Friday, 28 May 2010

Allowing Kids Independence Is Not Child Abuse

As anyone who has ever scrolled through the overwhelmingly turgid drivel at CiF will tell you, it's the cyber equivalent of wading through waist-high treacle. So when an item of dazzling enlightenment pops up there, the joy at finding it is all the more intense.

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?

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.
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.

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.”

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?

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?"
Funny she should mention that.



Man with Many Chins said...

I bet the righteous would be horrified that I take my 7 year old son on the back of my motorbike.

Quite predictably he loves it!

JJ said... many people have suffered heart attacks through lack of teeth cleaning - eh?

Curmudgeon said...

I was discussing this at work the other day. The general consensus was that kids shouldn't be allowed to go to and from school on their own until they reached secondary school age, or maybe at a pinch 9 or 10. Yet I remember going to school on my own in the 1960s at the age of 6. We even, until it was withdrawn, had a school bus to take kids home for lunch and back again - something unthinkable today.

Corrugated Soundbite said...

There are one or two Righteous where I work. Very confused people (they seem to be Righteous due to too much exposure to the BBC, as opposed to any kind of vested interest).

When I mentioned that kids should be allowed to kick a ball around in the park, or go out on little adventures on their bikes as I used to when I was a child, I was blasted as someone who "wants children to have accidents". Someone who wants them to be abducted and molested by paedophiles. My initial reply was that when you run over a rock once on your bike, fall off and graze your knees and wrists, you generally pay more attention in future, thus becoming more aware of obstacles in general and you are in fact reducing the risk of further grazed knees and wrists.

When I suggested after her kiddy fiddler point that convicted paedophiles should be removed from society for a very very long time, I was blasted as someone who didn't want an "inclusive society that rehabilitates people out in the open". I retorted as to what this Righteous suggested an "inclusive society" was, and if that included children being couped up indoors, in cars, and in institutionalised buildings all day, every day, as opposed to spending a bit of free time developing social skills with their friends in a less supervised envirnoment. I questioned as to what was worse; very occasional grazed knees or the lifelong physical and psychological scarring inflicted by the nowhere-near-as-common-as-she-thinks paedos she wants "included" back into wider society. Cue glazed stare.

The real Righteous and our political Elite of course know this is all bollocks aimed at keeping people scared, divided and indoors (apart from when they're out spending). This ridiculous lot who toe the line don't have a thought in their heads between them. I've almost given up on trying to un-re-educate them.

Roue le Jour said...

"But those are the exceptions. That’s why they make it to the news."

A point which can't be made often enough. Events only make it to the news because they are rare. Therefore, counter-intuitively, anything the news warns you about can be pretty much ignored.

JuliaM said...

"Yet I remember going to school on my own in the 1960s at the age of 6."

Whenever I take a Tube journey into London with my mother, she never fails to tell me how she used to travel on it to school on her own, a journey that would be unthinkable for modern parents...

"This ridiculous lot who toe the line don't have a thought in their heads between them."

Working as intended...

DaveA said...

Living in Hackney at the time my daughter was allowed down to the shops from the age of 8.

I was at a barbecue in the afternoon and my then 5 year son when my back was turned, decided to exhibit some independence and set off to find his daytime carer. So after crossing 2 roads and walking 500 yards he knocked on her door. He must have tremendous spatial awareness.

After a don't panic Mr. Mainwaring moment I was just about to set out and scour the streets, phone the police and write to the Daily Mail. Just leaving the front door he had led his carer back to where we were.

What is even more remarkable is has Downs Syndrome.

Anonymous said...

Pure nostalgia but only the other day I was looking up some of my heroes at Brentford Football Club in the 1940s when boys from my road travelled by tube to watch them at Griffin Park. A twopenny iced bun was a treat as we raced back to South Ealing station on our way home in the twilight (change at Acton Town). I was about eight or nine when this began. None of us was more than 11 or 12. I don't think the war was quite over when we started supporting Brentford. We also had our own football and cricket teams, named the Whitton Avenue Wanderers, and we organised matches against neighbouring roads which we played at the nearest park which was about 25 minutes walk away. Oh, and Billy Gorman, bald and brilliant right back for Brentford, I read that you are no longer with us, but thank you for sending me the team autographs. People said you always answered letters and they were right. Memories too of right winger Dai Hopkins and centre forward Fred Durrant and goalkeeper Joe Crozier and.....and now I'm 74.

Sadly, to be fair, I have to say as a postscript, that when my own children were at primary school in the 1970s I sent them out to play in the long grass of a sunny field one hot summer's day, and they came back very quickly to say that a strange man had approached them. They didn't go out again on their own.

Dick Puddlecote said...

Great comments and anecdotes. :-)

Fanshawe: Your experience in the 1970s is sad, but what parents seem to have lost sight of is that, as Corrugated Sounbite says, these instances are extremely rare.

What's the sayiong? Shit happens? Well, for the overwhelming majority of the time ... it doesn't. The loss of freedom, fun and independence, though, is vast and damaging to family life as well as the karma of the country in general IMO.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you about the sad loss to modern children of liberty and fun, Dick. Looking again at the William books I marvel at the freedoms which were accepted as normal for children in the 1940s. And the naval officer father of the Swallows and Amazons family allowed his seven-year-old to go sailing with the famous telegram: BETTER DROWNED THAN DUFFERS IF NOT DUFFERS WON'T DROWN.
My wife, reading some of this thread, comments that conditions were somewhat different 60 odd years ago. Few people had cars or even drove. People didn't move about much. Anyone who was a bit dodgy in the neighbourhood was well-known in the community and the children, who played in quite large groups, steered clear of them, even regarding the odd flasher as a bit of a joke. Above all, adults looked out for children and would not have been afraid to intervene if they saw any child in danger of any kind. Another Brentford memory: of small boys being passed down by the packed crowd over their heads so they could see more at the front of the terrace.

So where can we go from here?