|Image: Pink Sherbet Photography|
Sometimes we would leave just after lunch, only to come back for dinner. I remember another time, my brother, my neighbors and me were having so much fun playing in the fields behind our block, we only arrived after dark. My mom got angry at us because she didn’t know where we were. But that was it. She still allowed us to go where we wanted, as long as we came back before dark.
But even after dark, our parents didn’t fear. We have this tradition that is quite similar to trick or treating. Kids get dressed up and go from door to door. We used to do that unsupervised, and we’d stay away for hours. That was just my brother, me and a neighbors’ kid. My brother could have been no more then 12, which means I was not yet ten years old.
But when I was about 13, we had the Dutroux case. Young girls started disappearing and turned up dead. Fear of pedophiles got embedded into peoples minds and children were no longer safe on the streets. Not even in small towns or in broad daylight.
Another attack at the free range child came from a totally different angle. Noise! Suddenly out of the blue, class actions started appearing resulting in playgrounds being closed down, on account of being a nuisance.
Two more factors eroded the child’s roaming freedom: open space is becoming scarse. New constructions pop up everywhere you turn. The plots where we used to play in our childhood have become residential areas. What used to be farm land and protected natural ground is being transformed into building sites.
Traffic has become more dense. Even if you live in a quiet area, if there’s concrete on your street, no child will play carefree or be spared the sickening exhaust fumes of cars.
Children are being taken out of the public view, and become more and more isolated, locked inside houses, daycare centers, indoor playgrounds. To the extent that some kids have never even seen a cow and think the purple Milka cow is an accurate representation.
Nowadays, if they are lucky, they get to play in the garden, which of course is nicely closed off from the world. If possible with a wall and some barb wire. If the rare occasion presents itself that a child has to take a trip outside, unsupervised, then he gets an electronic chip implanted in his arm, a GPS stuffed in his backpack and a cell phone in his hand.
To the extent that children are being shunned from society. You can hardly go to a restaurant or a shop with a child without people looking at you funny. And heaven forbid that child makes a little rubble!
What kind of children are we creating? Will they be able to enjoy life? Enjoy nature? Are we creating tiny agoraphobics or antisocial snails? Isn’t this fear excessive? How much pleasure do we steal away from our kids in having them lead a sheltered, overprotected life? How to find the middle ground? With so many dangers out there, can we still be carefree?
I’m so happy my family had the luxury to choose a lifestyle where our children will still be able to roam free and enjoy nature. My best childhood memories are of times when I was lost in nature and far away from supervision, probably doing things that weren’t very kosher. How about you? Do you let your children roam free? Are you afraid of what might happen?