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Are TV crime dramas seriously damaging our parenting?

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‘The Missing’, ‘Broadchurch’ and ‘Silent Witness’ are just three examples of TV crime dramas broadcast within the last few months featuring the abduction/murder/abuse of a child. Indeed, my latest novel deals with a similar theme; the investigation into the whereabouts of a missing fourteen year old girl. So are we writers and programme makers guilty of stirring up unnecessary alarm for parents and causing them to hesitate to allow their children the freedom that we ourselves once enjoyed?
I had coffee with a good friend yesterday morning and we were discussing this very issue. Our daughters are both nine years old going on ten. We are at the stage where we must prepare them for the transition to senior school which will take place in eighteen months time. However, neither of us were yet comfortable with the idea of allowing our daughters to go out and about on their own.
When we analysed our fears they seemed to boil down to a couple of latent concerns; the volume and speed of traffic on the roads, and our children’s innocence when faced with groups of older children and adults who may be able to manipulate them into doing something silly. But when I considered my worries later in the day, I would have to confess that stranger-danger is another of my key preoccupations, even if the statistics do show the risk to be relatively small.
In fact, the character Clarissa, in last week’s Silent Witness pointed out that an abduction by a stranger was literally a million to one possibility in the UK. But if we took TV drama as a yard stick, we’d think it was happening to children everyday, despite these reassurances. Surely these programmes place a seed of doubt in our minds which prevents us from injecting the element of risk that is essential to our children’s successful transition into adulthood?
Actually, I don’t think they do.
For me, it is the real life stories on the news that have lodged themselves into my brain and cannot be shifted. The tragic cases of Milly Dowler, Madeline McCann and Jamie Bulger will remain with most British parents forever. When researching for this blog, I found that the incidences of missing children and young adults was higher than I’d realised. We are right to be concerned. Of course, we must give our children freedom, but there is some kind of middle ground. The NSPCC recommends the minimum age of 12 as the time when children may be left at home alone. Sadly, there are no laws on this, but it does seem a sensible age at which a certain level of maturity is reached.
I have always imagined my childhood to have been one of great freedom and much playing outdoors. However, it was always within the confines of a cul-de-sac in which everyone knew each other and someone was at home in the house all day. We live in different times now. Most people work and possess two or three cars. The cul-de-sac is more glorified car park than play park.
Despite the use of crimes against children as a storyline in many recent dramas, I still know of parents who allow their children to wander the streets from an alarmingly young age. I think that if you are concerned about risks to your children you will be concerned whether its been featured in a TV show or not. In fact, many of these dramas point out the very real dangers that face young people in the modern world and alert us to some of the agencies out there available to assist families of vulnerable children, who are the ones most at risk from abuse and physical harm.
So when will I feel its time for my daughter to venture out into the world on her own? The answer is when she and I are ready. Children are all different and mature at different rates. It’s important to remember that a loving and secure home prepares a child far better for life than a youth spent kicking around the streets. So perhaps these dramas are actually doing some good to us as parents by making us cherish our little ones a little more? I think that can never be such a bad thing.

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