Later On

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Increasingly restricted childhoods

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Comparison of sizes of areas for independent play over 4 generations in one family:

The graphic above is from this story by David Derbyshire in the Mail of 15 June 2007, on how children have lost the right to roam independently. It is referenced in this intriguing article in Salon by Will Doig on how a plummeting crime rate seems to have increased, rather than decreased, allowing children independence in their neighborhoods. Doig’s article begins:

When Lenore Skenazy was growing up in Wilmette, Ill., in the 1960s, she routinely walked the four blocks between her home and her kindergarten all by herself. She knew to stay safe near traffic and not go anywhere with a stranger. And to help her cross the street was a friendly crossing guard — a sixth-grader named Joey. “For the record, I ended up marrying him,” she laughs.

That a kindergartner was allowed to toddle four blocks without adult supervision seems extraordinary now, even though cities are at least as safe for children today as they were then. Crime is at a 40-year low. The percentage of kids fatally hit by cars has been dropping for decades. And the child abductors that leer from every corner are tabloid fantasy — only about 100 kids,out of tens of millions, are kidnapped in public by a stranger each year.

So naturally, children can now be found romping unsupervised throughout our neighborhoods, acquiring the intuition, resourcefulness and sense of independence that such a childhood provides, right?

Actually, no. In the time since Skenazy walked off to kindergarten alone, the number of children that can be found in public without supervision has only diminished. In one survey, 85 percent of mothers said they allowed their kids outside unsupervised less frequently than they themselves were allowed.In Britain, the average age of children allowed to play outside adult-free has risen by more than a year since the ’70s, and 25 percent of 8- to 10-year-olds have never played outside without an adult. . .

Continue reading, but fair warning: it’s a bit depressing. For example, just one paragraph later in the article:

. . . The UCLA study also details the differences between how kids get to school in Japan and the United States. Whereas half of all American kids now get dropped off by private car, that practice is banned at public schools in Japan, and even school buses are rare. Instead, the money is spent on crossing guards and an enviable pedestrian infrastructure. Children as young as 5, in a choreographed daily routine, arrive at each other’s homes, one by two by three. Once a critical mass has formed, they walk the route as a group (in adorable yellow hats, no less).

Compare that to the U.S., where the anecdotes about unsupervised kids being caught in the net of paranoid parenting are as laughable as they are depressing: the Davidson, N.C., school that ended its long tradition of fifth graders walking to the village green over “concerns about safety”; the Pittsburgh dad who was charged with child endangerment for letting his 9- and 6-year-olds play in a park; the Florida community thatbanned anyone under 18 from being outdoors without a chaperone.

“It’s almost a suburbanization of cities,” says Skenazy. “The idea that we should keep kids in cars and hover at the park and be with them 24/7 — it started in the suburbs and became the norm for parenting.” . . .

And an interesting factoid:

. . . It says something that we perceive walking down the street to be a greater risk to kids than speeding along in two tons of steel and glass, when in actuality, four-fifths of kids killed by cars are in those cars. No parent, however, is going to be accused of endangering their child by driving them to school, but the parent who lets them walk might be — the fear of being judged by other parents looms large. As does the fear of liability on the part of these schools and cities. . .

Written by Leisureguy

22 July 2012 at 9:50 am

Posted in Daily life

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