A colleague was explaining the hassle he is experiencing over the decision to allow his 11 year old daughter to travel to and from school on her own from the start of this term. The journey involves one bus trip which she boards on the main road, 100 yards from his house in a quiet suburban side street and terminates, 3 miles further on, about 50 yards from her school.
He and his wife are both agreed that she is more than mature and responsible enough to take on such a simple journey, but they have received nothing but irrational panic about the idea from his mother-in-law. At first, she was disturbed that this was going to be every day of the week (as if paedos and thieves only work part time or something), but after inspecting the route herself (yes, I laughed too), he said that she seemed satisfied.
It appears he was wrong as, a week after the term started, she is now insisting that the girl is picked up from two after-school club she attends, on the basis that it is starting to get dusky at around 4pm, and she read somewhere of a 15 year old boy being attacked by a group of kids on a road near his home. As such, his wife is now feeling pressured and wavering on her confidence in their decision.
Now, I don't know the age of the grandparent, but one assumes that it is almost inconceivable that she wouldn't have travelled to school unaccompanied herself at that age, or even when a few years younger than that.
[...] in 1971 eight out of ten eight-year-olds were allowed to walk to school alone. Now it is fewer than one in ten.What, then, has happened in the intervening decades which convinces her that 11 year old kids are no longer responsible enough to cope with a 10 minute walk and bus journey?
Is the bus's on-board CCTV not as good quality as 40 years ago? Perhaps there isn't the same level of surveillance now that they had in the 50s. Not enough street furniture or road signs/pelicans/zebras anymore? Or maybe people were far more meek and terrified of the state and it's laws back then.
No, of course not. We are living through some of the safest years this country has ever seen. Kids, especially, are treated as preciously as fine crystal; every odd behaviour is monitored to the point of paedohysteria; everyone and his wife is CRB checked; and should a kid be harassed in plain view, the torches and pitchforks would be out in seconds.
But while the above has made our reality safer, it has also rendered the perception of our safety totally unrealistic.
In pursuit of comprehensive safety, we are bombarded with life-strangling rules on how to stay risk-free; health & safety and litigation prohibits even mildly risky behaviour; 24 hour TV eagerly fills hours earnestly furrowing brows about the very few truly horrific incidents; scare stories make great copy for lurid press headline writers desperate for sales; rent-a-quote politicians convince us there are drunks/paedos/gangs lurking behind every lamp post and under manhole covers just waiting to attack us; something must be done, so over-reactive laws are passed because the public - who have swallowed all this nonsense whole - demand it ... for the chiiildren.
Result? A climate of fear which keeps an entire generation insulated from any form of self-reliance and personal responsibility until secondary school or beyond.
And so it spirals downward. For risk-terrified children grow up into risk-terrified adults, and where the aforementioned grandparent is worried about her grandchild travelling on her own three years later than she did herself, one wonders how old the kids of 25 years hence will be before being allowed out on their own. Anywhere.
What makes one weep, though, is that there doesn't seem to be any way - or will, even - of reversing the process. We are destined to be forever frightened of state and media-created bogeymen - which actively derogate our lives - for the foreseeable future.
Now that is really scary.