Apparently, this article from Leonore Skenazy was requested by a regular reader, suggesting that there are some who aren't yet fully assimilated into the joyless, self-righteous, risk-averse navel-gazing enjoyed by your average Guardianista. And the Guardian should be congratulated for commissioning it.
Why does 'go play outside' sound crazy?It's not the first time Leonore has lobbed a mentos mint in the fizzy pop of righteous helicopter parenting. A couple of years ago, she left her own 9 year old son in New York's Bloomingdales with just $20, a travel card and a map of the subway system, and let him travel home on his own.
The safer our society becomes, the more we – and the media – feel compelled to ramp up fears about unlikely dangers
"Why would you want to put children in harm's way?" That, put simply (and minus a lot of the yelling), is what I have been asked on 10 TV shows, 31 radio interviews, and an avalanche of blogs for about a week now – ever since I declared last Saturday "Take our children to the park … and leave them there" day.
I'd come up with the idea as a way for neighbourhood children (including mine) to meet each other, and even be forced to entertain themselves.
Predictably, she was accused of child abuse, and when Vanessa Feltz applauded this parenting decision on her radio show, she herself was roundly attacked by British listeners too.
But, as Skenazy said at the time.
“It’s safe to go on the subway,” Skenazy replied. “It’s safe to be a kid. It’s safe to ride your bike on the streets. We’re like brainwashed because of all the stories we hear that it isn’t safe. But those are the exceptions. That’s why they make it to the news. This is like, ‘Boy boils egg.’ He did something that any 9-year-old could do.”Indeed.
There is an incomprehensible attitude towards parents who allow their kids some kind of self-reliance, and one which I've experienced myself. The little Puddlecotes have just turned 9 & 10 respectively, but have been sent to the local Co-Op on their own on numerous occasions for anything from eggs and broccoli to washing liquid and kitchen roll, but tell that to a school gate parent and they look at you aghast.
"But they have to cross two roads!", they cry. Yeah, and so what? They not only know how to cross roads, they are hugely more wary of them than I was at the same age.
The reason being that schooling in my 70s childhood was about educating kids and that's all. Apart from the odd Green Cross Code ad and Charley the cat, how to avoid trouble in life was left to the parents. Yet now we have schools teaching about every danger it is possible to encounter, along with largely lower crime rates, safer roads, and CCTV which monitors every move, everywhere, of everyone. Kids have, quite obviously, never been safer to run such errands.
Despite this, the age at which they are allowed to do so by parents is increasing, and the idea of encouraging small elements of independence in kids is frowned upon, or condemned, more than ever.
There is simply no logic to that.
Surely, if we wish to have a more roundly educated, confident, self-reliant, and yes, healthy future for our kids, this is exactly what all parents should be doing. Far from being tarred as irresponsible, a liberal approach to easing kids into the world should be the norm, and those who insist on wrapping their offspring in bubble wrap until they're 18 should be the ones who attract the horrified looks.
Considering the unarguable facts on increased safety for kids, and their better education about danger, there is only one explanation, in my humble opinion, for why that isn't the case.
It's selfishness on the part of parents, pure and simple.
Because, you see, when mine leave my sight I'm worried. It may only be a mild worry, but it's there nonetheless. My parents were worried when they let me do the same (they told me) but it was a rite of passage that they realised was necessary. Modern parents don't want to suffer that worry, however slight, so they prefer instead to eradicate it entirely. And, I'd argue, it's an attitude that is not only harming society, but also damaging the future life awareness, independence, and well-being of the children they think they are protecting.
And, as Leonore Skenazy points out, all because of risks which are mostly non-existent.
But how common is it really? Warwick Cairns, author of How to Live Dangerously, crunched the numbers, and now asks: If, for some strange reason, you actually wanted your child to be kidnapped, how long would we have to leave him outside, unattended, in England, for that to be statistically likely to happen?Funny she should mention that.
About 600,000 years.
It doesn't matter that those are about the same odds as death by lightning. All that matters to the media is scaring us. Result? We keep our kids inside. We stay there too. Then we turn on the TV and look! "Up next: is your toothbrush dangerous?"