The following map was tweeted on Twitter this morning. It purports to show the difference in freedom allowed kids when, say, I was young and today:
There was no source given for this map so who knows whether it is accurate. However, from my own general knowledge it seems about right. However, in large parts of North America, at least, the son today would not be allowed outside his own yard, let alone to the end of the street.
When I was eight in 1957 (to use the same indicator as the maps), I walked alone a couple of miles each day through the roughest of London neighbourhoods to get to school and learned much of interest and usefulness by doing so. On the weekends, my pals and I would explore the still-existing bombsites across town. Often we would walk a mile or so down to the Thames where we paddled in the muck and climbed aboard “dangerous” barges. I only remember one kid breaking his leg falling into a hold, and although I had my stomach pumped a few times after swimming in what was then a horribly polluted river, it didn’t seem such a bad thing, and added to one’s street cred at school the next day.
Yes, there were murderers back then, and pedophiles and evil characters — the slums of London in the early 50s were a tough town — but we learned how to run, how to gauge trust, how to fight, how to scream and, most important perhaps, how to avoid serious trouble. I cannot imagine but that this freedom to wander didn’t add to my sense of self-esteem, confidence, and general knowledge about life and safety. I know it made me into a more independent and intelligent human being.
I have written before about today’s aversion to dirt and the concurrent rise in childhood illnesses and allergies (here and here), and I see this over-protectiveness as part of the same societal malaise. A lot of parents, I believe, are concerned about what others will think of them if their kids get dirty or scrap their knee. The child’s safety is often just a cover for their own insecurities.
Let kids be kids, give them the freedom to learn, to get hurt once in a while, to make judgements about situations. They will be all the better for it.