloggers are speaking out against the video, questioning the accuracy of Saladino's numbers, calling the video unrealistic and accusing it of contributing to unwarranted parental anxiety surrounding "stranger danger."

Child abductions by strangers are rare in Canada. In 2014, 41,342 children were reported missing in Canada, according to police statistics. However, only 29 of those missing children were listed as being abducted by strangers. And the term "stranger" also includes relatives, friends and acquaintances in addition to individuals unknown to the child. The most common form of child abduction in Canada is parental child abduction.

Saladino's social experiment was also conducted with a small sample size. A Toronto Sun reporter decided to replicate the social experience at parks around the city. With permission from their parents or caregivers, the reporter approached four children with her poodle. To the relief of the parents, all four children refused to walk away with her.

Nevertheless, Saladino's video can help parents start a conversation with their children about how they should interact with strangers. Safety tips parents can teach their children to help avoid a potential abduction include:

  • Teaching them a safe word or phrase. If a stranger does not know the safe word, the child is not to go with that adult, even if they are known to the child
  • Crying, “You’re not my mother/father!" if a stranger tries to take them away
  • Yelling, "NO!" and running away if a stranger offers them anything (from candy to a playful puppy)
  • Not opening the door for strangers when they are home alone
  • How and when to dial 9-1-1
  • Using a buddy system, and asking a parent or guardian for permission before going off on their own
  • Teaching children their home address and phone number, as well as "safe" adults they can approach if they get lost or if they feel threatened by a stranger

Do you feel this video is helpful or harmful? How do you teach your children about "strangers?" Let us know in the comments!

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