Much is made in the popular press, especially on conservative sites, of how much more risk children were allowed and even encouraged to assume even one generation ago. If one goes just two doors down, however, there is a mirror complaint that children are so much more vulnerable these days, growing up with one parent or with stepparents much more often.
Both look true. Step-relatives are much more likely to physically or sexually abuse children, so that risk seems higher. Yet a hundred safety features of our machinery and structures make the world less physically dangerous, all while children are discouraged from taking physical risks now. If it seems paradoxical, it nonetheless makes sense. If we are living in a safer and safer world, in which our chances of living to 100 years or more is increasing, then risk-taking is more foolish, because you have more to lose. Keep those helmets on, get those chemicals out of the water - you may be around a long time and you want those years to be full-brained and full-health.
But if one lives in a physically dangerous world, timidity and lack of risk-taking might be more of a trade-off. Avoiding four dangers with cautious attitude would be a plus, but an inability to leap, risk, or attack at need might be a net negative. These are not either-or, as both strategies have long been present in our society. (Which is why we have contradictory maxims Look before you leap and He who hesitates is lost. The critics can blame you either way.) The balance may be shifting. In cultures where many die early, the idea of achieving a good death even while young has value. If we can live to be 200, I expect us to shift even more to preservation mode.
As for sexual protection, perhaps it isn't coincidental that the angrier sort of feminist is declaring this a "rape culture" and looking to protect feelings of young women in what had heretofore been regarded as normal emotional risks and sexual temptations. The anger may be directed unfairly but justified in a pulling-the-fire-alarm sense. If we actually do have (I make up a number) ten times as many traumatised young women in college, that's a different environment. The proposed solutions would seem to be blaming the wrong perpetrators and shutting the barn door after the horse has left. The early sexualisation of children may have increased their vulnerability and thrust them into emotionally damaging situations at younger ages.
I will speak about the girls, because that is the usual discussion. Expand that to boys if you wish. Consider the simpler cases: A girl who grows up in what we consider a stable, decent, 2-bio parent with regular arguments and conflicts but no abuse, as she moves out into the world of boys, dating, seduction, rejection, and all the rest, might be expected to pretty much take her own life in hand when she gets to college, unless violence is present. A girl from a more pathological upbringing, however, might believe at some much more basic level that the world of men really is a rape culture and the deck stacked against her, so that what Girl A regards as normal, and absorbable stress Girl B automatically regards as confirmation of her experience of universal danger in the presence of men. Imagining this as a continuum, putting them all in together and adding in the excitability of youth and the general narcissism of others, and a witch hunt mentality might easily develop.
Speaking of youth. It has not been that long in this world that we have put large numbers of young men and women together essentially unsupervised and expected this to work out fine, because...well, because sometimes it does, so therefore it always should, right? The usual argument that "children have to go out on their own and make their own decisions (though sexual decisions track somewhat more closely with driving cars), so don't be some troglodyte who forbids them behaving like normal teenagers" has one large flaw: who says 18 is the best age for that? What if it's a great idea, but not until they are 20, but because of accidnts in our academic progression, we are pushing them together two years too early?
Speaking of good death, have I mentioned the attachment to narrative warps our evaluation of life? In the books and movies, a person who has a sucky, rejected, lonely, and physically painful 80 years, but gets reunited with his children, vindicated in his career, and dies peacefully with loved ones around him at 81 is considered a satisfying story. A person who has a pretty good 80 years but dies alone with some ugly or painful disease while friends and family are too distant or turned away is seen as either justly punished or unfairly suffering because of that one last year. Tragic. Sad death.
Given my choice, I'd sign up for that 80 good years followed by one of impoverished suffering, thanks. I don't need the story to tie up neatly, because I've already got fifty stories that didn't tie up neatly, either.