I’ve seen this article , published by the UK newspaper The Daily Mail, popping up all over the place on the internet lately, and it always makes me pause. The article describes a report published by Natural England and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds that looks at the distance from home that subsequent generations of children were allowed to wander on their own. As you can see in the illustration, which shows the range of children in four generations of the same family, kids today are lucky to be able to wander a few hundred yards from their own front doors, compared to the range of several miles that their great-grandparents were allowed.
This hits home. Every time I think about my own son and where I’ll allow him to go, I wonder if I can manage to be as permissive as I want to be. As a child, I lived in a rural setting surrounded by fields and woods. I often wandered by myself in our own yard and the hayfields bordering it. As I got older, I rode my bike a few miles to friends’ houses, or went on long nature walks into the woods near my home. Now, my family lives in a more suburban environment with a lot of traffic. I can’t say I’m comfortable with the kiddo wandering very far on his own. If we lived in a wilder place I would want him to have the kinds of adventures I did, but it still makes me nervous.
In Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv documented research that showed that the dangers of children being abducted or molested have not increased in the last 50 years, but the media hype associated with them has, and this is one of the main reasons parents restrict children’s movements. I would add concern about injury and getting lost to this, even though I know that as a kid I rarely lost my way, and only sustained minor injuries during my wanderings. But what if can be a nerve-wracking thought.
Where we live is not very kid-friendly. There is a playground within walking distance, but to get there you have to cross a busy road. There are no sidewalks. A lot of other parks in our area have rules about how old children have to be to go there by themselves, and I expect I’d get a call from the police if I let my son play on his own. Our society has created so many barriers to children’s’ freedom, it seems like fighting a losing battle. I think my family is going to have to set some priorities, and decide if the convenience of our current location is enough. I think we are going to have to head to the woods if we want the kiddo to have the same kinds of independent experiences we had when we were young.