SEPARATION ANXIETY

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Between sniper attacks, child abductions and pedophiles, it's a wonder today's parents are able to leave their children's sides for even a nanosecond. But ironically, parents' greatest fear about leaving their children alone is not that others will harm their offspring, but that their children will bring harm to themselves — or to others, according to a recent survey conducted exclusively for American Demographics by Horsham, Pa.-based market research firm TNS Intersearch.

The survey, a nationally representative telephone poll of 1,029 adults, included 336 parents. Thirty-nine percent of parents with kids under 18 say their biggest concern about leaving their child alone or unsupervised is that he may be a hazard to himself or to others. Interestingly, more dads (45 percent) than moms (33 percent) say this is their biggest worry.

Rule-breaking is the second leading parental concern when deciding to leave children alone: Almost a quarter (23 percent) of moms and dads alike say they fear that their kid, if left unattended, will do things he or she is not allowed to do. An additional 9 percent of parents say they worry that their children will spend time with friends they don't approve of.

Still, the number of child disappearances in the news has many parents concerned, especially moms. Twenty-two percent of mothers, compared with 11 percent of fathers, say that what they fear most about leaving their children unsupervised is that they will be kidnapped.

But anxious parents are not sitting idly by. Many are taking action to lessen the odds that something terrible might one day happen to one of their own. Fully 66 percent of parents say they have established check-in times for their children when they are away from home. Technology has helped make these check-ins even easier: 3 in 5 parents (62 percent) say they have purchased a cell phone for themselves or for their child, and 24 percent bought a pager or a beeper specifically to keep better tabs on their tots.

While most parents obviously hope for the best, they continue to prepare for the worst. Fifty-six percent of parents polled by American Demographics and TNS Intersearch say they have had their child photographed or fingerprinted by a professional child-safety organization. Interestingly, 66 percent of moms say they have done this with their child, compared with just 44 percent of dads who can remember taking their kid to be photographed or fingerprinted. In another sort of preemptive strike, one-third of parents polled say their children have been instructed to avoid talking to strangers who do not know a secret password. Midwestern parents are the most likely to have password-protected children. Fully 45 percent of parents in the Midwest employ such a technique, compared with less than 30 percent of parents in all other regions of the country who do the same. However, even with stories of nanny-cams capturing child abuse on video, less than 1 percent of parents say they have set up a video camera to secretly record a caretaker with their child.

LEFT TO THEIR OWN DEVICES

Naturally, parents — along with the rest of society — want to protect children from the evils that lurk beyond the nest for as long as possible, but eventually the apron strings need to be cut. At what age should we allow our children to explore the world on their own?

In a nationally representative telephone survey conducted exclusively for American Demographics by market research firm TNS Intersearch, 1,029 adults were asked their age when they were first allowed to do certain “grown-up� activities without adult supervision, such as walk to school, stay out after dark or go to the movies. The same group of individuals was then asked to give the age at which they believe it is acceptable for kids today to do these same activities.

Adults today feel that kids should have to wait about a year longer than they did when they were kids before venturing into the world solo. For example, half of all American adults say their parents allowed them to stay at home alone by the time they were 12 years old; those same people say that today's kids should not be allowed to stay at home unsupervised until at least age 13.

Similarly, Americans feel that children today need to be at least one year older than they were as kids to participate in unsupervised activities, such as going to the mall, taking public transportation or going out after dark. The exception, however, is kids traveling to school alone. Fully 56 percent of American adults say they were allowed to walk or bike to school without adult supervision by age 10, but just 36 percent of them say that children 10 or under today should be allowed to do the same.

AT WHAT AGE WERE YOU ALLOWED TO DO THE FOLLOWING ACTIVITIES ALONE OR WITHOUT ADULT SUPERVISION, AND AT WHAT AGE DO YOU THINK CHILDREN TODAY SHOULD BE ABLE TO DO SO?

10 OR UNDER 11-13 14 OR OLDER MEDIAN AGE
Walk or bike to school
Kids today 36% 29% 21% 12
When I was young 56% 14% 11% 8
Stay at home
Kids today 9% 44% 41% 13
When I was young 28% 30% 30% 12
Go to the mall, shop or see a movie
Kids today 4% 30% 60% 14
When I was young 18% 31% 41% 13
Take public transportation
Kids today 6% 18% 68% 15
When I was young 10% 20% 45% 14
Stay out after dark
Kids today 7% 17% 68% 15
When I was young 21% 23% 48% 14
Go on the Internet
Kids today 30% 22% 36% 12
Note: Numbers do not add to 100 percent because some respondents refused to answer the question and others were unsure about their answer.
Source: American Demographics/TNS Intersearch
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