Monday, 10 August 2015

Setting Britain's children free is surely a revolution we can all support

At some level we always knew it was true, that modern children are less free than those of us who grew up in the seventies and earlier were. Now it has been proved through scientific research.

Academics at the University of Westminster have ranked England in seventh place for parents giving their children the freedom to roam, based on a survey of 18,000 seven to eighteen year olds.

Amongst the things striking fear into parental hearts are letting their children cross main roads, cycling in traffic and being out alone after dark.

The survey says, quoted on the BBC News website 'even the oldest children are restricted in what they are allowed to do.'

Unsurprisingly perhaps the free-wheeling Finns top the table for letting their children run free with the Germans coming a surprise second.

The survey found that just 28% of youngsters in England travel to and from school on their own and even at secondary school age only 25% are allowed out alone after dark.

Ben Shaw of the Policy Studies Institute told the BBC 'obviously we've got to protect children but part of their development is that we allow them to gain independence.'

Too true; almost every problem relating to modern childhood stems from it having been transformed from an obstacle race survived by the lucky into a cocoon that smothers in the name of protection.

When children played outside obesity was almost unknown, exercise burnt off the excess energy behind all but the worst bad behaviour.

What went wrong? The private motor car turned suburban roads into rat runs, hyperactive tabloid scaremongering put a malicious stranger in every shadow.

The end result is two or more generations of young people who, if their families can scrape together the cash, live cloistered lives where they are shuttled between school and organised activities.

This has made our young people fatter, less happy and more lonely than previous generations and, perversely less safe. Sooner or later the apron strings have to be cut and they are tipped out unprepared into a world that is seldom kind to innocents.

What is to be done? We need to stop thinking of our towns and cities as places where people are warehoused; and start thinking about them as communities again.

There needs to be serious investment in public transport so that owning a car is made impractical. Something that, incidentally, would make most Britons richer, healthier and less stressed whether they've got kids or not.

More needs to be done to get kids walking to and from school and once they're there to get them doing their learning outside.

All this sounds like starry eyed idealism, the province of well meaning people who wear dungarees and knit their own beards. That's a bad thing?

The Labour Party is starting to look fondly at its core principles as touchstones for making policy rather than amusing artefacts; the Greens have always advocated better public transport, and cities designed on a human scale.

If there really is a wind of change blowing through the dusty halls of politics shouldn't the youngest in our society benefit? Setting our children free is surely a revolution we can all support.

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