This is a really interesting topic! One book I recommend to pretty much everyone is "Protecting the Gift" by Gavin de Becker (I think); he also wrote a fantastic book on self-protection called "The Gift of Fear." (I've read both.) He notes early on that the single thing most parents fear the MOST is a stranger kidnapping their child. The thing is, while kidnapping is a horrible, awful thing, it's also really RARE. You heard about that 14-year-old who got kidnapped in Utah, right? Do you live in Utah? No? When was the last time you heard about a fatal car accident that happened outside of your immediate metro area? There was this absolutely ghastly van fire in my area (Minneapolis -- the fire actually happened in Blaine) that killed three children just this week
-- you didn't hear about that, did you?
Most parents VASTLY overestimate the risk of kidnapping. Vastly. And, well, that's because places like the Center for Missing and Exploited Children mis-report the numbers. When they give out the number if kidnapped children each year, they include non-custodial kidnappings. Not that it's a good thing to lose a child to a non-custodial ex-spouse, but it's a damn sight better than losing a child to a murderer. They also include children who are kidnapped, held for a brief period (and probably molested), then released. Again, NOT something you want to have happen to your child -- but not quite in the same category as losing a child forever.
Now, the risk analysis I found myself thinking about a few months ago... I know a whole lot of parents online who will not let their children play in their own back yard unsupervised because they're afraid the children will be kidnapped. I'm not talking about toddlers (I do not let my 20-month-old out of my SIGHT!) but about grade-school children. My PERSONAL theory is that part of the rise in obesity among school-aged children is because so many of them have paranoid parents. When I was a grade schooler, I walked to and from school by myself (it was a quiet walk with no busy streets) or with friends; I routinely played in the yard, biked up and down my street (on the sidewalk), and climbed up the railroad embankment behind my house. I had to keep my parents posted on what I was up to, but I was NOT constantly supervised. If I had been, I would have spent a lot more time indoors!
(I'm pleased to say that in my neighborhood, most parents seem perfectly willing to let older children roam a bit, within reason. I find it deeply heartwarming to see a gang of totally unsupervised seven through eleven-year-olds playing games of pickup football in the park near my house. That's the way childhood SHOULD be! That's what childhood sports SHOULD be like! Parents micromanage their children waaaaay too much, IMO.)
Okay. So, chew on this: some parents are so frightened of kidnapping (a very, very rare event -- your children are much more likely to be struck by lightening) that they do not let their children play outside unless the parent is available to directly supervise their child. Inevitably, this is going to lead to more sedentary play and less vigorous outdoor play. This in turn can lead to obesity and a host of other health problems (with one of the most depressing being adult-onset diabetes at the age of 11 -- I find that one just horrifying!)
Of course, I do NOT leave toddler dd alone in the car. I think there's a clear benefit to allowing older children (responsible older children, of course -- an impulsive kid who runs in front of cars should obviously not be left alone!) to play without direct supervision. There's no benefit to the child of being left in the car while you get your hair cut or whatever!
Anyway. For realistic risk assessment AND some really fantastic information on how to protect your children from some of the biggest risks (like their daycare provider and your own friends and relatives!) check out "Protecting the Gift." REALLY worth reading, especially the information on checking out a daycare and your child's school.