I remember when I was a child there were a number of public information campaigns spearheaded by a seven year old boy, Tony, and his somewhat disturbing ginger cat, Charley, including “Don’t Play by the River”, “Always Tell Your Mummy (before going off somewhere)” and “Never Play with Matches”. The adverts were generally screened throughout children’s TV, and clearly aimed at children.

For me, one of the most memorable, and perhaps important campaigns was the one warning of “Stranger Danger”, with Charley miaowing the warning “never go anywhere with men or ladies you don’t know.” (see the advert here).

I don’t recall any similar campaigns running for many years now, and an investigation by ITV’s Daybreak programme has shown that children could be at risk by a lack of knowledge relating to stranger awareness.

Daybreak conducted an experiment involving nine volunteer parents and children — in a controlled and structured environment – to see what the child would do if they were approached by a stranger. The children taking part were aged between 5 and 11, and all nine parents felt that they had stressed to their children the importance of not talking to strangers.

A ‘normal’ environment was created within a playground with the parent pretending to be distracted on a nearby bench, while the child was playing. A Close Protection Officer (CPO) posing as a stranger approached the child, asking them to help find a lost dog or child following a game of hide and seek.

Worryingly, seven out of the nine children involved in the experiment followed the stranger out of the park, and away from their parent. Understandably, the parents involved were horrified. One mother said “He [the CPO] led him out of the park and my son followed, I actually couldn’t believe it, I was horrified, and you know what it’s a reality check, it showed me you cannot be naïve, you cannot trust that your kids know as much as you’ve told them.”

Another added; “If the adult that’s with them is distracted it so easily could happen that they’d walk off with them. I don’t think there’s enough education out there for young children. They need to be more aware of different situations that they could come across.”

Children’s charity Kidscape said: ‘Daybreak’s experiment refocuses our attention on the importance of stranger awareness in the ‘real world’. Indeed, Daybreak’s investigation has highlighted the potential consequences of our children not being taught appropriate ways of keeping safe in situations involving strangers. Many important messages and skills need to be taught and practiced from toddler years to teens. We have a duty to send our children safely into the world. The findings from this investigation help us to meet this important challenge.’

With the worrying number of stories in the news over the last few years of child abductions, perhaps it is time that Charley the Cat made a welcome return to our screens to help remind our children of “Stranger Danger”.

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