Kids have never been more supervised, or more anxious. So, is it time to back off?
When I was eight I would wake up on a Saturday morning and, after watching Hey Hey it’s Saturday on our one and only TV, I would say good-bye to my Mum and Dad and disappear into the bush behind our house. My friends Susan and Kate and I would spend hours riding bikes, scaling rocks, exploring the cliff fields. We would return for lunch (occasionally) and spend the afternoons roaming the neighbourhood only to return for dinner.
One of the mothers, Mrs Pimfrey, used to actually ring a gold school bell when it was time for her kids to come in. We all knew it signalled 5.30pm. We would tumble home with promises to meet up straight after breakfast the next day.
They were golden days, long and uncomplicated. There were no screens, no Tupperware containers of crackers, no helmets and most differently no supervision. We were safe. No one doubted that.
When I tell my children about it they can’t fathom being allowed to wander with only the eyes of the older brothers and sisters to watch over us. They ask me what happened if someone fell over (we got back up) and weren’t we scared? (it never occurred to us) and where WERE our parents? (I’ll have to ask my mum the answer to that one). It sounds to them like a different universe. Not just a different generation.
The nostalgia of your childhood, though, is sometimes one you doubt. Were we really unsupervised? Were we really allowed to cross the streets alone? Were we really allowed to take 20c down to the corner store to buy a bag of Cobbers and a Wizz Fizz? Well, yes, we were.
“It’s hard to absorb how much childhood norms have shifted in just one generation,” said Hanna Rosin in her remarkable essay in The Atlantic last week. The in-depth essay examined our pre-occupation with our children’s safety and questioned whether we were stripping our children of independence and risk taking to their detriment.
In the article Rosin wrote of how sheltered our children are. “When my daughter was about 10, my husband suddenly realized that in her whole life, she had probably not spent more than 10 minutes unsupervised by an adult. Not 10 minutes in 10 years.”