The Unobserved Child
Many years ago, I knew a man who claimed that all that was needed to keep young kids amused was a few tin cans and some stones and rocks. Although I laughed at the time, I am starting to agree with him.
A woman in USA (Lenore Skenazy) was labelled ‘USA’s Worst Mom’ because she let her nine-year-old child travel on the train by himself. She later wrote a book titled, ‘Free Range Kids’.
There seems to be an emerging, though small, movement of people who are concerned about the way children are continually watched over and over-protected nowadays.
I think it was Professor Paul Tranter of the University of New South Wales who coined the phrase ‘the unobserved child’. He and others claim that children who walk to school, and are exposed to nature, outdoors, weather and friendships are the lucky kids.
Nature (outdoor) play has been replaced with ‘playing’ inside, which supposedly keeps the children safe.
In fact, children who play outside, unobserved, are the kids who end up healthy, creative, happy and independent. Very rarely are they overweight, nor do they suffer from other diseases and conditions brought about by inactivity.
I consider myself most fortunate to have lived the life of an unobserved child.
Of course that was many decades ago and “things” were different then. Mothers often did not even own cars, let alone drive children to school and back each day.
We walked to school, often moaning about it during hot or rainy weather, but kept on walking. We walked to the bus stop and travelled by bus on our own or with siblings and friends.
We played outdoors in every spare moment and we mingled with other kids (and dogs!) in our neighbourhood. We even caught the train to the public swimming pool and swam and splashed around nearly all day, without a parent in sight! Would our mother be lampooned (or even arrested) today for allowing us to do this?
My life was a little different. As the second born in a family of five children, my mother did not have time to be a “helicopter parent”, to spend all her time hovering over her kids – well certainly not the older two!
And, as the middle child in our family was disabled and needed extra care, it made it even easier for me and my older sister to escape and make our own fun.
We went to the park, without an adult. We went to the shops, without an adult. We climbed trees, we explored vacant blocks of land and clambered all over half-built houses. We looked for spiders inside curled-up leaves. We rode bikes, without helmets and careered down roadways in ‘billy-carts’; all without parents around. And we survived. Sure, there was the odd broken arm and the occasional nasty bleeding knee, but nothing too serious.
I am happy to say that I think I gave my own children the experience of being ‘free range’. I hope they appreciated it!
How sad it is today for children to not have the freedom allowed previous generations of kids. What will be the consequences of this different childhood life-style?
This different childhood, with scant experience outside the home - and the constant cocooning inside the family car?
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I choose to comment on social issues and write creatively on a variety of subjects - for a variety of audiences.