Sue Packer dislikes the term “play dates”.
To the Canberra paediatrician, advocate for child protection and recently announced ACT Senior Australian of the Year, it speaks volumes of the “helicopter parenting” of childhood today.
While the wealth of information on the internet has been a boon in many ways, she said, children were not being given the option to roam and explore.
“We weren’t punished much as children but one strict rule was being home by the time it got dark – there weren’t street lights where we were,” Dr Packer said of growing up in the lower Blue Mountains.
“But being not being home by a certain time late and not shouting a cooee – well, then you were in trouble.”
To a large extent, over-protection of children is driven by the slew of information via all forms of media and its “ability to engender unnecessary fear”, she said.
Promotion of stranger danger has gone too far, she said, and a community where every outsider is a source of suspicion prevents children from learning about and engaging with the world.
This was especially true given that most abuse of children is at the hands of those they know, not the tiny minority of predators.
As is often said, it takes a village to raise a child and Dr Packer said that taking an interest in the children of the neighbourhood is no reason to be branded a paedophile.
“In fact, if you’ve got the adults in the area keeping an eye on the children, then they are keeping an eye on the adults as well, so the children will be the safest they can be,” she told the Canberra Times in 2016.
“I think the best way to keep kids safe is for people to notice them.”
Dr Packer, 76, has been doing just that since becoming a paediatrician in 1977.
She has treated babies and children suffering trauma from abuse, and been a member of the National Association for Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect since its early days.
She also championed the importance of early childhood environments for the developing brain. Sue was one of the driving forces behind the acknowledgement of the importance of creating child-friendly spaces in hospitals and the value of play in recovery.
Away from all that, she is the mother of three and grandmother of three, all of whom were born in the space of six months – she calls them her “triplets” and expects to be spending a lot more time with them in the years ahead.
Dr Packer was made a member of the Order of Australia in 1999 for services to child welfare, paediatrics and the public.