Jane Devine: Don’t wrap kids in cotton wool

THERE are many things we remember from childhood that are often recalled with nostalgic embellishment: the summers were longer and hotter then; chocolate bars were bigger; and we would never speak to our parents or teachers the way kids do today.

Keeping our kids in sight at all times makes them too protected and too adult too fast, argues Jane Devine. Picture: Getty

But there is one thing that has probably not been exaggerated with time: we genuinely did have more freedom when we were young. As the summer holidays continue, many children will be recalling the days when their parents opened the door in the morning, let them out and didn’t see the them until lunch, with a certain amount of envy.

This hasn’t just happened in a generation though – this trend of (over)protection, culminating with today’s tendency to keep children in sight at all times, has been creeping up on us for many more years than that.

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In a documentary, Project Wild Thing due to be broadcast in October this year, filmmaker David Bond looks to his own family for evidence. His mother, born in the 1930s, had around 50 square miles she could roam free in at the age of 11; when David himself was a boy in the 1970s that was already down to one square mile and he admits his children have the freedom of their back garden only. For families without a garden, it means that children are both constantly under supervision and always in adult company.

It’s the same with many families. Some will be more ambitious than others, but on the whole, we keep our kids closer than ever before. With more traffic on the streets and increased hysteria about paedophilia, it can seem like too much of a risk to let our kids out.

I’m quite sure, if my parents had known what my sisters and I were up to when we roamed our village with all the other kids, they would never have let us out, but that was the point. That magical feeling of making your own decisions about what is dangerous and what is not; about being able to explore and discover without asking permission; sorting out your own arguments and disagreements; and choosing your own friends – that’s what children today are being denied.

In its place is a much more constrained childhood where children learn from adults the things it would be much better for them to learn for themselves; and spend more time in front of screens than outside playing with their friends. A weird dichotomy is emerging where kids both grow up too fast because they spend too much time in adult company, yet remain mollycoddled because they are never out on their own.

When we consider where we might be in a generation to come however, it might be enough to spur us into action and take the risks we know to be over-stated for the sake of our kids; but it would take a lot of brave parents to do this and probably another long hot summer, like the ones we used to have.