As the school summer holidays draw to a close, I think wifey has done brilliantly well with 3 kids and 6 weeks to fill. She was pretty much spot on when she described a trip like a Famous 5 story. I was a huge Famous 5 fan when I was a kid, I even belonged to a book club that meant every 6 weeks I got a two story hardback volume of Enid Blyton’s favourite.
In case you’re not familiar with the Famous 5, they were a group of cousins that met up in the school holidays and had adventures. Sometimes they went camping, sometimes they went to stay with relatives but more or less they roamed the countryside with minimal adult intervention. Julian, the oldest, was 11 when the books started. How I longed to be as old as Julian and have adults listen to me and take my opinions seriously. Hilariously I’m 37 now and still long for people to take my opinions seriously.
Obviously, being set in the 1940’s, the Famous 5’s world was a very different place to today. When I grew up and was reading the books in the early 80’s, their world was very idyllic and out of touch with the current times. Even so, moral panics* are continuing their ever upward spiral, especially in relation to children, which means we’re increasingly molly-coddling our kids to a degree that’s unhelpful to them. For example, I often go for a stroll with someone from work at lunchtime to get out of the office. He’s actually sorting his son’s accommodation for the final year of his degree out at the moment. Go back 20 years and I did it all myself from year one and frankly if I can do it, anyone can. Or they learn the hard way. I don’t think we’re equipping kids for life in the real world at times.
The story, related to me by another of my work colleagues, that prompted me to worry about all of this relates to the secondary school that his daughter has just started. They operate a cashless canteen. The parents load money into an account via the internet. The child picks their lunch and pays via a thumb print scanner. Short of cutting someone’s thumb off or stealing their food, lunch money is safe. No, I’m not going to make a point about teaching kids to be responsible with money**, I’m going to tell you that the till system actually logs what the kids have for lunch and makes it available to their parents on the internet. Is that level of surveillance really necessary?!
In 1971, 80 per cent of seven and eight-year-olds travelled to school alone, by 1990, the figure had fallen to just 9 per cent. Lord knows what it is now but given they had 4×4 owners justifying a one mile drive on BBC Breakfast over the weekend, I suspect it’s even lower. According to something I was reading on iVillage,
There are 11 million children in the UK, and around 60 successful attempts to abduct a child are made by strangers each year. This figure has not suddenly increased in recent years. Of the few abduction cases that do happen, almost all are carried out by estranged parents and not strangers.
That’s a 1 in 183,000 chance. Compare this with the chance of your child getting cancer: 1 in 7,000. Your child is 26 times more likely to get cancer than to be abducted by a stranger. It’s all about managing risk really but it’s hard to do this when the subject matter, our kids, is so emotive. The moral panic over child abduction is ruining our kids attempts to grow up and learn how to be independent. Yes, take sensible precautions but think about whether they are really sensible or just a little over the top.
I struggle to find a happy middle ground to let our kids learn about how to be responsible. I know they’ll never be allowed to get away with the sort of things I did*** but there has to be a happy middle ground where they can learn to do things for themselves.
* child abduction and murder rates have been fairly static for decades now.
**I used to have a packed lunch but from about the second year, I used to sell the whole thing to Mark Giltrow. Coupled with my bus fare home money, which I saved by walking two miles, this made me rich beyond the dreams of Mammon.
*** I was technically allowed to cycle to the end of the street but in reality often made it up to ten miles away from home, up trees, down storm drains, playing with matches, climbing fences and so on. Don’t tell my mum, she is still oblivious.