HOUSTON - Parents teach the idea of stranger danger to children of all ages, but self-defense experts said no child really understands it, no matter what their age.
Jim Baylor is an instructor with the R.A.D. Kids program which offers children ages 5 to 12 a 10-hour course of safety instruction, including stranger danger and abduction-prevention techniques.
So on a sunny Saturday at Donovan Park in the Heights, Baylor helped Local 2 with a test. The mission was to see if a child, given the chance, would walk out of the park with a stranger.
Baylor acted as predator for Local 2's test, while parents Crystal and Ryan along with parents Sara and Brian watched from a hidden area outside the back fence of the park. The parents asked KPRC Local 2 not to use their last names to protect the identity of their children.
First up was Crystal and Ryan's 5-year-old son, Rylan. Ryan told Rylan to sit and wait on the bench while he went to look after the other two children. Rylan stretched out on the bench and played with a cellphone. When Baylor approached, he said he was looking for his dog. When he showed him the dog's picture on his cellphone, Rylan immediately got up off the bench to look at the picture.
It turned out that Crystal was not the only one watching. Another mother in the park walked up to the pair and began throwing out questions. She asked Rylan if he knew the guy. She asked Baylor if he had kids in the park and if he knew the boy. While she grabbed the boy's arm to pull away from Baylor, she ordered Baylor to leave.
"She immediately took control of the situation and took all the argument I would have had completely out of my cells. I did not have any recourse but to get out of there," said Baylor.
Cecilia Ebrahimi, the mother who came forward, said she is not scared to confront anyone she feels might be a threat.
"Every time I come to a park, I look for people like that. I am so sensitive to weirdoes. I can't stand them," said Ebrahimi, who is a mother of two.
Next up was Crystal's 8-year-old daughter, Taylor.
This time, Sandra Baylor, also an instructor with R.A.D. Kids, gave it a try. Once again, she used the lost puppy technique, but this time she talked about her crying granddaughter back home and how she just needed to find her dog, Vick.
Baylor said each of these details is a type of lure meant to use the child's empathy and desire to help to break through any protective instincts.
"It was just lure after lure, and she really couldn't comprehend or process it all fast enough, so she just followed," said Sandra Baylor, Jim Baylor's wife and partner in the R.A.D. program.
The site of her daughter walking towards the exit with Sandra Baylor brought tears to Crystal's eyes.
"She just turned to look at her brothers, then she got up. Darn. It makes you feel like a real failure. I thought I had done enough when I told her, 'Hey, don't go with anybody. If they approach you, scream.' She didn't feel like she was in danger because it was a lady," said Crystal.
Jim Baylor said it is not strange for a predator to use a female companion to help in abduction or in grooming a child. It is a weakness found in children of all ages.
"Kids are often nurtured by women and spend a lot of time with them. When a female comes up with a problem, the child tends to want to solve that," said Jim Baylor.
Sara's 8-year-old daughter Abigail was up next. Sara watched as Brian sent Abigail to a bench and told her to stay put. Sara said she recently talked with her daughter about two missing teens in their Baytown area. She hoped her daughter remembers her instructions not to talk to strangers and to scream out.
"Since the Baytown teens have gone missing, we have gone over this countless times. I hope she remembers. I need for them to know it is real, but if they take the correct steps it will be OK," said Sara, a mother of 3.
Jim Baylor tried a different ploy. This time he pretended to be looking for a lost granddaughter. Abigail was polite but moved her body further back on the bench and gripped the handrail. Jim Baylor continued with the story, but Abigail didn't moved.
As Jim Baylor walked away, her older brother, Zachary, walked up and stayed with her until their dad returned.
"We taught them the extreme. If a stranger talks to you, yell, 'This is not my mom, this is not my dad,' and she didn't do that, but I am glad she didn't go with him," said Sara.
Jim Baylor said Abigail was willing to listen, if not budge from her spot.
"She was very empathetic. She wanted to listen to my plight and my problems and all that kind of thing but she wasn't going to be any part of that," said Baylor.
Baylor said the key is not teaching stranger danger because every adult on some level is a stranger and sometimes a child needs to go to someone they don't know for help. It's more important to teach kids to be able to say "no" to an adult, to listen to their instincts and to think about what they are being asked to do. The Baylors stress to children and parents that an adult simply does not ask a child for that kind of help. If something is lost, a parent should be called in to help search.
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