Over-emphasising the risks of 'stranger danger' does not give children the full picture, say the experts, or the opportunity to work out the correct responses to particular situations. It's every parent's worst nightmare. The fear of a child being abducted haunts us all, not least when high-profile cases saturate the media, as has been the case this week. A generation ago, television viewing seemed to be routinely interrupted by public information campaigns warning children about "stranger danger".
All adults of a certain age will remember the lasting impact of watching as children the "Charley Says" broadcasts in the 1970s, warning about risks such as strangers in parks approaching you. "Don't talk to strangers" feels too didactic and unfriendly for this age. And, in any case, there are no such public service campaigns now. So how should a parent explain to a child how to behave safely? John Cameron, head of child protection operations at the NSPCC, says it's important that adults instil a sense of perspective in children about the risks. "Say something like: 'Not all strangers are bad, but occasionally they might want to harm you. You must never get into a stranger's car and you must scream and shout if they try to make you.' But I would reinforce the idea that not all strangers are dangerous."