Martin Summerhayes (martinsummerhay) wrote,
Martin Summerhayes
martinsummerhay

When you go into the woods to play....... Stranger Danger and the changes to children's play

I listened to the second episode from the Invisibilia series, wonderfully produced by NPR public radio in the USA. Check out the linked episode here: http://www.npr.org/programs/invisibilia/

This episode is entitled "Fearless" and discusses what would happen if you could disappear fear? We'll hear about the striking (and rare) case of a woman with no fear. The second half of the show explores how the rest of us might "turn off" fear.

However, the start of the show opens with the words.... "It begins in the woods......" and describes the pioneering work that Roger Hart did in the 1970's in Vermont, studying the behavior of 86 children from the ages between 3 and 12 years of age, for 2 years. He tracked, monitored & recorded where the children went on their own.

He recorded the extend that the children explored and were allowed to go out on their own without parental supervision. By the age of 11, the children had the run of the town.

This reminded me of growing up in Paignton, Devon [UK]. It must have been around 8 or 9 that I was allowed out on my own, without having to have my younger brother in tow. Before then, if I wanted to walk down the hill to the local sweet shop, I had to take Julian as well.

I had a couple of mates and we would explore the woods near where we lived and built camps and tree houses. We also used to play in the local park - often getting into trouble with the local park keeper who was more interested in the pristine manicured lawns and shrubs, rather than a bunch of lads trampling through the undergrowth. By the time I was 12, we had extended our territory to Oldway Mansion [http://www.torquay.com/attractions/oldway-mansion-paignton] and would create camps, go fishing in the streams and generally muck about.

Not once in all of that time, did we worry about "Stranger Danger". I described this to a friend at the weekend who has young boys. The look of shock and fear that crossed their face made me realise how much things have changed today. No longer are children allowed to go out on their own. They are supervised constantly, sheltered from the knocks & scraps of boys [and girls] playing together on their own. Learning, developing and growing up in their own age groups.

I have 2 daughters, so my terms of reference is slightly different as it was just my brother & I as children in our family. I made the effort to take the girls out to different places; fishing, hiking; walking; climbing trees; letting them go free at kids play parks; cycling; skating; building camps, etc.

And the end of the story segment? Well, Roger went back to Vermont recently and interviewed the children of the original children that had grown up and were now parents. In every single case, the huge circle of freedom that the children had originally had was shrunk to the local vicinity of the house the child lived in, related the fear of "Stranger Danger". Even though statistically, there had been no increase in any crimes related to this in the local town.

What impact this has, only time will tell. Feel free to comment & share what is was like for you growing up. Did you have the same freedom?
Tags: children, invisibilia, npr, podcast, stranger danger
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