09 February 2012

Cotton Wool Kids?

The Australian Council for Education Research (ACER) has released information on perceptions of safety regarding minors walking (or riding) to school.

ACER comments that
a new study of neighbourhood satisfaction has revealed older residents believe it is safer for children to walk to school than the parents of primary school-aged children believe to be the case

The study, by Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) Research Fellow Ms Catherine Underwood, examined survey responses from over 800 residents aged 60 years and over and from over 500 parents of students aged 5 to 12 years living in six Victorian municipalities

The survey revealed that 79% of older residents living in metropolitan areas and 69 per cent of those living in regional areas believe it is safe for children to walk or ride to school on their own. In contrast, only 40% of parents living in metropolitan areas and 36% of those living in regional areas agreed that it is safe for their child to travel to school independently.
Regrettably there's no indication from ACER about the extent to which the perceptions match realities (we may well perceive that are reds under the bed and wiccans aloft on broomsticks with kitties but that doesn't necessarily make it so).

There's also no indication of to what extent perceptions are reflected in parental behaviour and in anxiety on the part of minors who've been warned - and warned again - about stranger danger. Cotton wool kids, without the resilience desirable to success in a sometimes turbulent world?

The SMH, having picked up ACER's information (the Council doesn't appear to have released a substantive report), is running with it ... noting instances where parents have been reproved by police for letting the kids out unaccompanied. (The ACT Police alas seem to lack that zeal - or officiousness - in dealing with the decidedly unaccompanied minors who haunt the skatepark near Canberra Uni very late at night.)

ACER goes on to report that -
There was similar disagreement between parents and older residents about whether it is safe for children to walk or ride to the local park or playground. Around 75% of older residents living in metropolitan areas and 68% of those living in regional areas agreed that it is safe for children to do so, compared to only 34% of metropolitan parents and 49% of regional parents.

Ms Underwood said the disparity between parents’ and older residents’ views on whether it is safe for children to independently walk or ride through their neighbourhood appears to be reflected in their perceptions of the danger presented to children by strangers.

‘Stranger danger’ was seen as a barrier to children’s independent outdoor activity by 44% of metropolitan older residents and 51% of regional older residents.

Concern about ‘stranger danger’ was much higher among parents, with 76% of parents living in metropolitan areas and 71% of parents living in regional areas indicating that it is the most significant barrier to their child’s physical activity in the neighbourhood.
It would be interesting to see data from a more in depth study of parental and community perceptions of 'stranger danger', given several decades of research indicating that minors are significantly more likely to experience sexual assault, physical violence or other injury from intimates (parents, siblings, cousins, uncles, family friends, the parish priest) than from the stereotypical stranger.

ACER states that
Road safety was the second most significant barrier identified by parents.

Around half of the parents surveyed (44% of metropolitan parents and 51% of regional parents) agreed that there is a lot of traffic along most nearby streets, making it difficult or unpleasant to go for walks. Here, older residents’ responses were closer to parents’, with 31% of metropolitan older residents and 38% of regional older residents agreeing that heavy traffic makes it difficult or unpleasant to walk.
One of this blog's crueller readers responded to ACER's "Opinion split on walking to school" headline with the quip "Opinion split on usefulness of research" ... and on its enthusiastic embrace by the mass media.