Britain lives in a mollycoddled 'nanny' state, with legislation and regulations covering everything from school sports days to packed lunches. But the tide may be about to turn, as Shahid Naqvi discovers

Remember your childhood? A time of tearing around on bicycles, hanging out with friends, tree climbing, exploring and getting dirty ...

For many of today's children such experiences barely feature in their lives. Instead, they are cooped up indoors watching TV or playing on computer games by parents too afraid to let them step outside.

When today's youngsters do venture outdoors, they're likely to be accompanied by an adult. If they ride a bike, they'll be wearing a crash helmet. As for school trips, you can forget it. Far too dangerous.

Today's cotton wool-wrapped children are indicative of a bigger trend within society. They are products of a generation that has become more risk adverse than at any other time in recent history.

Today's parents live in fear of their children having an accident, getting abducted by paedophiles, catching a cold.

This heightened state of anxiety has created a siege mentality that stifles adventure and new experience.

Parent Katherine Owen, aged 37 from Moseley, who has two children under eight, said: "I don't think children get the chance to experience life like they used to when they were able to romp out and about on their own without a care.

"There are risks in the modern world that weren't there 20 or 30 years ago, there are more cars on the road.

"But that has to be measured against our heightened awareness of health and safety and our over-anxiousness."

It maybe true that there is more traffic on the roads, but cars have been around for more than a century.

The rate of child abductions has not risen in recent decades - it's just been more widely reported through the growing medium of the mass media.

Though the press may be to some extent to blame for today's heightened state of anxiety, it would be wrong to put all the responsibility upon its shoulders.

So far this year there have been more than 1,000 new statutory regulations introduced by the Government.

One of the most recent has been new legislation dictating that children under 1.35m tall must sit on booster seats in cars.

There have also been new rules on what children can and can't eat in schools, backed by a massive health awareness drive that would make us believe our children are going to explode through obesity or die before us if we don't act now.

Add to that a major drive to create children centres in every community to support and guide parents, and the phrase "nanny state" springs to mind.

Politicians, it seems, have also caught the anxiety bug.

Whether the safety conscious legislation has fuelled public anxiety or public anxiety fuelled the legislation is the kind of chicken-and-egg question that's difficult to answer.

But there is, of course, another influence at play.

Recent years has seen the growth of a litigation culture. It's difficult to walk down a High Street these days without being accosted by a pasty-coloured youth asking if you've had an accident recently.

Ambulance-chasing law firms have created a blame culture in the UK similar to that which exists in the US. Spurred on by the possibility of big compensation, people are encouraged to turn to the courts if they feel they have been wronged.

Hence, in the work environment, conforming to health and safety regulations has become a major concern for employers.

They must ensure workers are sitting comfortably, are having the appropriate amount of screen breaks, not been put under too much pressure. If they don't, they risk ending up in court.

The same applies in schools where outdoor trips have been in decline in recent years because teachers are fearful of costly litigation in the event of an accident.

Worcestershire County Council is one authority that believes it is vital to expose youngsters to "managed" risks if they are to grow up rounded individuals.

The authority has one of the most developed outdoor activity programmes in the country.

It operates three centres - Malvern Hills, Upton Warren, near Bromsgrove and Llanrug, in Wales - where children engage in a variety of pursuits from wind-surfing and sailing, to rock-climbing and nature field trips.

Phil Ascough, head of Malvern Hills and Upton Warren, said: "We are doing things that are exposing children to perceived risks rather than real risks because it is managed.

"We are encouraging them to develop self-reliance, team-building and inter-personal skills. If you mollycoddle children they won't be able to cope as they grow up. We are exposing them to risk and teaching them about risk management as opposed to risk aversion."

Mr Ascough believes we are living in a more risk-averse culture today.

"A lot of it comes from the state and the fear of being sued. I have taken a group of youngsters to Cambodia. We visited orphanages where children have stood on land-mines and had their legs blown off.

"Here we trip on a pavement and we sue the local council. I think we have things out of proportion in this country."

The tide, however, may be about to turn and we could yet see the British public take the plunge into a more adventurous way of living.

A newly-formed organisation called the Better Regulation Commission is calling for a national debate on risk.

It believes over-regulation in all areas of life could be reducing people's self-reliance and spirit of adventure.

In a report entitled Whose Risk is it Anyway, the commission states: "We have all been complicit in a drive to purge risk from our lives and we have drifted towards a disproportionate attitude to the risks we should take."

The commission blames a "flawed dialogue" between Government and society that has led politicians to introduce knee-jerk legislation every time something goes wrong such as, for example, fatal accidents on school trips.

One aspect of any future debate should include is a discussion about the deeper causes of risk aversion.

That would be likely to take a look at the growth of anxiety disorders in society. It's currently estimated that about 44 adults in every thousand has an anxiety problem.

GPs report depression and low mood is fast catching up on the common cold as the biggest health issue they are confronted with in surgeries.

Why this is so, is complex to untangle. It could be something to do with the stress of modern life, with people, particularly parents, struggling to get the work/life balance right while coping with the rising cost of living.

It could be linked to the decline of communities and family support networks - something that has fuelled the creation of children centres to help parents cope.

Maybe the declining influence of the church has created a vacuum into which anxiety and fear has seeped.

Or perhaps it's a product of the techno-age we are currently in with computers and video games creating a sedentary world in which risk is a virtual-reality experience.

A debate on such issues will be well worth having. For what ever the reason we have become so risk averse, surely it's time we cast aside are bonds of fear and live a little.