Stranger danger put to the TV test

A current affairs stunt debated by Frontline as a 'how-to' in child abduction will be played out for real in Parental Guidance.

“Look, at the end Mike will nod and say something like, ‘Mmm let that be a lesson to all parents’ and an act of irresponsible journalism becomes a community service!” – Producer Sam Murphy (Kevin J. Wilson) –Frontline 1995.

A current affairs stunt debated by Frontline characters in 1995 as a ‘how-to’ in child abduction will be played out for real in 2021’s Parental Guidance.

The reality series which compares parenting styles sees an actor walking a dog, attempting to lure the children of its participants in order to raise the topic of stranger danger.

10 groups of parents, ranging from Strict parenting style to Tiger parenting, Nature parenting, Helicopter parenting and Free range parenting face challenges before parenting expert Dr Justin Coulson and host Ally Langdon. Over nine episodes they compare styles and share advice, sometimes confronting in their viewpoints.

“It’s the parenting style which is under the microscope, not the children. Some of the challenges were absolute disasters, but they stayed true to their style. So is that actually a disaster or is it a success?” says Langdon.

“Some of them are really fun challenges, but then we have others like Would your Child Go Off with a Stranger? Do You Smack Your Child? How Do You Deal with Discipline? And Screen Time is a really big one.

“I think they’re all issues that we talk about, as parents at home, with our friends, where we stand on these issues. There’s some pretty emotive debate in the room when these challenges take place. I’ll be crying one moment and then laughing the next. It’s got everything.”

Frontline 1995

The format, created by Eureka Productions, was originally conceived as Parent Jury with Jo Frost (SuperNanny) prior to the pandemic and border closures.

The 10 parents from NSW, Victoria, South Australia and Queensland, include a Christian minister, gay couple, single parent and even a family raising their children in a tent.

“They put the call out to parents all around the country to write in about their parenting style, if they wanted to take part in this experiment. They’ve broadly labeled each of the parenting styles so it makes sense to people, when you’re watching,” she explains.

“There’s a single mum who home-schools six kids. You’ve got the nature parents who live in tents, and parents who believe in smacking, it’s one of their tools and they use a wooden spoon.”

The topic of smacking a child draws a strong response in Episode One. By Episode Two the stranger danger test, which was also conducted by Oprah Winfrey in the early 1990s, leaves some parents in tears.

Ally Langdon defends the sequence as a necessary part of the discussion.

“The way it’s been done and the way been shot has a whole lot of experts involved so it doesn’t have a negative impact on the kids. There’s a minder with the children who steps in at a certain point,” she continues.

“So all of that has been dealt with very sensitively. It’s dealt with by people who have degrees in this and that is not me. So I trust that process. I don’t think you can do this show without talking about that because I think it’s one of the main topics of conversation in every household. But it’s doing it in a way to ensure that the children feel safe, and they’re protected and I believe that happened.”

After the segment, Dr Justin Coulson reminds parents that most stranger danger risks come from an adult known to children.

Ally Langdon, who is a mother of two, says the show has raised questions within her own parenting.

“I found being involved in the experiments that I’m a better parent, because of it. We’re raising our kids slightly differently now and more than anything else it forced my husband and I to so sit down and go, ‘Hang on, maybe let’s give this a little bit more thought.’ How do we want to parent our kids and how do we want them to end up?'” she asks.

A Nine spokesperson added: “At all times during the filming of Parental Guidance the wellbeing of the families was paramount and all challenges the children participated in were checked and approved by an independent psychologist. The stranger danger challenge is confronting, however an extremely important conversation for all parents to have with their children”.

Parental Guidance airs 7:30pm Monday – Wednesday on Nine.

7 Responses

  1. The quotes in the last few paragraphs sound suspiciously like the justifications given for the fakeness of MAFS. There are several worrying aspects to this show: the pigeon-holing of parents into “styles” (most parents use a bit of everything depending on the situation), the promotion and demonising of current parenting fashions and those who use them, and most concerning of all is the presentation of the children as guinea pigs. The guinea pigs on MAFS have some level of consent, the kids don’t.

    If people want parenting advice, look to real experts or role-models in their lives, not this type of voyeurism for entertainment sake.

  2. I remember the would your child go with a stranger segments. It was probably on Oprah but it was the ’90s and can’t remember what show it was on, though I remember vividly the reactions of some of the parents, which was confronting as they thought their child knew better or had been advised not to go with strangers. They also used an actor with a dog or puppy as a lure. Though some children did realise the danger. It was riveting yet confronting viewing.

    There was another American show titled Rescue 911, shown on Australian free-to-air that had re-enactments of situations that had emergency services calls that was also important and riveting viewing. It’s important to have these shows on the television. Lives had been saved by these programs. If not on commercial TV, they should at least be on ABC or SBS.

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