Poor children 'prisoners' of fearful parents

Threats at playtime: Report says climate of fear breeds a stay- at-home generation which risks growing up without vital skills


Fear of a wide range of perceived dangers makes parents keep children virtual prisoners in their homes, inhibiting the development of vital language and social skills.

According to a new report from Barnado's, Playing It Safe, and investigations by BBC's Public Eye, poorer children are living the most restricted lives.

Nearly half of all parents interviewed said their children never or hardly ever played out without adult supervision. A total of 70 per cent said their neighbourhood was unsafe.

The biggest single fear for parents was danger from strangers. But despite some high-profile murder cases, the likelihood of children being harmed by strangers is quite small. From 1983 to 1993, an average 86 children under 16 were killed each year in England and Wales. Only five a year were by strangers.

Close behind was the fear of traffic. Here, children under 14 from the poorest section of society, often with nowhere else to play but the streets, are nearly four times as likely to die from injuries as those from well- off homes. Other worries were drugs, bullying and dogs.

The diminishing independence of children is illustrated by how children get to school. In 1971, 80 per cent of seven- and eight-year-olds were allowed to go to school without an adult. By 1990 this figure had fallen to 9 per cent.

While 69 per cent of the children interviewed walked to school, less than half (44 per cent) walked without an adult and they were all over the age of nine. Only 14 parents said they thought it would be safe for a child under 10 to do so.

By contrast, three-quarters of parents who said they walked to school as children did so before the age of 10, some walking as young as five without an adult. Only 16 per cent felt it would be safe for a child under 10 to do so today.

For most children, a life free of adult surveillance is virtually inconceivable and many suggestions made by them would increase rather than decrease adult supervision. Children said they wanted a warden to look after play areas, with one boy asking for "police walking with bulletproof jackets and guns".

Dr Ned Mueller, a clinical psychologist dealing with children, believes confinement can retard their intellectual development.

He says the danger arises when children live in a confined space, with no place to play unsupervised, have depressed mothers and lack attention. "People notice they can't talk. They can't make a tower of bricks either but what people notice first is language. They can be one to two years behind, sometimes worse."

Other problems such children can face is lack of memory development, and manipulative skills such as handling small objects. Social skills may also be affected, with children finding it hard to make friends. "If a child comes from a big family with not enough adult attention, he may feel very angry and may take it out on his peers ... our survival depends on social development. We have to take play and use it in the service of joining with other people or we are doomed," said Dr Mueller.

Barnado's is urging local communities and businesses to create safe play areas. Thirty-five per cent of parents said there was no playground in their neighbourhood, and of parents who said there was a playground, more than three in five said it was badly maintained. Most children play in their garden or yard (44 per cent) or on the street (33 per cent) with only one in five parents saying their children usually played on a playground or playing field.

"We must reclaim 'no-go' areas - once the bastion of children and now the domain of vandals, drug abusers and bullies - for communities," said Michael Jarman, director of child care at Barnado's. "All parents are worried about children's safety, but it is children from disadvantaged families that are most likely to be at risk when out at play and the least likely to have access to safe play facilities. In today's society, it seems fundamentally wrong that a child's chance of playing in safety should be affected by where they live."

Suggested Topics
world cup 2014A history of the third-place play-offs
Tommy Ramone performing at The Old Waldorf Nightclub in 1978 in San Francisco, California.
peopleDrummer Tommy was last surviving member of seminal band
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

The Mexico chief finally lets rip as his emotions get the better of him
world cup 2014
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Spectators photograph the Tour de France riders as they make their way through the Yorkshire countryside
voicesHoward Jacobson: Line the streets for a cycling race? You might just as well watch a swarm of wasps
Life and Style
lifeHere's one answer to an inquisitive Reddit user's question
Life and Style
Several male celebrities have confessed to being on a diet, including, from left to right, Hugh Grant, Benedict Cumberbatch and Ryan Reynolds
...and the weight loss industry is rubbing its hands in glee
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
Yaya Touré has defended his posturing over his future at Manchester City
Detail of the dress made entirely of loom bands
Life and Style
There were mass celebrations across Argentina as the country's national team reached their first World Cup final for 24 years
transfersOne of the men to suffer cardiac arrest was 16 years old
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
A mugshot of Ian Watkins released by South Wales Police following his guilty pleas
peopleBandmates open up about abuse
Basketball superstar LeBron James gets into his stride for the Cleveland Cavaliers
sportNBA superstar announces decision to return to Cleveland Cavaliers
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, Accreditation, ITIL)

£70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, A...

C# Developer (HTML5, JavaScript, ASP.NET, Mathematics, Entity)

£30000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

C# Integration Developer (.NET, Tibco EMS, SQL 2008/2012, XML)

£60000 - £80000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Integration...

Biztalk - outstanding opportunity

£75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice