You could be forgiven for assuming that the world is more dangerous than ever before – especially for children. It seems that every day we are assailed with images and stories of children coming to harm. Child safety has become so pressing a concern that it’s now common for parents to prohibit their children from licking cake batter off spoons, for fear that the uncooked eggs might cause them to contract salmonella. There is a great deal, it seems, to be worried about.
There are a number of reasons to doubt this narrative, however. The first is that the news media is hardly an accurate barometer of the safety of the world. Despite the myriad studies demonstrating that the world is becoming steadily less violent, the headlines are growing steadily more terrifying. This will come as no surprise to those familiar with the traditional print media, whose unofficial motto has long been ‘if it bleed, it leads.’
American writer Lenore Skenazy caused something of an uproar in 2008, when she penned a now-infamous column for the New York Sun. In it, she recounts an incident in which her nine-year-old son asked whether he could take the subway home on his own. Skenazy, in a fit of apparent neglect, said yes.
Skenazy’s reasoning ran something like this: There are around a hundred cases of child abduction in the US every year – half of which result in a murder. There are over fifty-million children in the America. This puts the chance of a child being abducted in a given year at somewhere in the region of a million to one. Moreover, the overwhelming majority of the abductions were carried out, not by strangers, but by close family or friends.
Many will object to this sort of dispassionate number-crunching. Is it not better to be safe than it is to be sorry? The problem with this objection is that attempts toward the former invariably have unintended consequences toward the latter. Whenever millions of people make enormous changes to their behaviour in order to combat a negligible risk, they almost always end up doing more harm than good.
For example, it is a fact that children are more often hit by the cars driven by parents taking their children to school than they are by any other form of traffic. This is understandable, as both victim and driver converge on the same space – the school. Any parent that drives their child to school in order to keep them safe, thereby makes a net contribution to the likelihood that a child will be killed (though not, admittedly, their child).
Skenazy suggests that children are overly mollycoddled and therefore unlikely to experience the hardships necessary to turn them into well-rounded adults. Many will sympathise with this viewpoint.
None of this is to suggest that we should not take steps to keep our children safe from harm; evidently we should. We should be wary of the dangers of panic and try to keep threats into perspective. The trouble is that it is difficult to maintain perspective when the subject in question is an emotive one, and there are few subjects more emotive than the safety of our children.
Bullying is a different problem. It affects a large amount of children, rather than a tiny minority. It is so widespread that it was, for a long time, considered a fact of life, with which all children were expected to deal. Bigger children will punch you; wittier children will ridicule you; all children will, from time to time, make your life hell. This expectation has been steadily eradicated over the years – schools will now come down extremely severely on bullies. It seems logical that a similar change in attitudes must take place on the internet.
A new campaign has recently been launched to raise awareness of online safety for children. In the wake of the launch, the BBC have released polling data which indicates that more than half of children in the UK have partaken in ‘risky’ online behaviour. The poll asked two-thousand 11-to-16-year-olds a variety of questions concerning their activities in cyberspace. More worryingly, a fifth of respondents said that they had encouraged others to do so.
The best way to keep your child safe online is to educate yourself about the threats which may come from that direction. Parents will rightly be concerned that their children are attempting to access inappropriate material, such as pornography and other graphic content. Fortunately, there are myriad ways of preventing this from happening.
The internet is not the only avenue through which your children might access such material. Fortunately, the settings on the modern television allow you to do more than just combat poor TV reception. Most of the television providers also give you the means of filtering out inappropriate content and observing your child’s viewing habits too especially applications such as Netflix.