Suspicious minds: Can features of the local neighbourhood ease parents' fears about stranger danger?

Foster, S., Wood, L., Francis, J., Knuiman, M., Villanueva, K., & Giles-Corti, B.

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Foster, S., Wood, L., Francis, J., Knuiman, M., Villanueva, K., & Giles-Corti, B. (2015). Suspicious minds: Can features of the local neighbourhood ease parents’ fears about stranger danger? Journal of Environmental Psychology, 42, 48–56.

Area Socio-economic Status , Built Environment , Children , Fear Of Crime , Neighbourhood , Perceived Crime Risk

Declines in children's independent mobility are frequently attributed to parents' fears about stranger danger, yet there is limited understanding of the factors that might aggravate (or ease) these concerns. We examined the social and built environment correlates of parents': (1) fears about strangers harming their child; and (2) perceptions of the likelihood this would actually happen. We also tested whether associations differed by area socio-economic status (SES) as parents in low income neighbourhoods, typically with more crime, may hold greater fears for their children's safety. Results suggest that regardless of SES, neighbourhood features that encouraged pedestrians, whilst minimising vehicle traffic, were most conducive to parents perceiving a safer neighbourhood. The natural surveillance generated by a more walkable neighbourhood may help alleviate parents' fears about strangers.

Main finding
What factors might relate to greater or lesser degrees of parental fears about so-called "stranger danger" in relation to their young children? This study surveys parents of young children to examine environmental characteristics in relation to (a) fears and (b) perceptions of the likelihood of strangers harming their child. Results indicate that certain environmental features are associated with safer-feeling neighborhoods (e.g., pedestrian-oriented pathways, reduced vehicle traffic, possibly due to the associated opportunities for "natural surveillance"). Parents who express the least fear are older, more educated, and have lived in their neighborhoods longer, as well as had a male child attending school in a higher income area. Parents in lower income neighborhoods reported generally higher fear and perceived risks of "stranger danger" compared to parents in higher income areas.

Description of method used in the article
Parents (N = 1,245) of school children in years 5, 6, and 7 were sampled from government primary schools in low- and high-walkable school areas (coded into low-, medium-, and high-SES groups) completed a survey. Items related to parents perceptions as related to their children in terms of (a) fear of strangers and (b) perceived risk from strangers, as well as (c) demographic factors and (d) perceptions of neighborhood factors (e.g., pedestrian activity, traffic volume, etc.). GIS data was also used to explore land uses and crime data.

Of some practical use if combined with other research

Organising categories

Crime and Aggression
3D / Digital / Datasets Survey
Physical types
Geographic locations