Parenting today is much harder than it was 30 years ago. In fact, all of the things we used to do as parents would be considered irresponsible today. No car seats, left the sleeping baby in the car to run into the store for milk and kids were unsupervised much of the day. Our kids ate dirt, fell down and hurt themselves daily, argued and fought without adult intervention and were shooed outside after school. We were really bad.
Today parents know that child molesters patrol their neighborhoods, that poison oak and bee stings are deadly and that unsupervised kids do drugs, have sex and rob liquor stores. Or something like that. So we keep our kids safe by signing them up for organized after school and summer activities, make sure they are always supervised and don't let them go outside without an adult. Mostly good things. But what are we protecting our children from?
Cougars, Bears and Wolves. There were ZERO deaths from cougar attacks in 2010. There were 3 deaths from bear attacks in 2010 but none were children. There was 1 death in Alaska in 2010 due to a suspected wolf attack but it wasn't a child. So no children died from these scary outdoor predators.
Poison Oak and Falling Down. No known deaths from poison oak. 140 children die each year from falls. Not sure where they're falling from or whether it's indoors or outdoors but that amounts to a 1 in 500,000 chance.
All of these are tragic and our hearts go out to the actual victims and their families. But should you worry? The combined chance that sending a child outside to play will result in abduction or death: 260 incidents per year (including all those falls) or a 1 in 300,000 chance. Compare this to childhood deaths from car accidents at nearly 1,500 per year.
Last Child in the Woods that I would recommend for all parents. He coined the term "nature deficit disorder" to describe the many ways that lack of unsupervised time in nature is depriving our kids -- intellectually, emotionally, physically. It's a great read. Or just take my word for it.
See also: Educational Toys?