Monday, 5 August 2013

'Who lets their eight- to ten-year-old children out alone?'

It's the summer: cue the annual debate about how children should be spending it, and all the nostalgia for long 'Swallows and Amazons' type holidays of unsupervised play. This article in particular caught my eye, from Barbara Ellen in The Guardian.

A report from the Future Foundation says that the average amount for eight- to 10-year-olds playing unsupervised in the summer holidays has fallen from 55 "occasions" in the 1950s and 1960s to 24 now. Cue parental nostalgia for their own unsupervised summer holidays.
I'm amazed by those figures. Who is letting their eight- to 10-year-olds go out alone 24 times during summer? And when would it be convenient to send the social services around?
I had those textbook childhood summers: running around, picking berries, making dens. Think Famous Five, only without the money or the casual racism. All of us went out in the morning and weren't expected back until … well, you just weren't expected back, except when driven home by hunger. Some would call it priceless formative freedom, others outright neglect; it didn't matter because everyone did it.
But that was then and this is now.

That's very much my own recollection of childhood… when we weren't on a family holiday, from an early age I would be out on the estate or further afield and I wasn't expected back in a hurry. Now with my own kids, aged 6 and 9, they tend to be on day trips with my wife or myself (or both), or at the childminders, or at some holiday club or other. They have not yet been out unsupervised.

I know plenty of boys from my nine-year-old's class who do go down the park on their own, and I'm certainly not about to send social services around. But I can't quite put my finger on why I haven't yet afforded my own son that opportunity. I know he must be on the cusp of it, and I know it's not 'increased traffic' or 'stranger danger' that are putting me off.

Maybe if he was pushing for it more himself I would be forced into a decision. But for now he seems more than happy hanging about with us 'old and boring, increasingly superfluous' folks.

Perhaps that's not the point, and that I need to cut the apron strings for his own good. Barbara Ellen concludes:

Whenever people trot out their lists of what children need (security, self-expression, discipline etc), there's never mention of one of the most important – privacy. Basically, there's too much parental ego flying around. Modern parents need to learn that it is not all about them, centre-stage, being great hands-on parents. Sometimes, it is about parents butting out. 

What do you think? At what age and in what circumstances is it best to butt out?

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