Ad Council Warns Parents: Watch Out for the Boogeyman!

This ad gives me chills AND the creeps. Here’s what it says, in urgent, caring, chiding tones:

You take the family to the food court. Your wife and Pete head for tacos. You and Danny want Chinese. You look up at the menu. You look down to see what Danny wants . But you don’t see Danny. Every parent knows that feeling. IMAGINE if he were actually abducted. To receieve free Amber Alerts on your cell phone go to A child is calling for help.

A child is calling to CHILL! This scenario — a child snatched from a public space at his parent’s side — is so rare it’s like a  child falling into a sinkhole, or being eaten by grizzlies. Public service announcements are supposed to make us aware of something that can actually make a big difference: Stop smoking. See your doctor if you find a lump on your breast. Support your local food pantry. Plenty more children are calling, “Help! I’m hungry!” than, “Help! I was snatched by a stranger in a mall several inches from my dad.”

What also creeps me out about this message is its insidiousness. Of course “every parent knows that feeling.” I’ve had it too — the temporary terror of not being able to see your kid. BUT as readers detailed here on this very blog, almost every single time we get the kid back again, right after our mind has raced to the scenario this ad is reinforcing: “Imagine if he had been abducted.”

Telling us to be MORE worried about stranger abductions is like telling us to be MORE worried about our cellulite. We are already worried beyond all reason! 

Let’s save Public Service Announcements for promoting practices that actually make kids safer and healthier. “Remember, parents: Your kids need time outside.” “Parents, teach your kid to look both ways before crossing.” “Parents, isn’t it time to get your kid a library card?” 

“Watch out for the boogeyman!” isn’t helping anyone. (Well, actually, I’m pretty sure it is helping someone, monetarily, or grant-wise or something. But I can’t figure out who.) — Lenore

What’s Wrong with This Ad?

Take your blood pressure medicine before watching this so-called public service announcement .

The spot shows two women in a coffee shop, one of them with her kid. The three chat for about 15 seconds, the mom buys a coffee and then off the mom and child go, leaving the  other woman — for no apparent reason — with a sneaking suspicion that the mom is a child abuser.

The mom has said nothing harsh to her child. The child is communicative and bears no visible bruises. In other words, the mom and child look like me and my child, or you and your child, or any mom and any child and yet,  for some reason, that is enough for the other woman to feel the prickles of concern. And then she is urged to act: “If you even suspect abuse, call 1 800 4 A CHILD. Trust your instincts.”

Trust your instincts to what? Suspect every seemingly normal parent  is hiding a deep, dark secret? In the ad, the mom  is wearing a t-shirt that says, “CHILD ABUSER,” to show that this other woman’s instincts were right.

Too bad the Ad Council sat out the McCarthy hearings — it could have had a field day! “If you even SUSPECT your neighbor is a Communist…” And it’s really sad we didn’t have 30- second TV spots in Salem in the 1600s: “If thou even  SUSPECTETH sorcery…” 

The problem is: In our commendable desire to keep kids safe, we have gone overboard and turned into a country where all parents are suspected of not being good enough, or — now — even actively bad. Just imagine if this woman had let her kid wait in the car! — Lenore