Date­line a nightmare for kid-trust­ing par­ents

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - ENTERTAINMENT - By David Bauder

NEW YORK — Cor­re­spon­dent Natalie Morales ended up in tears when she put her­self and her eight-yearold son through the same par­ent­ing test that Date­line NBC is sub­ject­ing oth­ers to for a se­ries that starts Sun­day.

Us­ing hid­den cam­eras and ac­tors, the net­work set up sce­nar­ios to see if kids re­ally fol­low their par­ents’ in­struc­tions to avoid strangers, don’t get into a car with a drunk driver or don’t cheat.

The re­sults will prob­a­bly de­press you.

Time and again, chil­dren gave their names and ad­dresses to a “stranger” who had taken their picture and talked about putting them on TV. Promised free ice cream, they climbed into a van driven by an ac­tor who could eas­ily close the door on them and speed away. Par­ents watched it all on mon­i­tors nearby.

“I would have lost my money if I put a bet on it,” one cring­ing par­ent said af­ter watch­ing a young­ster climb into a car with an ac­tor pre­tend­ing to be drunk be­hind the wheel.

For four con­sec­u­tive Sun­day nights, Date­line NBC will show the sce­nar­ios, which also test whether kids would cheat or dis­crim­i­nate if given the op­por­tu­nity. NBC hopes par­ents and chil­dren watch the pro­grams to­gether and dis­cuss them, said Liz Cole, ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer of Date­line.

Four moth­ers who work at Date­line came up with the idea, an out­growth of a show on bul­ly­ing that aired last year. Not “news” in the strict sense, these types of shows tend to do well for news­magazines: ABC’S “What Would You Do” se­ries on Prime­time, which sets up var­i­ous so­cial ex­per­i­ments, is par­tic­u­larly pop­u­lar among younger view­ers, which news shows have trou­ble reach­ing.

“It’s re­al­ity TV at its best,” Morales said, “be­cause these are truly teach­able mo­ments.”

Dur­ing the spe­cial on driv­ing, sev­eral teenagers swear to their par­ents that they never text or talk NBC Sun­day at 6 p.m. on their cell­phones when be­hind the wheel. Their cars were equipped with cam­eras for a few months, and even though they knew they were be­ing watched, most young­sters ex­hib­ited the be­hav­iour they said they would never do.

The teens were also set up with ac­tors who pre­tended to be drunk or high on drugs. De­spite the doubt on many faces, most let the ac­tor grab the keys and get be­hind the wheel. It’s the power of peer pres­sure; too many young­sters go along with the crowd un­less some­one is strong enough to take a stand. In the Date­line episode, a girl whose un­cle was killed in a drunk-driv­ing ac­ci­dent was the strong one.

Par­ents need to be per­sis­tent and spe­cific with their in­struc­tions, the Date­line ex­perts said, and be mind­ful of their own be­hav­iour. If you don’t want your chil­dren to text and drive, don’t do it your­self.

“We’ve all had that mo­ment when kids are throw­ing back what you should or shouldn’t do to your face,” Morales said.

Aside from not get­ting into vans or giv­ing out per­sonal in­for­ma­tion to strangers, one tip Date­line of­fers re­gard­ing strangers is for chil­dren to stand up and look straight into the per­son’s eyes. Con­fi­dence could scare away some­one look­ing to prey on a vul­ner­a­ble per­son.

Watch­ing their chil­dren via the hid­den cam­eras is fre­quently nerve-rack­ing and emo­tional. Date­line di­als up the drama, with Morales say­ing it “could be their worst par­ent­ing nightmare or their proud­est mo­ment.”

She doesn’t shy away from the ex­pe­ri­ence her­self, set­ting up her son Josh in the ex­per­i­ment with the ac­tor driv­ing the ice cream truck. “It’s hard for me to watch,” she said, be­fore the tears flowed.

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