Stop freaking us out - the world is not more dangerous for our children!Alamy

"It's common knowledge that the world is a dangerous place," declared the email I received the other day from a company targeting parents. Umm, really?

It continued: "Missing children posters pop up all over city centres". Strange then, that as a city dweller, I'm not seeing them all over the place.

It carried on in its not particularly well-worded or well-conceived way: "The amount of accidents on the roads involving vehicles and children will always be a source of concern. The news is constantly bearing bad news about children who have wandered off whilst playing out or walking home from school." OK maybe occasionally but not constantly.

Then we get to the point. The company was trying to sell stuff on the back of all this anxiety-stoking: "Mums, dads, grandparents and concerned relatives can now keep tabs on their youngest family members with the invention of new GPS tracking equipment and listening devices."


So their message is that we live in an ever scarier world where we need to tag and spy on our kids to keep them safe from harm.


Putting aside the daftness of listening devices which are disguised as fake mobile phones and which most 10-year-olds would just lose within five minutes anyway, this got me thinking:


Is the world really more threatening for our children than it used to be in the 60s, 70s and 80s when we were their age?


Department of Transport figures show that actually the number of children killed or seriously injured on the roads has fallen dramatically in recent decades.

In 1979, 12,458 children died or were seriously injured, whereas by 2010, that figure was 2,502. That's still too many but it's a huge decrease.

Child abductions meanwhile have dropped from just under 700 in 2006/7 to 552 in 2010/11.

Around half of these cases are believed to have involved strangers rather than for example, a divorced parent taking their child abroad without the other parent's permission.

It was a struggle to find figures going back earlier but it's unlikely numbers are actually higher now than in the 'good ole days'.

Overall, taking all causes into account, according to Office for National Statistics data, the risk of a child dying in 2010 was 65% lower than it was in 1980.

Of course I'm not suggesting that nothing tragic is every going to happen to a child again (if only we could ensure that). Obviously it's frightening thinking about potential harm to our children but the rarity of murders and abductions and other tragedies are exactly why they still make the news.

I'm not saying either that there aren't other dangers. In fact, according to the Audit Commission, the most common cause of hospital admission for children is a fall – maybe there is something to be said in installing stair gates and not letting them climb too many tall trees?

But we need to keep the risks of the really scary, big stuff in perspective. The kind of neuroticism-inducing marketing literature above does not help with this.

Lenore Skenazy, founder of the book and blog, Free-Range Kids, hits the nail on the head. She says: "There's money to be made by scaring parents, so that's what companies do. They come up with an extremely unlikely, but extremely upsetting, scenario, and of course we are hardwired to feel it in our hearts and gut.

"Those organs lead directly to the wallet, so we shell out for almost anything that will protect our kids...even though the chances are OVERWHELMING that our kids will be safe without the doodad."

For some parents she says, it's almost like superstition: "If I DON'T buy this thing, that's exactly WHEN the bad thing will happen to my child. Let me get out the credit card!'"

She's also adamant that being an overly-anxious and protective parent (perhaps the kind who pops a GPS device into their child's coat) does far more harm than good.

We need to let children learn to be independent rather than ferrying them around everywhere in a 4x4 (because hey they're safer in that than in the small car you could have bought) and then suddenly chucking them out when they're 18 and finding they haven't a streetwise bone in their body because they've never been allowed to do anything for fear of a catastrophe happening.

So instead of the GPS tracker and spying on their conversations with fake mobile phones, we need to focus on feeding them well, teaching them about healthy living, stranger danger and road safety (in a measured way).

Companies stoking up parental fears about dangers and crime in order to flog us this sort of thing, well, it's almost criminal in itself.

What do you think?
Are you tired of this hysteria about protecting our children from perceived dangers?