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Why are we so afraid to leave children alone?

UCI study finds moral judgments about parents affect perceptions of risk

child in park alone Leaving a child unattended is considered taboo in today's intensive parenting atmosphere, despite evidence that American children are safer than ever. So why are parents denying their children the same freedom and independence that they themselves enjoyed as children? A new study by University of California, Irvine social scientists suggests that our fears of leaving children alone have become systematically exaggerated in recent decades - not because the practice has become more dangerous, but because it has become socially unacceptable.

"Without realizing it, we have consistently increased our estimates of the amount of danger facing children left alone in order to better justify or rationalize the moral disapproval we feel toward parents who violate this relatively new social norm," said Ashley Thomas, cognitive sciences graduate student and lead author of the work, published online this month in the open-access journal Collabra.

The survey-based study found that children whose parents left them alone on purpose - to go to work, help out a charity, relax or meet an illicit lover - were perceived to be in greater danger than those whose parents were involuntarily separated from them. More...


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in the media

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