The end of Stranger Danger?

Much of the panic and hysteria surrounding children today is focussed on their safety. Many kids are not allowed to venture outside alone. To modern parents, the world beyond the front door looks like a vast cesspool of drug dealers, bullies, paedophiles and rampaging traffic. As a father of two,I know that fear all too well. Sometimes I think it’ll be okay for my children to start walking to school alone when they’re 12. Or maybe 23. The instinct to protect our kids is a natural and noble one, but over the last generation it has tipped so far into paranoia. Even when statistics show that are streets are no more dangerous than before, they still feel more dangerous to us parents. The upshot is that many children are almost being raised in captivity. And they’re missing out on some valuable life lessons: how to handle risk, how to get along with their peers without adults hovering overhead, how to know when to trust a stranger. For years the rallying cry at schools has been “Stranger Danger” – the implication being that the outside world is a hellish, apocalyptic place where every unknown adult is a potential threat. Is that the right message to send to the next generation? Probably not. But thankfully the backlash has begun.This morning, at the House of Commons in London, I attended the launch of a campaign to help children navigate the streets alone by showing them that most adults can be trusted. It’s called Safer Strangers, Safer Buildings. A shortvideoteaches children that they can turn for help to people in uniform (police, doctors, check-out assistants, etc) and certain buildings (churches, shops, post offices, etc). It’s not rocket science, but it punctures the pernicious assumptionthat every stranger is a danger. And anything that makes parents feel less anxious and gets kids outdoors more has to be a good thing.