ls Fear of Strangers Related to Physical Activity Among Youth?

The more fear parents had that their young children would be abducted by strangers, the less time their children spent playing outside in their neighborhood, according to this evaluation of the first ratings scale to assess Fear of Stranger Danger (FSD).

Despite the one-in-a-million chance that a child will be abducted by a stranger, the high profile of a few fatal cases has created significant fear of this crime. Here, researchers surveyed 171 parent-adolescent (ages 12-18) pairs and 116 parents of children (ages 5-11) to test a simple scale to rate FSD, as well as to explore the relationship of FSD to measures such as parental restrictions on playing outside, the amount of outdoor physical activity, the amount of screen time, and BMI. Ensuring diversity in income, race/ethnicity, region, and walkability, survey participants were recruited in 2005 from neighborhoods in San Diego, Boston, and Cincinnati.

Key Findings:

  • There is good evidence that the researchers’ simple scale to rate FSD is reliable and valid.
  • Parents of younger children, females, non-Whites, and lower-income youth had greater fears of strangers.
  • Higher FSD was associated with more parental restrictions on playing outside and, for younger kids, less frequent outside playtime in their neighborhoods.
  • FSD was not related to any measure of physical activity, screen time or BMI for adolescents, suggesting parents’ restrictions for this age group took the form of precautionary rules (carry a cell phone, etc.).

Although limited, this study established the reliability of the FSD scale, paving the way for it to be used to continue the investigation of the links between FSD and children’s physical activity and obesity. The authors note that interventions such as education and counseling can help moderate parental fears that may unnecessarily inhibit young children’s physical activity.