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Emotions Override Logic

When a child is lured away by a stranger, you have to wonder: What were they thinking?

And the answer is: They weren’t.

That’s because, one expert says, their brains are still developing in three key areas: the cognitive (or thinking) part, the emotional centre and the survival/stress response.

“When we talk about strangers, we’re trying to get (kids) to think with their cognitive centre — to say ‘I need to run away,'” says Greg Lubimiv, executive director of the Phoenix Centre for Children and Families based in Pembroke, Ont.

“When something is introduced that bypasses the cognitive, it kind of mixes up kids.”

In the case of a new viral video, it was a puppy.

YouTube prank video star Joey Salads obtained parents’ permission to approach their children at the playground and try to lure them away with a cute dog. He succeeds all three times, while the mothers watched in shock.

“I wasn’t surprised,” says Lubimiv, whose been working in the area of children’s mental health for more than 30 years. “Children have a hard time generalizing — taking one situation and applying it to other similar types of situations.”

That’s why most kids will run from a stranger offering a ride in a car but not necessarily one offering ice cream or a kitten.

“This is how many perpetrators work,” he said.

But Prof. Tracy Vaillancourt, of the University of Ottawa, thinks the video is misleading and “total BS.”

“It gives the impression kids will willy-nilly go with a stranger, but think of the context: He’s clean-cut, he’s fairly articulate, he has a puppy, and the mother is arm’s length away — the perception of danger is very low,” she says.

“It just plays on parent’s fears.”

Indeed, experts, law enforcement and child safety organizations agree that stranger abductions are rare; they are much more likely to be perpetrated by someone the child knows.

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