UCL News


UCL in the News: A generation of children wrapped in cotton wool

6 June 2007

Yet another report, this time from the Children's Society, in which 43 per cent of adults said children should not be allowed out with their friends unsupervised until the age of 14, has been a rallying call to those wanting to release a generation in danger of being bound in cotton wool.

"Everyone knows that statistics can be manipulated, but there are times when we need to stand back and look at the cold hard facts," says Professor John Adams [UCL Geography], who has spent many years researching risk in modern society.

"Despite the massive rise in car ownership, there are now a third less children killed in road accidents each year as there were in 1922 and a child in Britain is no more likely to be abducted and killed than they were 30 years ago." …

"In 1971 a survey was carried out in five primary schools and five secondary schools in various parts of England which showed 80 per cent of seven and eight-year-olds went to and from school without being accompanied by an adult.

"In 1990, I revisited the research, but by then the figure had dropped to just nine per cent and while the statistics may not back them up, the parents admitted they were denying their own children the kind of freedom they had enjoyed firstly because of traffic fears and secondly because of stranger danger." …

"When children become captives of the family chauffeur there can be terrible downsides," says Professor Adams. "During the research in the 1990s we asked children whether they resented not being allowed to play out and the overwhelming reaction was, 'Absolutely not, it's far too dangerous'.

"Parental anxiety is infectious and it seems the seeds of paranoia are sown at an early age. The loss of what we would call traditional freedoms means children are denied the experience of mixing independently with their peers and learning to cope without adult supervision." …

"As walking and cycling disappear, we will have less exercise built into our daily routines," adds Professor Adams. "Although it's a trend which is partially off-set by the growing numbers of people who drive to healthclubs to run on treadmills there is certainly cause for concern. The US Center for Disease Control and Prevention recently identified America's dependence on the car as the principal cause of the country's epidemic of obesity declaring that 'decades of uncontrolled suburban sprawl conceived around the motor car have left Americans unable to walk even if they wish to' and we would be fooling ourselves to think we are that far behind the States." …

Sarah Freeman, 'Yorkshire Post'