Tuesday, 5 June 2007

Whole Days Throwing Sticks into Streams....

Towards the end of my previous post I listed reasons why the media might want to keep Madeleine's story prominent. One reason I forgot to include is that our media likes to scare us. This is clearly a tactic that sells. We don't see headlines such as: "Public healthier and living longer than ever" or "Our kids have never been safer". These headlines don't sell, despite their undoubted truth. It seems that people are largely interested in hearing about how dangerous the world is; it's as if this information gives some us perverse sense of security. We want to believe the worst and we can't be happy unless we're in a collective state of agitation.

I'm an exception to all this. It's true that I believe that we, as a race, are screwed. But this relates to the self-immolation that we will surely provoke in a short while by refusing to treat our planet with the respect it deserves. However, all that will happen with or without my permission and I'm quite relaxed about it. When it comes to safety on a local level I firmly believe that, in my part of the world at least, we are better off than ever before.

Okay, that's easy for me to say. I'm an adult male and although my demographic is more likely than any other to experience the effects of crime I'm confident enough to walk the streets without worrying. Maybe if I had a child to worry about then I'd think a bit differently. Well, it's true that I'd certainly be vigilant. But I'd like to think that I'd give my children a bit more freedom than is seen to be acceptable today.

This study really upsets me. I live next to an infant school and am well aware of the large amount of parents who take their children to school (often in SUVs but that's another matter) but I was astonished to learn that only 9% of kids walk to school on their own compared to 80% in 1970. There are loads of reasons for this but one of the main ones must be fear. If it's not fear of what might happen to one's child then it's fear of being labelled an irresponsible parent for letting that child out of one's sight for a few minutes. This is very sad. I can't find any official figures but would be very surprised if children were in any more danger from being attacked or abducted than they were 35 years ago. And there are half as many children killed in vehicle accidents every year than there were in 1922 despite there being 25 times more traffic on the roads.

It's now early June. It's warm outside and the sun doesn't go down until late. Next month the schools break up for six weeks. It's this time that was so fantastic to me as a child. I could play football in our close (no through traffic so the only danger was grazed knees and elbows and this happened frequently) or go cycling with my friends. We might meet at someone's house in the morning and spend all day doing exactly as we pleased. We would explore our environment and discover things and have the kind of fun that only a child can have and be home in time for tea. This no longer happens because their parents are scared. This means that there is an entire generation of children that are growing up having missed out on some of the most vital of formative experiences. Children no longer go out to play.

At some point there has to be a backlash. When today's kids get older and realise that they were cheated of a proper childhood then maybe there'll be a greater understanding of what children need. Maybe the next generation of children will consequently have more freedom. Yes, there are risks. But there will always be risks and these risks are minuscule compared to the rich experiences and life-lessons that can be learnt if children can just be given a little more space. A life spent wrapped in cotton wool is no life worth living and the climate that children are brought up in right now isn't a place to which I'm in any hurry to introduce anyone.

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