As a person who grew up building cubbies, climbing trees and ‘farming’ the neighbour’s weeds, I was struck by the Atlantic’s article ‘The Overprotected Kid‘. The media moan about kids being cosseted is a familiar one, but this article is more practical, contrasting modern children’s limited freedom with the much less supervised childhoods of a generation or two before.
The author, Hanna Rosin, argues that “A preoccupation with safety has stripped childhood of independence, risk taking, and discovery”. An example:
It’s hard to absorb how much childhood norms have shifted in just one generation. Actions that would have been considered paranoid in the ’70s—walking third-graders to school, forbidding your kid to play ball in the street, going down the slide with your child in your lap—are now routine. In fact, they are the markers of good, responsible parenting. One very thorough study of “children’s independent mobility,” conducted in urban, suburban, and rural neighborhoods in the U.K., shows that in 1971, 80 percent of third-graders walked to school alone. By 1990, that measure had dropped to 9 percent, and now it’s even lower.
My experiences as a kid suggest she’s right. My sister, neighbours and I spent our pre-teen years building playgrounds from fruit packing crates and got to know the area on our bikes, disappearing to only-we-knew-where for hours on end. In doing so, we became more confident in our own ideas and abilities, learnt more about our limits and figured out what type of work really interested us (And yes, we worked! You try building a three story cubby – it’s even more work when you’re too small for all the tools).
I expect my parents found some peace of mind in the fact that we lived in a fairly tight-knit country community, but in hindsight I have a lot of respect for the effort they took to encourage our freedom.
When I start my journey as a parent (one day in the far flung future!), I hope I’ll have resources like the Free Range Kid community and friends and family who’ll support me to bring my kids up so that they have the same opportunities as I did to make mistakes, create great things and learn who they are by experimenting with the world.
Also, the new and less organised playgrounds mentioned in the article sound AMAZING! I want to play there even now I’m an adult.