ABC Overnights had an excellent discussion on this issue:
Are we too soft on our children – over protective? Are we raising ‘marshmallow kids’? Trevor will discuss with author and psychologist Nigel Latta – and wants to hear your thoughts.
On October 5, 2011, Space Kidette (much admired poster on Poll Bludger and tweeter
extraordinaire) did her familiar, temporary-sign-off, “I’m off to do the cherub
run.” Another regular, bemused, queried what she meant.
This sparked an intermittent conversation about “helicopter parenting” or, to be
blunt, the lack of freedom to experience life without an overbearing,
all-knowing presence, that is seemingly the lot of today’s children.
This conversation specifically occurred among the female posters; the gents didn’t
seem particularly interested, bemused aside, and that virtuually consisted of
“why are you so protective”. Which raises another question altogether.
I had a quick think about it and pinpointed the 1980s as the start of this
phenomenon and was challenged by another regular, lizzie, to come up with
reasons for my speculation. While gardening, I pondered why I had said the
1980s. I had my first child in 1981, so perhaps I was being subjective in my
I lived in inner-suburban Melbourne at the time. One day my 2.5 year-old toddler
wanted to stay out the front of the house and I clearly remember “boring” him
with an admonition, “There are some strange people out there, so be very
careful. Tell me if anyone talks to you.” Less than 30 seconds later (I was
standing in the hall watching) a nondescript person passed our house on the
opposite side of the street. My little cherub yelled “Mum, quick! There’s a
strange person who might want to talk!” I congratulated him for telling me but
was left feeling rather bereft.
What had I done to my child? Was I trying to instil fear into him for no particular
reason? My childhood had been of the footloose-and-fancy-free farm variety.
Within months I moved back to country Victoria to allow my child to experience
the freedom I had enjoyed when young.
But where had this notion of strangers being dangerous come from? I thought hard
about it. When did this start? The 60s was the advent of the hippie generation.
Free love. And also the advent of feminism (2nd wave) that gave rise
to the notion that women too were sexual beings, not just men. And that women
were not the harbinger of sexual mores. Was it a combination of the two that
gave rise to, say, an acceptance of pornography during the 70s?
Or that people were allowed to express their sexual preference more blatantly,
even if that sexual preference was for children? Did this give rise to a rash
of children being abducted by strangers to carry out their fantasies?
Did this then give rise to the notion of “stranger danger”? One of my sisters was
then (and still is now) a primary teacher. Did she tell me about it? We didn’t
have a TV although I listened to the radio (ABC). Did I hear it there? I
honestly can’t remember.
So, at the end of my gardening sojourn, I came to the conclusion it was a
combination of hippiedom and feminism that spontaneously unleashed free sexual
expression which possibly culminated in raising the spectre of “stranger
danger” and was the reason we became inculcated with the idea our children were
Before I aired my conclusions, two Bludgers posted their ideas.
BH made the observation the abduction of the Beaumont children spoiled the freedom
of children in Adelaide and South Australia more generally. I mentioned the
Beaumont children in my first post, and remembered while my parents discussed
this, it was decided Adelaide was too far away from our cosy position in
country Victoria for them to be too worried about it. Besides, that was 1966
and doesn’t fit my theory!
PTMD pointed me in the direction of a website called freerangekids, a site that
explores the implications of the restrictions on freedom for kids: it inhibits
their development. I declined the offer to look (at the start) but
succumbed. While the site didn’t give me a definitive reason for the beginning
of the stranger danger phenomenon, it did give the most heartbreaking account
of how “name and shame” sex-offender registers often nets and destroys the
lives of innocents.
So, what devolved from my research? It seems I was right to pinpoint the 1980s.
Here’s a quote from http://wikiparenting.parentsconnect.com/wiki/Protective_Behaviours
And this from an apparently well-known child
psychologist (Sunday 16th September 2007)
When growing up in Sydney, many moons ago, I distinctly recall the ‘stranger danger’ ads on telly – usually screened late at night, when the only people up watching, were the strangers thmselves. Interestingly, the words ‘stranger danger’ are now frowned on by law enforcement agencies around the world, as it was realized that the vast majority of child abusers are known to children who they abuse.
But, I guess the one that destroyed my argument completely was this:
1980s Child sexual abuse recognised on the
There is no definitive reason for why sexual abuse emerged as a key issue for child protection in the 1980s, however the most prominent theory suggests that the impact of feminism lead to the public recognition of child sexual abuse (Scott & Swain, 2002). Significant media attention was given to any case of child sexual abuse and statutory child protection services found it difficult to cope with the influx of reports. Tensions arose between child protection services, police and child sexual assault services as roles and responsibilities became blurred (Scott & Swain, 2002)
The advent of feminism, it seems, enabled the untellable to be told: that it wasn’t stranger danger per se, it was the sexual abuse of children within their own homes that was the greatest danger.
In the early 1980s, Labor government came into power federally (and in Victoria at least). It is to Labor’s credit that they listened to women and the abuse of children became a mainstream issue.
To me, viva la feminism! And viva Labor!
As they say on the blogs, over to you