I often feel as if we are living in precarious times. One look at the news and it’s hard not to believe that we are simply fortunate to be above ground. From the moment we wake we are hit with an endless stream of distressing images, from man’s assault on nature, to war torn conflicts to home grown terror such as the recent Manchester bombings and the horrendous attacks on London Bridge and Borough market. It often seems as though there are pedophiles on every street corner and behind every computer or a terrorist behind every wheel. And if all these horrors don’t get our children we are sure a feral heroin addicted NEET will finish the job. And what do we do in the face of all this adversity? We wrap our kids in Kevlar and get online to read about conspiracies and secret cabals as we try and impose order on such senselessness. It is a wonder as parents we let our children out of the house at all.
Now, I don’t want to diminish these things, but perhaps a little perspective can help us all a wee bit. So, I’m here to tell you what you already know. Children can still stay out late, they can still climb trees and they can disappear from view for a few hours without any major catastrophe. By any yardstick, kids are safer today than they were when I was child ( which was a while ago…but not too much of a while…okay, it was a while ago).Take road accidents, for example. According to the Department of transport there has been a 75 percent reduction in the number of children killed on the roads in England and Wales, either in cars or as pedestrians, in the last thirty years. The reason for this is relatively simple. Improvements in car safety features and road design. This type of improved safety spans across many aspects of our lives.
Admittedly, road safety is one of the tamer fears many of us have. So let’s get to the real monsters. What of the child killers, the stuff of every parent’s nightmares? Deaths like those of Baby P, Tia sharp and 10 -year-old friends Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman in Soham are forever etched in our minds. Well, the good news is ( if one can phrase it like that) that statistically your child isn’t any more or less at risk than he or she would have been 30 years ago. Perhaps that doesn’t sound good, but the point is the world has always been capable of such horror, but thankfully these are mercifully rare. The number of child murders has stayed the same. On average, 79 have taken place each year in England and Wales since the 70s. Of these, just 11 are committed by a stranger. And while abductions make the front pages, only five to seven actually occur a year. And yet as a nation we worry more.
This is borne out by studies that reveal that in 1971, approximately eight out of 10 eight-year-olds were allowed to walk to school on their own. Now, it is fewer than one in 10. This trend is set to decline further.