I have been thinking a lot today about my childhood experiences of unsupervised play – after seeing this news story on the BBC.
This is well timed for us as P is now ten and we’re trying to let her have the independence she needs while taking sensible precautions. But I am very much aware of the shift in culture since my own childhood. It makes me sad. Here are a few of the experiences I’d never have had if I hadn’t been allowed to play unsupervised until I was fourteen.
Sitting on the pavement singing, with Sarah, when we were eleven.
Making our base camp in the forbidden area of the park, beyond the big slide and over the fence. This was called (inexplicably!) ‘Cool for Cats’ and all we ever did was sit there and enjoy the thrill of being in the forbidden zone. This was all the rage when I was ten.
Combining all my money with all of Alison’s and going down to KFC together. We were 1/2p short of what we needed and the guy let us have our drinks and chips anyway. I think we were twelve.
Playing on the site of the demolished house – with a whole gang of kids. This was probably dangerous as there were holes and a fantastic set of stone steps that went nowhere. We found bits of broken china and glass and I hoped we’d find a machine gun or hole in time. We didn’t. I think we were somewhere between ten and twelve.
Lobbing rocks into the big muddy puddle and wading in to get them back – feeling the icy water filling up my wellies. This was with Hannah, and I think I was about nine. We were ‘up the cricket pitch’ – maybe three minutes from her house, but still ‘unsupervised’.
Riding round and round the block one long summer evening, as the sun set and the air chilled. I was alone and loving it. I think I was probably eight or nine.
I don’t know what has changed. There are more cars, of course, but in this town it is actually easier to be a pedestrian than it was when I was a child. Most of the major roads have several safe crossing points and many areas have traffic calming. There is more fear of accidents (not road, just in general) involving children, than when I was a child. But we had much more hazardous play equipment! There is a lot of fear of predatory adults. I’m not dismissive of that but there is no evidence that there is a greater threat than ever there was.
So, why? Why are we all so scared? I had bad experiences as a child – I don’t deny it. But probably the most dangerous situation I was ever in was with a teacher in a school, not playing out with my friends. So, how do we decide what is safe? And how do we make sure our children don’t feel watched all the time? I’d be really interested to hear what other people think about this issue.