Are we as parents more worried about our children than our mums and dads were? Do we really have any reason to be?
There are more than 12 million children in the UK and although even one case is too many, Government statistics say that around seven children are abducted and killed by a stranger each year. This figure, surprisingly, has remained unchanged in 25 years.
In terms of road accidents, 90 children under the age of 5 were killed on Britain’s roads in 1985. In 2005 that figure had fallen to 26.
Frank Furedi, author of Paranoid Parenting (Allen Lane), believes that parents are ‘forced’ to worry about their children. “The media highlights the exception and makes it sound like the norm,” he says. “So parents become complicit in the panic surrounding children. Parents need to give children space to deal with situations and not keep them under lock and key.”
Psychologist Dr Sarah Hamlyn-Wright echoes these sentiments. “Parents shouldn’t fall into the trap of confusing possibility with probability,” she says. “Just because something is brought to our attention doesn’t mean that it’s any more likely to happen. It simply raises perceptions of risk.”
Sensible ways to keep your child safe
- “Point out people – police officers, shop staff – who could help your child if she’s lost,” advises Claude Knights from Kidscape.
- Use role play and ask your child to repeat what you said to her to make sure she understands
- Tell her not to get involved if a stranger says he needs help looking for something
- “Tell her that if someone she doesn’t know says, ‘Don’t tell mum,’ the first thing she should do is tell you!” says Claude
- Always discuss things calmly, so she doesn’t pick up your anxiety
- Teach your child the Green Cross Code
- Always keep your child on the side furthest from the road
- Always check childcare references and read nursery Ofsted reports
Would you use surveillance to protect you child?
Using surveillance equipment to keep track of your child and those caring for her is becoming big business, fuelled by high-profile news stories and parents’ insecurities.
London Nannywatch is one company that offers parents the opportunity to “watch” what their child and child-carer get up to while they are out at work.
“Parents often have a camera for the first week to make sure their child is being looked after properly,” says London Nannywatch manager Bill Smiths. “Some mums and dads tell their child-carer, but even if they don’t cameras are everywhere nowadays and we’re all filmed without our knowledge at some time.”
Two years ago, mum-of-three Bethan Lee and husband Steve developed iWatch, a surveillance package that enables parents to see what their child is doing at nursery by logging on to the nursery’s computer system.
“These days people do as much as they can to protect their children – whether it’s from injury or other people,’ says Bethan. “We want to provide that extra peace of mind. Mums and dads ask us to recommend places that have our product, and if nurseries resist installing cameras, parents may be naturally suspicious.”
Teaching your child to be safe
One of the key ways to protect your child is to give her the confidence to deal with situations when you’re not around, says Clare Scott Dryden, founder of Child Alert.
“We must guide our children,” she says. “Encourage them to understand personal safety and believe in themselves – give them the power to follow their instincts. It’s all about communication. Every time they leave the house, repeat instructions: ‘Always hold my hand when we’re on a road’. Children know no fear, so you have to impose boundaries. Then, when they’re out, they’ll remember your advice.”
Parenting coach Helen Bennett agrees. “From toddler age, make sure you talk to them about situations. It’s a learning curve for both you and them. If they approach a high climbing frame, tell them you’ll stand behind them this time – so you’re allowing them the chance to explore and experiment but you’re there if something goes wrong.”
Helen believes that these are difficult times for parents, but that we have to “take courage” and learn to let go.
“Things are worse these days”
“Things seem to be a lot worse than when I was little. You can’t let your kids play outside for fear of traffic, or that someone may be watching them. When I was Tyler’s age, my mum let me go to the park with friends, but there’s no way I’d let Tyler do that.”
Jasmine, 35, mum to Tyler, 8, and Maisy, 8 months
“Children need to be children”
“I lost Octavia for a few minutes when she was 2. She bolted and I was left with tears pouring down my face, not knowing what to do. But even though the media stories about missing kids horrify me, I’m determined to allow my children to be children and enjoy this time.”
Hannah, 29, mum to Octavia, 5, and Luke, 9 months
“I would keep them at home if I could”
“I worry constantly about who’s looking after my kids and who might be lurking around. I worry about them at school and if I could, I’d keep them at home. My daughter wants to walk to school, and even though it’s only two minutes away, I’m terrified. I’d definitely consider using a tag that told me where they were all the time – I don’t think any measure is too drastic.”
Jessica, 32, mum to Sarah, 9, and Danny, 5