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Project Wild Thing Blog: Are we afraid of the outdoors?

The full horror that took place within 2207 Seymour Avenue in Cleveland is private. Only the victims can know it. 24-hour news media seeks to get as close as possible to their pain. Video footage, testimony, pictures, interviews, artists’ impressions and journalists’ guesswork give us the wire-framework onto which we construct a voyeur’s view of the events. The details are seared into our brains, our curiosity is sated and our own worst fears are justified and compounded.

The initial thought, how awful for the victim, turns to, how awful if that happened to my child, and then, if I’m not careful that will happen to my child.

The message from the media – never explicit, but bubbling below the panic – is don’t take your eye off your child. If you let them wander freely, a predator will take them.

During the making of my upcoming film Project Wild Thing, I met with mums of young children who talked about why they are nervous letting their children play outside unsupervised. The Holly and Jessica story is back out in the news again, and you hear those cases and you can’t help but think about it, one young mum told me.

Do these horrific child abduction news stories make us afraid of the outdoors?

When I was growing up there was no 24-hour news but we did have our own kind of risk-aversion propaganda. I would play near a fast flowing river with friends. Rumour had it that someone once drowned in the river. No one knew who this person was, or when it was, or if it was even the same river. I used to be really good at jumping off walls and curbs on my bike. Apparently someone died doing that, once, somewhere. I got the picture. I needed to remember to stay safe when there were no adults around. But we were sensible and looked out for each other, so these stories didn’t stop us wanting to roam.

I recently interviewed writer Tim Gill. The worst case scenario is not a helpful scenario to spend very much time in as a parent, he said. You’re constantly being drawn to the downside of risk. Tim believes we need to strike a balance between protecting our children and giving them the freedom they need to learn how to look after themselves.

But perhaps stories of children going missing still make the news precisely because they are a rare occurrence. It is some comfort that we are very familiar with the names of missing children. Whilst the idea of such a tragic event happening to you or your loved ones is unimaginable, the odds remain vanishingly small.

Warwick Cairns’ book How To Live Dangerously considers the risks of living too safely. He explains that the actual risk of a child being abducted and murdered by a stranger is 0.00007%, which equates to 1-in-1.4 million-years. But if you still feel like this is a risk you would rather not take then please remember that keeping children safely at home is by no means risk-free. A child dies at home from flames or smoke inhalation once every ten days. If that made as good a news story as abductions, we’d actively chase them out of the house.

We should worry less about the risk of rare events like child abduction and murder, and more about the slow, creeping emergence of a generation of children out of touch with their world. Ultimately our children will suffer at the hands of something far more inevitable and relentless than a predator. They are going stay indoors and suffer because we fail to judge risks. The consequence of this for their future environment is unimaginable.

All content and images © Green Lions Ltd 2013

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