Media coverage of recent child murders has left parents terrified of "stranger danger", but many ignore the much greater threat that road traffic and roller-blading pose to children.
Researchers at the University of Newcastle's Department of Community Child Health have reached this conclusion after questioning 2,269 parents and 2,897 seven to nine-year-olds in the North-east of England.
They found that child abduction was especially feared in economically deprived areas. A typical comment from a parent was: "This is an age where you can't let your children out of your sight because all you hear about are people who try to abduct children or abuse them."
Only 18 per cent of parents allowed their children to go to a local park or play area alone. But 61 per cent said they let their child cycle without a helmet and 8 per cent admitted that their children had not worn a seatbelt on their most recent car journey.
Nearly half the parents also said that their children had gone roller-blading at least once in the previous week - a trend reflected in the local accident statistics.
Between September 1997 and April 1998, 75 children were treated for roller-blading injuries at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Gateshead. Nearly half of those injured (36) sustained fractures, while the remainder suffered strains or sprains.
The children's survey alsosuggested that some parents are much more anxious than others about safety.
Nearly four in ten youngsters (38 per cent) reported that they only sometimes or never told their parents where they were playing. And one in three children (30 per cent) claimed that they could play anywhere.
Girls were more likely to say they always informed their parents of where they were going (72 per cent compared with 53 per cent of boys).
They were also more likely to have to return home by a specific time. Seven in 10 (72 per cent of children) said that they had to be home before 9pm, but 20 per cent of boys and 14 per cent of girls claimed that their parents did not impose a time limit.
The surveys were undertaken as part of a continuing five-year programme funded by the National Health Service.
The researchers are working closely with 15 schools in an attempt to reduce the number of injuries children suffer in and out of school.
Accident prevention courses have been organised for teachers and some schools have set up first-aid courses for parents. Schools councils have also been established so that children can help to identify accident risks and possible solutions.
For more information about the study, telephone Alison Young, research associate, on 0191 477 6000.
* The late 20th century is indeed a dangerous time for children - but not for the reason that many parents fear. David Budge reports
CHILDREN are 50 times more likely to be killed on the roads than to be murdered by a stranger, government statistics show.
Although many parents live in fear of their child being abducted and murdered, Home Office figures reveal that only five children under the age of 15 were killed by strangers in 1996. By contrast, no fewer than 260 children died in road accidents during the same year, according to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents. Just over half the victims (131) were pedestrians, 54 were cyclists and 75 were passengers in motor vehicles. A further 18,000 child pedestrians were seriously injured in road accidents.