Running Wild

One of the main things I do remember about growing up is the fact I was never stuck in the house (unless I wanted to be). I would be out playing with friends and running fairly wild without any parental neuroticism holding me back.

We lived opposite a recreation ground, and if I wasn’t over there jumping off swings at the top of the arc, I would be catching stickleback in the stream or climbing trees or making dens in the tall grass along the side of the stream, and generally getting muddy.When I was quite little I would play in the park while my mother kept half an eye on me from the living room window; as I got older I wandered all over the place with friends.

Obviously there were worries about cars but I was expected to understand how to cross a road safely so I did. I cycled on my own to visit friends who lived further away. In general the concept I am describing is “permission to wander”. Thinking back it would have been completely bizarre for children not to play out with friends.

As children we were told not to take sweets from strangers or get into their cars – amazing we survived. There were times when we weren’t allowed to go over to the Common because there was “a man in the bushes”, but after a few days it was OK again. I assumed he moved on to other horticultural pursuits.

This kind of activity I am describing is nowadays associated with more rural areas, I think. Where I live now, a small village, the children do still wander to a greater extent than in the market town nearby. But the lack of public transport makes it hard for them to wander too far. It also means they are driven by parents rather than having to manage for themselves on the bus, further increasing their dependency. This is not the fault of over-protective “helicopter” parents; it is a systemic failure of government to fund and encourage the development of sustainable public transport. In more urban areas the high volume of cars means that roads are now busier than ever, and a similar failure of public transport further contributes to the vicious cycle (no pun intended).

And yet did I let my children do it? Not much. I worried about traffic. Other parents worried about paedophiles, or gang culture, or whatever. It’s a strange world where we think it is better not to trust our children and to allow them to grow up so secluded and inexperienced that they don’t know how to manage on their own. I don’t think they are less able than I was; in fact I am sure they are considerably more able. The complexity and pace of life may have changed but the basic principles still work, and our basic needs remain the same.

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