Well, not literally in the traffic, but how about it? Every year the conversation between parents about leaving children to play unsupervised comes around regularly, especially during the long summer holidays. I used to play in my road, but it was a cul-de-sac so I wasn’t in any real danger of being knocked down by a car. But it was freedom. Total freedom to dig around, talk nonsense with the other kids who spoke the same language, and play until your parent called you inside for a meal, or sometimes came looking for you!
This wasn’t an idyll of being left to roam around in woodland or forests or anything else magical, it was a plain old inner city cul-de-sac. But it was where we lived.
I read an article recently about a working mother in the States who was reported to the police for leaving her child playing in a municipal playground with other kids – while she went to work. It was a playground her daughter was familiar with but it was the fact that there was no hovering mum or parent or even older sibling that got strangers talking. Another case featured a woman, desperate to find work, who’d locked her children safely inside a hot car, while she attended an interview.
There are multiple issues at play here: cost of childcare, risks to children, parental responsibility, personal opinion, age and maturity of the child or children, time of day that the child is left alone… it’s a long list with many variants.
In our family, we started our summer holiday simply and cheaply: a trip to the charity shop to stock up on summer reading materials, a cheeky iced coffee for mum and a fishing net from the hardware store. Quite low tech. Like hundreds of parents, I will be juggling the need for childcare due to work commitments with the desire to create a carefree sense of abandonment from daily routine, for the summer holiday.
Reading these press articles you realise that half of you is wishing for Utopia and the other half, is rooted in reality. You also realise, that most parents take risks with their children; calculated risks – the first time they go on the bus alone, the first walk round to the corner shop. Playing outside all day with no adult supervision, is different, but is it any safer than the walk to school or a sleepover? We have a modern day paranoia about child molesters and the like. But we only need to read the news and know a drop about history to acknowledge that the ‘bad’ person is not a modern bogeyman; he’s always been there.
So what to do?
1. Trust your instincts
2. Teach your child the basics of what to do if…(fill in your own blanks here, we parents are pretty good as frightening the skin off ourselves!)
3. Give your child freedom, but try if first in small groups, with three or four kids near their age and an older one?
4. Put your mobile number on your child’s hand or inside a lunch box or something they have with them.
5. Teach your child the safe meeting place to go to in case they get lost.
I’m not an expert on child protection and not suggesting you book the first flight to Australia having given your kids a quick run through! Just thinking of things we can do to give our children the confidence to be independent beings in a world that often feels unsteady.
Would love to hear your thoughts on this one!
It’s a balancing act, but no-one said parenting was easy.
© Suzy Rigg