Skip to comments.How children lost the right to roam in four generations
Posted on 06/22/2007 11:43:38 AM PDT by fgoodwin
How children lost the right to roam in four generations
By DAVID DERBYSHIRE
Last updated at 01:03am on 15th June 2007
When George Thomas was eight he walked everywhere.
It was 1926 and his parents were unable to afford the fare for a tram, let alone the cost of a bike and he regularly walked six miles to his favourite fishing haunt without adult supervision.
Fast forward to 2007 and Mr Thomas's eight-year-old great-grandson Edward enjoys none of that freedom.
He is driven the few minutes to school, is taken by car to a safe place to ride his bike and can roam no more than 300 yards from home.
Even if he wanted to play outdoors, none of his friends strays from their home or garden unsupervised.
The contrast between Edward and George's childhoods is highlighted in a report which warns that the mental health of 21st-century children is at risk because they are missing out on the exposure to the natural world enjoyed by past generations.
The report says the change in attitudes is reflected in four generations of the Thomas family in Sheffield.
The oldest member, George, was allowed to roam for six miles from home unaccompanied when he was eight.
His home was tiny and crowded and he spent most of his time outside, playing games and making dens.
Mr Thomas, who went on to become a carpenter, has never lost some of the habits picked up as a child and, aged 88, is still a keen walker.
His son-in-law, Jack Hattersley, 63, was also given freedom to roam.
He was aged eight in 1950, and was allowed to walk for about one mile on his own to the local woods. Again, he walked to school and never travelled by car.
By 1979, when his daughter Vicky Grant was eight, there were signs that children's independence was being eroded.
"I was able to go out quite freely - I'd ride my bike around the estate, play with friends in the park and walk to the swimming pool and to school," said Mrs Grant, 36.
"There was a lot less traffic then - and families had only one car. People didn't make all these short journeys."
Today, her son Edward spends little time on his own outside his garden in their quiet suburban street. She takes him by car to school to ensure she gets to her part-time job as a medical librarian on time.
While he enjoys piano lessons, cubs, skiing lessons, regular holidays and the trampoline, slide and climbing frame in the garden, his mother is concerned he may be missing out.
She said: "He can go out in the crescent but he doesn't tend to go out because the other children don't. We put a bike in the car and go off to the country where we can all cycle together.
"It's not just about time. Traffic is an important consideration, as is the fear of abduction, but I'm not sure whether that's real or perceived."
She added: "Over four generations our family is poles apart in terms of affluence. But I'm not sure our lives are any richer."
The report's author, Dr William Bird, the health adviser to Natural England and the organiser of a conference on nature and health on Monday, believes children's long-term mental health is at risk.
He has compiled evidence that people are healthier and better adjusted if they get out into the countryside, parks or gardens.
Stress levels fall within minutes of seeing green spaces, he says. Even filling a home with flowers and plants can improve concentration and lower stress.
"If children haven't had contact with nature, they never develop a relationship with natural environment and they are unable to use it to cope with stress," he said.
"Studies have shown that people deprived of contact with nature were at greater risk of depression and anxiety. Children are getting less and less unsupervised time in the natural environment.
"They need time playing in the countryside, in parks and in gardens where they can explore, dig up the ground and build dens."
The report, published by Natural England and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, also found that children's behaviour and school work improve if their playground has grassy areas, ponds and trees.
It also found evidence that hospital patients need fewer painkillers after surgery if they have views of nature from their bed.
I think the independence factor is the issue, not necessarily exposure to rocks and rills. My uppermost priority in childhood was to go off to see the world on my own, even just to roller skate at six years of age blocks beyond my “boundary” in Queens (NY). I was a tiny little girl and Mom was a micromanager. I just could not stand it!
New Orleans was the second city I was allowed to explore on my own. I loved its murky strangeness. My grandmother lived there in the Garden District and we visited every Easter vacation. I was FINALLY allowed to wander the Quarter by myself at age 12, though I wanted to slip my moorings much earlier. The year before, at 11, I got to prowl around San Francisco, where we stayed in the St. Francis Hotel in 1947. My mother was pregnant and I wasn’t about to hang around the hotel all day. The doorman pointed me toward Chinatown: “Walk uphill, and walk downhill to get back to the hotel.”
It wasn’t all that different in the sixties when my kids grew up on the beach between Santa Monica and Marina del Rey. We lived in the Marina and they walked or biked to SamoHi every day. There were some bad characters then, but self-destructive hippie druggies were relatively harmless to others. Now, of course, an adult would be crazy to walk that beach alone without two Dobermans and an Uzi.
I spent a few delightful years as a travel writer, with assignments all over the world. Both of my kids headed to foreign shores the minute they left school. I’m seriously ticked that so many countries are so dangerous for Americans now, and even more ticked that I seem to look like an easy target at my allegedly advanced age. @#$#&(*& to THAT!
Four? More like one generation!
How true—it was just one generation.
That may be very true for these ever expanding city urban types. But there are also many country kids, go look at the blue states by county map... and we’re always out doors and doing stuff. BTW I was born in 85, so I’m not talking about some previous generation. But I know others from college who came from Chicago and such and they have spent all their lives in condos and downtown neon worlds. But I think that it’s more a symptom of population concentration than generational differences.
I consider myself very lucky, in that we live on a USMC base. My children are, for the most part, safe to roam and run outside whenever they choose. Too bad it’s too dang hot lately. It is also a neighborhood where there are few who are afraid to come outside and greet their neighbors and chat over the back fence, so to speak.
One of my favorite things about being a military family is the sense of community that living on base gives me. My children seem to have a more “normal” after-school existence, because they are able to run and play in a safe environment, in addition to the fact that I know a majority of my neighbors. As a result, I have never felt the need to over-extend them with arranged activities. We also have a great youth center here on base (within walking distance) that they can play at when it gets too hot (110 here at 4pm).
Growing up in the citrus belt in Florida I was walking several blocks to visit a friend in my rural neighborhood in 1965. A car pulls beside me, pushes the car door open an offers me a ‘ride’. Had a car not come over the hill (very rare) in the opposite direction, causing the pedophile to speed off, who knows what may have happened.
There have always been perverts. We are just more aware of them now. (and probably know one or two)
The contrast between Edward and George's childhoods is highlighted in a report which warns that the mental health of 21st-century children is at risk because they are missing out on the exposure to the natural world enjoyed by past generations.Gosh, this wouldn't be an attack on private property er anythin', would it? Kids plant their little asses in front of the idiot box (used to refer to TV, now includes computer gaming machines) and never read a book for the same reason they don't go outside -- no action.
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