Childhood isn’t what it used to be. When we think back to our own upbringing, many of us will have fond memories of walking to school and riding our bikes in the park. But for many of our own children there isn’t the same freedom to play and just be kids without parental supervision. Society has seen levels of protective parenting rise over the years and one of the big questions of our times is whether we’re actually on the brink of spoiling our children’s childhoods through over-parenting.
It’s natural for parents to react in a protective way in the face of more frequent fear-inducing news reports about vulnerable children and the breakdown of communities where we no longer know our neighbors all that well. Cultural expectations about what we allow and don’t allow our children to do are completely different than what they were 30 years ago.
However, what may surprise you is that figures show it’s actually safer to play outside now than it was then. Violent crime against children has decreased, but even though there are fewer incidents they get much more attention from the press, creating the illusion that we actually live in more dangerous times.
However, as parents increasingly worry about their children’s safety and restrict them from going outside without an adult, we’re changing our children forever too. Nowadays our children are inside the house more than we ever were which is leading to more screen time and less exercise. This in turn creates health problems and means that our kids just aren’t getting as much time outdoors as they should be.
This situation is what’s given rise to a new trend called “free-range parenting,” which gives children the freedom to be outside on their own without adult supervision and without the parents fretting whenever their children are out of sight. For many, this kind of parenting seems incomprehensible and there has certainly been a backlash against it. Most recently in the U.S., parents allowed their children aged 6 and 10 to walk home from the park together. The children were picked up by the police and taken to the Children’s Protective Services, and the parents were labeled as “neglectful.”
But is supporting your children’s independence and trusting in your local area in that way neglectful? And is it better or worse than so-called “helicopter” parents who hover over their children on the climbing frame? We all have different perceptions of what defines good and bad parenting, and it’s up to us as individuals and as family units to decide what is best for our families. Perhaps there is a better middle ground where we can strike a balance between encouraging our children to be independent but also ensuring that they are as safe as possible.
What we really need to think about, no matter what our parenting style is, is whether our children’s lifestyle is one that’s happy, healthy and active. Many parents are struggling to find ways to avoid their children over-using handheld gadgets and the great outdoors is the perfect remedy to the unsociable “Minecraft generation.”
Children need 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical exercise per day to keep fit, and ideally three or four weekly afternoon or evening play opportunities. There are countless benefits of outdoor play and as parents, we have a responsibility to provide our children with play opportunities, whether they are supervised or not.
If we can all find a way and a time to reconnect with nature, then it will be beneficial to everyone.
Bio: Sam Flatman is a dad of two, living in Bristol. He believes that outdoor learning is an essential part of child development, and is currently an Educational Consultant for Pentagon Sport.