Should a three-year-old be allowed to risk possible (but unlikely) injury climbing to the top of the spider web in the playground? Can a six-year-old walk alone, but mostly within parental view, to the kiosk at the local pool to order and pay for some hot chips? What about the 12-year-old who wants to catch a bus with his mates to the movies? Or the 16-year-old who wants to stay at home alone instead of going to grandma's for the night?
US mum and controversial journalist Lenore Skenazy sparked a global outcry in 2008 when she left her nine-year-old son in a Manhattan department store with instructions on how to find his way home on the subway - and then wrote about it. The author of Free-Range Kids (Wiley) was labelled "America's worst mother" as she called for parents to raise safe, self-reliant children. Is hovering over our kids and not allowing them to escape our constant control and intervention doing the best by them? Not at all, according to recent research undertaken by the University of Western Australia.
A study called Nothing But Fear Itself found today's parents are increasingly restricting their kids' independence and freedom, despite the fact that there is no evidence the world has become more dangerous for children. This parental fear for children's safety is threatening children's mental development and physical health, the research found.
"The overwhelming majority of child abductions and kidnappings are perpetrated by people known to the child," says Associate Professor Lisa Wood, one of the study's authors. "Statistically, the chance of a child being abducted by a stranger is exceedingly low and has not increased over the years. What has increased is the public and media fixation on the relatively rare incidences." The study found this fear is coupled with rapidly rising risk aversion, protectiveness, pressure from other parents and paranoia.