The New Parent Trap: Do We Worry Too Much about the Safety of Our Children? ; New Research Reveals That a Third of Children Won't Be Allowed outside on Their Own This Half-Term Because of Fears over Abduction and Violence. to Test the Theory, We Knocked on the Doors of Fieldhead Road in Guiseley near Leeds, Officially Britain's Most Average Street
Johnson, Words Andrew, The Independent on Sunday (London, England)
The lanterns and Hallowe'en costumes are ready, and a school holiday long-associated with harmless mischief has begun. Yet for millions of children, this could be the quietest half term yet, as worried families tell their children to watch television instead of playing out.
A third of British children never go outside the home alone, thanks to growing fear of violence and abduction. Three-quarters of parents feel the risks of playing out are growing, while two-thirds say they are anxious whenever their children go beyond the front gate.
The findings, based on a national NOP survey, are to be released tomorrow. They show that nearly half of all children spend more than three hours a day in front of television or computer screens, despite warnings about the dangers of obesity. Kidscape, the child protection charity, said the figures show we have "a generation of children afraid of their own shadow".
This week, national Parent's Week, psychologists and children's groups will respond by calling on families to let their children play out. They blame a culture of "creeping paranoia" about the outside world, saying that children who stay indoors are at risk of long-term psychological damage and weight-related problems.
Studies show that the typical amount of outdoor space that children play in has been reduced by 90 per cent in a generation, with the average eight- year-old now going no further than 100 yards from the front door.
Last month, the outgoing director of the Children's Play Council, a national charity, said that children are being raised as if they were "battery chickens", with damaging social and emotional consequences. Rising levels of traffic and bullying remain genuine concerns for children and parents alike.
According to new research by the National Family and Parenting Institute (NFPI), a think-tank, nearly one in 10 children were bullied or threatened during the last summer holidays.
Yet the number of child abduction and murder cases remains no greater than in the past, running at about six a year, despite their prominent treatment in the media. "Children should have the chance to play independently, and we are calling on adults to make sure children feel welcome in their communities," said the NFPI.
Michele Elliott, the director of Kidscape, said: "What we're doing to our kids is telling them the world is a very horrible and scary place. We're creating a generation of children who are afraid of their own shadow. As a charity we have become more vocal in our message that it isn't such a terrible world out there."
Frank Furedi, professor of sociology at the University of Kent and a specialist in "risk consciousness", said: "Parents are almost forced to fall in line. Most parents are getting bombarded with these kind of messages in all kinds of ways.
"In the past two or three years there has been an exponential rise in the pressure on parents with scare stories. The minority of parents who try to resist it are stigmatised as irresponsible. When your own kid is the only one allowed to go shopping, to go to the swimming pool by himself, it looks very strange."
Oliver James, the psychologist and commentator, said: "From the age of seven or eight, I went to school on the bus, then I went on the tube.
"There isn't any reason today why a child shouldn't do that. There's plenty of evidence, too, that watching television for long periods of time is bad for them."
The poll was commissioned by the Royal Bank of Scotland and NatWest, which are paying for 450 school playgrounds. The number of safe places for children is steadily diminishing. Thousands of sports fields have been sold off in the past two decades and, even though the rate has slowed, 800 applications to build on playing fields were approved last year, according to the National Playing Fields Association. …