CHARLOTTE, N.C. — There's a new way to teach your child about stranger danger. Police say it's important to remember strangers might not be out to take your kids -- they could be fishing for information to use in a number of ways or scoping out your house to break-in later.
What would your child do if a stranger approached? Are you sure you know how they would respond? With the help of safety experts, NBC Charlotte put several local kids, including NBC Charlotte's Sarah French's daughter, to the test.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police say it's not enough to just 'talk' to kids about danger -- you should test them.
CMPD helped NBC Charlotte put two groups to the test while parents, including NBC Charlotte's Sarah French, watched.
The 'bad guy' in the test is Dave Fisher. He and his wife Karen run "Rad Kids" of Lake Norman. Their camps include role-playing to help kids distinguish a good stranger from a bad one.
"It's something you need to reiterate over and over and over all the time," Karen said.
WCNC placed a camera in Dave's SUV for the test, one of four cameras monitoring the scene. Police notified the 911 center just in case any calls came in regarding a suspicious car in the neighborhood. Then, it was go time.
The tension was felt across the room where moms were watching the action unfold, trying to anticipate what their child would do.
First, the 'bad guy' approached a group of 4-year-olds playing outside, including Sarah French's daughter. He offers them candy and cupcakes and in just seconds, two of the girls -- including Sarah French's daughter -- eagerly greeted the man at the end of the driveway.
The moms were relieved it was just a test.
"I was scared," one mom said.
"I was freaking out," said another.
One mom, kneeling down with her daughter after, explained to her what could've happened -- saying she could've been taken away.
Sarah French's daughter told her mom that it wasn't a stranger -- it was just a grown up. She said he was nice.
"We don't want to scare them against strangers because they may need to get help from a stranger," Karen said.
Instead of teaching kids not to talk to strangers, they recommend teaching them to check with parents before taking food from someone they don't know.
Additionally, teach them to immediately take three steps back when approached by a stranger. Then, if someone bad ignores the cue when they take a few steps back, that's a sign for the kids that they need to run and get safe.
Little Lexi passed the test, actually telling her friends that the man was a stranger. When the man asked if she wanted candy, she very loudly said "no!"
Karen said it's important to teach kids that they can say 'no' to grownups.
Next, WCNC tested an older group of kids to see if the outcome would be different. This time it was 6.5-year-old boys to 8.5-year-old boys.
Instead of going the candy route, the 'bad guy' said he had a delivery. The moms watched as the boys willingly helped the man who seemed to be lost.
CMPD's Officer Johnathan Frisk was in the room with the moms.
"I mean as you see how close they are, or if there was someone else with him and they jumped out, I mean -- they'd both be gone," Frisk said.
The 'bad guy' asked the boys what the owners' name is at the house. The boys gave up the full name and other personal information.
Safety experts say teach children to never give out personal information to someone they don't know.
"People that you don't know, grown ups that you don't know, shouldn't ask you for help," Karen said.
Officer Frisk said it's okay if your children fail the test the first time -- so long as you try again.
"We're going to go back and we're going to train again and then we're going to test again until they get it right," Officer Frisk said.
Karen said you should start talking to your kids about stranger danger as young as at 3 years old.
Rad Kids of Lake Norman is holding several summer safety camps.
Also on WCNC:
- Funeral arrangements announced for Mooresville Police officer killed during traffic stop
- 'Jeopardy!' host Alex Trebek gets standing ovation with Emmy Award
- Same company that overbilled Charlotte has $89 million worth of contracts with city
- Back in the saddle: Senior amputee rides horse for first time in 50 years