Out of sight – not out of mind

Guest post – Ashley Rogers, Play England, coordinator for the Play Safety Forum

Playing outside might be dangerous – it sometimes seems crime and anti-social behaviour is rife and around every corner. All the more reason then to keep children indoors and safely out of harms way…

Besides what life lessons will be learnt from climbing a tree and experiencing that terrifying moment when you are not entirely sure you can get down again? What good can it be to anyone to build your first ever fire in the woods and dance crazily around it singing ‘I’m a fire-starter!’? What could you possibly enjoy about taking a ginormous run up and launching yourself head first into and across a muddy puddle down the park in the sheeting rain?

Yes, children are the most precious beings in our world. Yes, they might get into to more dangerous situations if they are out of the eyes of adults and allowed to wander past the end of their gardens. Yes, parents will worry. But, consider this…the world is not actually a more dangerous place than it was 30 years ago when you or your parents were playing out. The Home Office statistics that show this are documented in Tim Gill’s book, ‘No Fear – Growing up in a risk averse society’.

In many cases, it is our perception – and awareness – of certain dangers that has changed. And we worry about what neighbours will think if we let our children play out in the street, about being seen as an irresponsible parent for letting them go out alone. And maybe we forget what it felt like and what we learned from exploring the outside world when we were kids.

So, what can we do to help kids roam freely and – importantly – safely?

  • Make sure your kids know how to handle traffic in your area – and their bicycle. And do this before they go to secondary school!
  • Petition your council to reduce speed limits (we totally support our friends over at Sustrans and urge you to sign up to their Free Range Kids campaign too!)
  • Gradually increase time children are allowed out without contacting you – you will both find it reassuring
  • Let your children bring a friend when you go out as a family – if their friends have been out with you before, you’ll know the ones you trust to be out with your kids without you
  • Think about getting together with neighbours to close your street for play after school or at the weekend – see our friends over at Playing Out or at London Play for advice
  • Remember what you did as a child or young person and talk about it with your kids (within reason!)
  • (possibly controversial this one!) You could give kids (cheap!) mobile phones – if you know they are at the end of a phone line you might worry less. Though do be warned as they get older they will turn them off…
  • Support the Love Outdoor Play campaign: Put a sticker in your window to show you support outdoor play where you live, tell everyone you know about the campaign and get them involved, and share your experiences and concerns here on this blog.

Do you have any more hints? What’s worked in your area? Do let us know on here, on the Facebook page or on Twitter.

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Comments
4 Responses to “Out of sight – not out of mind”
  1. Daniel Smith says:

    One of the best ways to get them on the right path to independance is to get them to join the scouts/guides and then pack them away to camp as often as possible,

    Most camp sites are relativly large but on the whole safe places to be (no traffic etc) where kids can roam to a certian degree without the issue of parents or leaders watching every step but with the reasurance of leaders on hand quickly to deal with any problems,
    As a cub leader myself I still work to the ages old recipie for free time…… these are the boundries you can go in… if you hear three blasts on a whistle i want you back here directly. If there are any problems you can find me here…. no go off and have fun!

  2. Jen ward says:

    Great ideas in this blog! I have a 12 and 9 y/o son who each love to play outdoors for hours on end. The older one does have a cell phone, but we have instructed him to not rely on us calling/texting him when it’s time to come home. We tell him a time and he’s expected to be responsible enough to come home at that time. He and his younger brother go off around our neighborhood on their bikes all the time. It’s how I grew up and how we want our sons to grow up, too.

  3. Cath Prisk says:

    Thanks Tim, couldn’t agree more about the need to gradually build independence before secondary school.

    And about the mobile – when I’m responsible for my teenage niece and nephew (usually at half terms or over the major breaks) they never, but never turn the things on, and when they do they seem to immediately run out of credit or power!

    I’m glad of my mobile when on long walks, for taking photos, checking location or just texting to let family know I’m fine if I’m late. And I enjoy texts from all the children in the family reassuring me and letting me know (kind of) what they are up to. But then can’t help remembering my friend and I walked for 4 days around the lake district when we were 15 and I don’t even remember calling home from a phone box…

  4. Tim Gill says:

    Some nice ideas Ashley – and thanks for the plug for No Fear. The primary/secondary step is such a watershed – I’ve heard it said that some parents now see the end of Year 6 as the ‘growing up term’, and rapidly try to cram in street smarts (as the Americans say). I’d advise a more graduated approach, and one that is alive to children’s own growing competences. O – and as a parent of a teenager, it’s also worth mentioning that mobile phones can: lose reception, run out of juice, run out of credit, get lost, get stolen, get eaten by dogs… As a safety net, they are kind of leaky!

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