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Tony Taylor
Tony Taylor
2 months ago

Councils’ cold, dead hand of public liability has ripped fun from childhood. Who hasn’t grown up to be a better person because of a wooden swing flush in the face or a rope burn from the climbing bars or a broken arm from those heavy spinning things? Those of us who survived childhood unscathed bar the stitches, anyway.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
2 months ago

Reading this article saddened me greatly, even though i knew what was being described was already known; the author has done so very deftly, linking not just child-play but also adult-play and our ability to find creative means of making our way in the world. It seems that’s precisely what’s being lost. It’s also incredibly important.
The ability to play is like a muscle and needs regular exercising to be maintained, throughout one’s life. I was fortunate as the youngest of four children to be able to wander around with my older siblings, until i then started to wander around on my own. This was a vitally formative experience, and i’ve carried the play-muscle forward not just into my employed working life but now having retired from formal employment but having taken up (or rather resumed) a highly creative activity.
Without the early experiences of ‘benign neglect’ i’m sure things would be different, and my world much more circumscribed. I shudder to think what our world will look like if humans lose the play-muscle. How do we go about regaining it? We’ve survived as a species by being creative, so regain it we must, or else.

Peter Lee
Peter Lee
2 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

Not sure it has affected children’s play and sports. My grandson is as involved in sports as I was, perhaps even more so, It is just that he has all this safety equipment. I do know however that the onus is on the parents and not the schools.

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
2 months ago
Reply to  Peter Lee

Sadly, the amount of kids getting involved in sport has plummeted in recent years.

Robbie K
Robbie K
2 months ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

I’m not sure about that – my local parks are regularly full of girls football teams, which was something unheard of only a few years ago.

Flibberti Gibbet
Flibberti Gibbet
2 months ago
Reply to  Robbie K

Your experience matches mine, I sometimes turn out early on winter weekends to watch the 12 year old granddaughter playing soccer in the local county league system. The January and February fixtures are tough on both the players and spectators.

Peter Lee
Peter Lee
2 months ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

The kids soccer programs and kids baseball programs still seem as popular as ever. The ice rinks are full and the ski slopes are busy. If it were the case that kids were not playing sports then this would have an almost immediate impact on the skill levels shown in professional sports and I have not seen that. I am talking from a canadian perspective, things may be different else where.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
2 months ago
Reply to  Peter Lee

It’s not about organised play (sport).

Peter Lee
Peter Lee
2 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

The article – It’s not about unorganised play It was about safety-ism.
As kids get older they move from play such as tag etc into more organised or team sports.

Robert
Robert
2 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

Exactly.

JP Shaw
JP Shaw
2 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

Also its not about being dropped off and picked up at the game. Its about the walk/bus home with your peers learning much along the way.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
2 months ago
Reply to  Peter Lee

What sort of unorganized activities does he engage in, the type that involve other kids and being outside in an unstructured environment?

Peter Lee
Peter Lee
2 months ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

Very little difference from myself 50years ago. Spending an inordinate amount of time in the swimming pool with other kids, spending lots of time when younger in the local park with other kids on the swings and slides and playing soccer in the park with a couple of jackets as goal posts. I think the thing that has affected kids play is not safety-ism but the cell phone.
But we seem to be talking at cross purposes, Adults always talked about the importance of organised sports and the development of team-work..

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
2 months ago
Reply to  Peter Lee

A few months ago my 28 year old broke his nose and got an absolutely glorious shiner playing football. Naturally I was delighted for him.

Lindsay S
Lindsay S
2 months ago
Reply to  Richard Craven

My daughter broke her nose attempting her first (and last) ramp on a skateboard
with my encouragement. I did feel terrible and it was really awkward explaining it to A&E, however I added that when it comes down to the stories to tell, breaking your nose in a skateboarding accident is far cooler then tripping over something and face planting.
There is a place for positive risk taking, absolutely. I would remind the author, however, that there have always been children who would rather stay in doing something else than play outside and we rarely complained about the child that would rather stay in and read. Roads might be safer but most are too busy for a game of curby and it’s also possible for kids to get bored of gaming, although when it is limited, it will always present an allure.
The biggest danger in helicopter parenting is that children are less likely to learn to trust their judgment. Probably why common sense is increasingly a super power.

Betsy Arehart
Betsy Arehart
2 months ago
Reply to  Lindsay S

I grew up in a small town in New Mexico. 55 or so years ago I cracked my arm riding falling off a banana seat bike while attempting a steep gully path. I had seen the boys do it and I wanted to try. I do not recall my mother receiving any lectures at the doc’s office when the cast was applied. Kids went out and did active things and sometimes they got hurt. My childhood was potentially dangerous and very free.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
2 months ago
Reply to  Peter Lee

Roads are statistically safer, not more dangerous than decades ago.

Peter Lee
Peter Lee
2 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Fisher

Thats because kids are not playing the streets anymore.

jf2023
jf2023
2 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Fisher

Indeed; and residential streets even more so in many countries. When my parents grew up in the 1960s it seemed like everyone had a classmate who’d been run over by a car while out playing. I wonder if these days it’s more about fear that the kids might irritate neighbors with noise, put a dent in a car or break a window. But pure safetyism certainly plays a role as well, with consequential fear that other parents might find one irresponsible for letting one’s kids roam free. I lived for many years in an area where the streets where entirely car free, plenty of kids living the in high-rises, but hardly anyone out playing except some from very large immigrant families cramped in relatively small apartments.

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
2 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

In my case, my parents used to “chuck us out” after lunch and told not us to come back until tea-time. There were always other kids around to play with (unsupervised) for the same reason.
It’s a shame more modern parents don’t do the same.

Jane H
Jane H
2 months ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

Home time was when the street lights came on!

Betsy Arehart
Betsy Arehart
2 months ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

My dad (b.1922) grew up in Madison Wisconsin on the edge of town. As children he and his brothers would be “out” all day long with no parental supervision. As far as I know they never got in trouble. This was the WWII generation.

N T
N T
2 months ago

preach!
if you were never to a hospital, as a child, with your parents in a panic, you were doing it wrong.
survival teaches you the most important thing that any child can learn: everyone else should be scared for you or scared of you. if they aren’t, you’re still doing it wrong.

Jane H
Jane H
2 months ago
Reply to  N T

I was never hospitalised as a child but roamed the woods, beaches, fields, exploring ‘up river’ and anywhere we fancied with my older brother who called me ‘tich’. I was a tomboy and wouldn’t abide even the slightest suggestion of lace on any prospective item of clothing. I don’t agree therefore that if you weren’t hospitalised as a child you were doing it wrong 🙂

Peter Lee
Peter Lee
2 months ago

This is not quite how I remember the advent of safety-ism.Yes it all started with stopping children playing in the mud, and loosing much of their immunity. but it very quickly became universal; affecting all cyclists, professionl sports, car with seat-belted drivers and school buses and the incredible proliferation of traffic lights. All of a sudden anything that had the slightest risk or danger needed a safety assessment and remedial action.
Then came Covid and we were all ripe for being locked up (sorry – down). I wonder whether safety-ism was prevalent in Sweden.
What is amazingly funny to behold (at least to me), is seeing all these teenagers walking around the streets, staring at their cell phones without a care in the world, even stopping in the middle of a cross-walk for an extra carefull look at their cell phone. Lucky for most of them that we have this safety-ism.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
2 months ago
Reply to  Peter Lee

Sweden actually had a lot of deaths per capita. They just sacrificed their older people, so young people could have a good time.

Dennis Roberts
Dennis Roberts
2 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

Or you could say they refused to damage their children to give the very old an extra few months.

I wasn’t anti-lockdown at the time, and given we knew little about deadly Covid was at the time it’s understandable it happened. But with hindsight would we really do that again? For Covid?

David Yetter
David Yetter
2 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

Look at the actual statistics. Sweden had a lower COVID death rate per capita than either the US or UK, and that without spoiling their children’s education or their economy with pointless lockdowns. It turns out the Great Barrington Declaration folk (heeded only by Sweden) got it right: protect the vulnerable and let everyone else get on with life.

Betsy Arehart
Betsy Arehart
2 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

Well, sorry, when push comes to shove, it’s better to “sacrifice” old people for the sake of the young (I am 68). With Covid, the young were sacrificed for the sake of the old.

Right-Wing Hippie
Right-Wing Hippie
2 months ago

I got stuck in a tree once for half an hour. I have no idea why I was up there; apparently it seemed like a good idea at the time. My parents had no issues with that sort of thing being a possibility, I guess, even though a fall from that height could have killed me.
I figured out how to get down okay.

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
2 months ago

We had woods out back when I was growing up. All the kids played in them, climbed trees, built tree forts. In March the woods would flood and we’d make rafts. Parents were barely even thought about until they dragged us in when it got dark.
It was glorious.

ChilblainEdwardOlmos
ChilblainEdwardOlmos
2 months ago

Free play teaches resilience, something that seems severely lacking in the new “adults”.

Dennis Roberts
Dennis Roberts
2 months ago

Interesting connection – I wonder if there are studies looking at whether the amount of time spent unsupervised outdoors with is linked with adult resilience?

William Brand
William Brand
2 months ago

Parents have been frightened by the media. Media showing stolen children on milk cartons stopped free play in its tracts. They are also afraid of the government. A free-range child’s home will often be visited by a government official who threatens to move the children to some foster home where life is hell.

Matt M
Matt M
2 months ago

My practical advice to new parents: 1. if you can move to a cul-de-sac. My daughter played unsupervised with kids of all ages on the street from four years old until she was at secondary school. 2. If you have a girl, take her horse riding. If she gets the bug, she will spend her days at the stable with other girls rather than on the internet. 3. If possible live near your parents or in-laws for mutual support. 4. Take your kids to church on Sundays when they are young – they have to contend with boredom, the congregation will adore and spoil them and they might just learn something. 5. Don’t divorced. It is the worst thing you can do to your kids.

Umm Spike
Umm Spike
2 months ago
Reply to  Matt M

Solid advice on all counts!

Bret Larson
Bret Larson
2 months ago
Reply to  Matt M

After multiple strokes my mothers companion was our 5 year old son. She couldn’t figure out how to get to the store to buy the morning paper or some chips, but the two of them together were up to the job.

Saul D
Saul D
2 months ago

I wonder if the idea of rough and tumble free play is more a boy-thing. Girls always seemed more cossetted and protected? It’s just now that we apply female standards to boys, so the complaint of lack of free play might be a mainly male thing?
But that also coincides with much higher diagnoses of ADHD in boys than girls. It leads me to wonder if boys need a different type of education to girls, purely based on their different physicality?
Which then leads to an observation that alumni of single-sex schools seem over-represented among the ‘great and the good’ – hmmm…? Which then leads to a wonder that, as society feminises, do we end up losing something latent, but important, if we push boys through a female mould?

Paul T
Paul T
2 months ago

Well in London we have loads of roads closed off for cyclists and kids like little Ptolemy and Scheherazade so they can play marbles on drain covers in the middle of roads that are still choked with cars from those lucky enough to live in the gated community. You still never see children playing out. The reason is because it never was about them but about the vanity of creating the world of 50 years ago (but not its actual real pollution and not the ever-tinier particles that have been found and which so far have no negative effects – but they are searching) and pretending it was better and is achievable and is actually what other people want. They, we, clearly don’t want it.

Caradog Wiliams
Caradog Wiliams
2 months ago

Once upon a time men and women married. As a sort of accident, a baby followed. This baby was just there; it had to be trained, clothed, sent to school, even played with. Perhaps there was love between parent and child, perhaps not. There was no kissing or hugging, just living.
Today you choose to have a baby and this will become the most important thing of life. Kissing and hugging happen all day because this is the most precious thing in the world – and must be protected from the world on a 24/7 basis. More an article of jewelry than a young human.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
2 months ago

It’s almost as if there is no middle ground. In the US, I see something different – babies in carriers, being hauled around like luggage, as if holding the child never entered the picture. I’ve seen the carriers put on the floor in restaurants in some cases, on a bench seat in others, but either way, that kid is not coming out of his suitcase.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
2 months ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

My bother lived in a affluent neighborhood outside Seattle back in the early nineties. The people next door had a four-year-old kid. He was on his deck one day, and the mother came out with the kid to play with their fancy new jungle Jim. The kid was wearing a helmet, knee pads and elbow pads. The poor thing could barely move let alone climb up the stairs. Tears and mumbles came and then a tantrum. My brother, a free-range child in the fifties, shook his head and thought the poor child would be a wreck by the time he was 16.

Karl Juhnke
Karl Juhnke
2 months ago

Karl Juhnke
Feminism has been trying to turn everyone into females for quite some time. The FLC has helped immensely and Capitalism capitalised of course. That’s what it does.

Mike Doyle
Mike Doyle
2 months ago

Indeed, explaining to the Doctor how you broke your 17 year old son’s little finger in a (blunt) knife fight was quite taxing.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
2 months ago

Frankly most children are too damned fat these days.
If you have the misfortune to visit an open air public swimming pool on a hot day, all you can see are the serried ranks of obese adolescent blobs, some even ‘relieving themselves’ in the said pool!

Sixty and more years ago they looked like little Olympic athletes, not an ounce of fat on any of them.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
2 months ago

The great irony is that the parents who took free range childhood for granted are the ones who killed it for their own kids. Every time we laugh at the snowflakes or the Millennials, it is important to keep in mind that they became who they are honestly. They are exactly who they have been raised to be, and changing them after the age of majority is a tough task.

Wyatt W
Wyatt W
2 months ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

Couldn’t agree more. I (26) grew up with motorsports, playing in the street, making up games, etc… My wife (21) grew up pretty sheltered, basically gated community, with smartphones, etc… She’s changed her views but it was hard for her to drop the idea of helicopter parenting and controlling every social interaction her kids have.

JĂŒrg Gassmann
JĂŒrg Gassmann
2 months ago

It is a problem.
One thing that worked for us when the boys were in their teens was to find a sport with a wide age-range of participants, where they could choose to mingle with their age cohorts, but the (friendly) competitions forced them to interact with older competitors. Their youth gave them an advantage in speed and agility, but older, even much older competitors had advantages in tactics and technique.
They also developed a keen sense of who deserved respect and was worth emulating … and who was a cautionary example.

Gordon Black
Gordon Black
2 months ago

My 0 to 12 childhood in a 1940’s Orkney farming community consisted of permanently skint elbows and knees, cuts, bruises, skelfs, burns, scalds, grazes, bites and stings (air land sea creatures), fechts with cauli-ears, jeely nose and black eyes: throw in almost zero hygiene (no electricity or piped water) and the result was a perfectly normal childhood giving us long, healthy lives. (This is NOT a montypythonesque Yorkshire sketch, it is absolutely true!)

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
2 months ago
Reply to  Gordon Black

Presumably with a little swimming in Scapa Flow?

Gordon Black
Gordon Black
2 months ago

Yes, and, like my walking, I have no memory of learning how to do it.

Rick Lawrence
Rick Lawrence
2 months ago

Shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted and the horse is long gone. Is there any way back?

Tom Condray
Tom Condray
2 months ago

A century, or more, ago bearing children almost certainly included dealing with loss. In my parents’ generation, which centered around the 20th Century’s late teens and early twenties, it was not at all unusual for one to have lost a sibling, or a cousin, to one of any number of afflictions that struck before the age of puberty. My mother’s family was unique in the neighborhood in having all eight children reach adulthood, although one suffered from cognitive issues that left him a ten year old for all his life.
Starting sometime in the 1970s or 80s people in the developed world began to have fewer children. For many married couples, two children were enough to manage, and provide the genuine sense of family that prods at least some people to create a new generation.
The smaller number of children per family meant that each child was that much more important to his parents. When you have only one, or two, children all the horror stories of illness and accident invariably create anxiety in parents. Who wouldn’t wish to ensure, insofar as it is possible, their single child, or only daughter and son, are safe and reach adulthood? When such emotional investments of love are restricted to one, or two, sources, why wouldn’t any rational person want to preserve that investment at all costs?
We are the victims of our own success, with smaller families inevitably leading to increasing restrictions on activities that place the children of those families at physical risk. It’s all well and good to say we should give our children more freedom. Trying to sell that idea to families with one, or two, children who read stories of tragic accidents taking the lives of unsupervised children is a quite a tough sell indeed.

Drew Gibson
Drew Gibson
2 months ago

This article should be studied by every parent, local councillor, teacher etc in the country. It should be posted on walls, given free prime air time on tv and radio and sent to every household and the occupants examined on its contents, with failure meaning immediate banishment into exile. Free ‘dangerous’ play is vital for children (and adults). We’ve killed it by organising it! Playing for a team in a league is not the same as playing in the park with coats for goal posts. It’s actully closer to work than play.
One of my most joyful experiences recently was when I noticed children playing in our street (actually a leafy cul-de-sac) for the first time in many years. One of the dads put up a sign on a lamp post asking drivers to take extra care because of children playing. When I started to talk with him about it, he thought I was complaining, actually I wanted him to make it bigger!
Let the kids play, play and play again!

Bret Larson
Bret Larson
2 months ago

Personally, all of the run ins with rabid dogs, police, gangs and the like probably had a good affect of preparing me for adulthood. I can’t imagine not being able to go to the park without a babysitter. The good news is that homeless are likely picking up some of the slack.

JĂŒrg Gassmann
JĂŒrg Gassmann
2 months ago

Anyone who has had children knows that keeping them alive is a full-time job. Yes, it is true, life skills come from good judgement of risk, and good judgement comes from lessons resulting from bad judgement … so long as it does not kill you.
Always, I firmly believe, parenting has involved exposing children to moderated risks. Yes, we sent the kids outside, but we were highly attentive to the noise outside – and total silence outside was a resounding alarm bell.
Parenting is about constantly widening the protective fence, ideally a step ahead of the kids realising there is a fence.
It’s a knuckle-busting ride.

Peter Lee
Peter Lee
2 months ago

I brought up three children and never gave it a second thought; thinking like yours has created this risk-adverse safety-ism. Lock them up in their bedrooms until they are eighteen.

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
2 months ago

One of my fondest memories of parenthood is of walking into my then 4 year old son’s nursery – he’s 28 now – to discover him rolling around on the floor in a very good-humoured playfight with another little urchin. Both were dressed up as policemen and giving a running commentary on who was winning/losing, which was amusing in itself, but what really cracked me up was the demeanour of the staff, who were all sitting in chairs around the edge of the room looking on with total relaxed indifference.

Brian Matthews
Brian Matthews
2 months ago

I’m reminded of the movie Stand By Me.
Like from a different galaxy. Even to make a movie about such things would probably be considered child abuse today.

Anne Humphreys
Anne Humphreys
2 months ago

“when roads are more regulated and safer than ever before” But that’s because kids aren’t allowed to room freely on them! As a child in the 70s I played on a nearby cul-de-sac and bicycled over the surrounding countryside for miles. It saddened me that in the early 2000s my sons could no go cycling like that on our local roads. My husband walked alone to his local primary school. Today’s drivers go faster on lanes and are far more intolerant of cyclists and horse riders. Roads are also busier – far too busy for young children to safely cross alone. So yes, roads are safer, but that is because the vulnerable stay off them!

Anne Humphreys
Anne Humphreys
2 months ago

Recently I have experimented with having a weekly day of rest – a sabbath. I was inspired by hearing Dennis Praeger speak about it. What has struck me as a result of this is that we adults never let ourselves play. Having a day where no work, nothing creative is allowed has left me free to be idle, to go for a walk, play games etc. Perhaps the lose of this experience has fed into the endless drive to make children’s lives “productive”?

Nell L
Nell L
2 months ago

The same has happened here in the US. My school’s policy when I started at 6 was that Mom was supposed to walk us to and from school the weekend before we started so we learned the way, and then the school expected us to walk alone on the first day. We were taught to be safe crossing streets and told not to talk to strangers. We played outside all the time on the weekends and in the summer holidays and the rule that every American kid knew was to make sure that you were home by the time the streetlights came on. We had the chance to explore the world on our own, we got lots of exercise, and our Moms had some time for themselves. The idea the this was “child abuse” is so common now among parents that it is the only reason that I am glad that I was not able to have children. I will never have to deal with the insanity of being prosecuted, as a local mom recently was, for letting my 12-year-old walk home alone from school.