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Are Children Less Safe Today Than When We Were Growing Up in the 80s?

Before I had children my husband and I used to debate, are kids less safe today than when we were growing up?

I argued yes, and he said no; statistically they are not.

80s kids

I felt they had to be because look at all the horror stories on the news, and look at how much less children play outside today.

At least on their own, compared to when we were kids.

We both grew up in the 80's. Now let me preface this by saying I am talking about children in the United States.

There are many places in the world where children are not safe.

But, here at home the debate rages on.. are children less safe today than when we were growing up in the 80s?

Once I was pregnant and getting ready to have a baby, I decided to research how safe are children right now, compared to when we were growing up?

What I found led me to realize my husband was right, kids are safer today than they used to be. But, only in some ways.

There are new dangers and challenges we did not have growing up back in the 80's. The internet and social media being the main one.

But what about playing outside? And stranger abduction?

Now that I have three children of my own I will admit, I am not thrilled to let them go off on their own down the street to the park.

I'm not even sure about letting very young children play in the yard alone.

This is sad but if the view of my yard is obstructed, I won't let my youngest go out there without someone watching her.

Why do I feel this way? I know when I was five I was running a few houses down to a friend's house, and going all over the neighborhood.

I am sure I have been influenced by the current state of parenting, and stories seen in the media.

There was a case couple of years ago, local (to me), about two children who were out playing in a park alone less than a mile from home, ages six and ten. Before the children could make their way home the police picked them up and held onto them for six hours.

The parents had Child Protective Services open a case to look into them for allowing their children to play alone.

It caused a lot of debate and controversy about "free range parenting" vs "helicopter parenting".

I love the idea of free range parenting. Let them be free, let them explore, let them become independent, but as I said above I am probably not comfortable actually doing it.

The actual statistics on child safety today

There was a Washington Post article written about the case mentioned above. In the article they shared some facts about child safety in America today.

It has been found that child mortality rates have fallen by half since 1990

This can be attributed to use of childhood vaccines, and homicides having a large drop among children.

growing up in the 80s vs now

Missing children are down 40% since 1997

Most missing children are runaways, and actual abductions are extremely rare.

grow up in the 80s

Children are also less likely to be struck by cars while out playing

80s kids

As the Washington Post points out these numbers have gone down while the actual population has increased.

Statistically speaking children are much safer today than when we were growing up

If children are safer now than ever, why do we tend to believe children are less safe?

Well this is my theory, although I have read similar ones which helped shape it.

Back in the 80's (when I was an 80s kid and running free) we started to hear stories about missing children more frequently.

When a child went missing it was well spread among the media, and awareness increased. Before this time period nobody heard much about danger to children in the form of abductions or other accidents.

Police agencies did not tend to share information from state to state in the 70s, and the internet was not a place for parents to find out about anything and everything.

But in the 80s photos of missing children went on milk cartons.

This was the start of the rise of helicopter parenting. Now as we are more aware of the danger we became more protective.

Add to this the rise of cable television and the internet for personal use, and we now hear everything that happens in real time as it is happening.

The danger was more real, we heard about it all the time. And, these days as a parent I cannot log into Facebook or any social media without seeing a story about something bad happening to a child.

Or a study about a new danger to children.

I try to keep in mind my children are not less safe. It only feels this way sometimes.

There is a new danger though, one we did not have growing up

While children are much safer today when it comes to playing outside, and other dangers associated with outdoor freedom, the internet has led to new safety concerns.

Online predators scare me and they do exist and hope to exploit children and teens.

I am planning to further research the statistics on this and follow up with another article about children and online dangers.

Add in bullying, peer pressure, and the fact that many kids and teens don't seem to understand the consequences of everything they post online, and this is a new and different threat than the older ones we grew up with.

I will leave you with this helpful infographic about how teens and technology have changed over the years, and will have more on this subject in the future.

Are children less safe too? Online dangers now and then.
Find more education infographics on e-Learning Infographics


When it comes to outside dangers such as playing alone in a park, walking outside, or being abducted by a stranger our children are statistically safer than they were in the 80s and 90s.

When it comes to new dangers from the Internet such as online predators, or bullying we are in a newer unknown territory.

I will have a future post with more on this subject.

In the meantime please let me know, do you feel your children are safer or less safe than you were growing up?

Update in 2022

My three children are elementary age now. When I originally wrote this post they were very young.

We are lucky to live in a neighborhood that very much has the 80s feel for kids when it comes to play. The kids play outside for hours, and they visit each other's houses after school.

I even let the older ones ride their bikes freely.

What a difference from my last neighborhood where I never saw many kids outside without their parents.

But we also now have the benefit of technology to help us keep an eye on things.

Between doorbell cameras, cell phones, smart watches and even using Apple Air tags I can track my kids and see where they are if needed.

I will review all of these devices soon because they have helped me feel much more comfortable letting my kids have some good old fashioned neighborhood freedom.

Please let me know in the comments, do your kids have free run in the neighborhood and how do you handle it?


Saturday 14th of April 2018

The absurdity of this "children safety" problem we have nowadays is that, even if you DON'T want to be a helicopter parent, chances are you won't be allowed. Cases are abound in the U.S. where a passer-by notices children (or a child) playing outside on their own, and files a report with the police. (A stereotypical image of a nosey empty-nester neighbor comes to mind.) That child's mother now has to prove to the authorities that she was not neglecting her kids.

Magi Clark

Monday 4th of May 2020

Yes! I'm so thankful to live in a neighborhood with mostly older couples who raised their children in the 80s and 90s. They call to say they are so refreshed to see my kids riding bikes and hanging from trees. I dread the day one of them moves away and is replaced by a modern helicopter mom.


Tuesday 17th of April 2018

Yes, this seems to be more the issue than actual safety. I believe the use of the internet and 24/7 news cycle has made it seem less safe and therefore everyone is more cautious/worried. There are some legitimate things we know better so we do better now but it's not necessarily less safe.

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