An interesting conversation came up over dinner on holiday in Norfolk last week.
The Good Old Days
My mother-in-law was telling us about her years growing up on a farm in Wales. It sounds idyllic. Lots of fresh air and running around the huge amount of land that the farm owned. She told us how she and her 2 brothers and 2 sisters were often left to their own devices during the summers to roam the land. This tradition continued with my husband, who used to stay at the farm during his school holidays. He and his older cousin would spend all day outside, only venturing into the farmhouse kitchen for food. My husband started to glaze over as he remembered happy times of building dens in the woods, playing in the fields and venturing down to the river.
“Was no one keeping an eye on you?” I wondered aloud.
The answer was a proud “No.”
Apparently the naughtiest thing they got up to involved trying to start a fire by rubbing two sticks together.
I must admit, it sounds fantastic, having free reign to run around and spend the entire day exactly as you like out in the sunshine. I’m sure it must be brilliant for a child’s imagination and has obviously given both my husband and my mother-in-law some wonderful memories, but I couldn’t help thinking throughout all of this reminiscing “What If.” What if they fell down a ditch and couldn’t get out? What if they fell into the fast flowing river and were carried off downstream? What if someone nasty was lurking in the woods? What if there was an accident?
A Question of Age?
I can remember being allowed to play up and down the street at a fairly young age and I know that my brother-in-law (a Norfolk boy) also went off with his brothers in the morning and wasn’t seen again until tea time.
All this got me thinking. Have things changed that much that we don’t now allow kids to play alone at all? At 4 and 2, I appreciate that our girls are a lot younger than my husband ever was when he was left alone. I can’t yet even imagine leaving my kids to play out in the garden on their own in case “something” happens. But I don’t know if I would have the courage or conviction to allow my girls when they are older to run wild all day.
Over Protective or Over Scared?
Let’s face it, throughout history there has always been nasty odd people out there that want to hurt children. The fact is that with the likes of social media, mobile phones and instant news bulletin updates we are more aware of what happens now. More aware of what happens in a sensationalist way as the media cotton on to a “good story” and thrash out every little detail before our very eyes. I think this makes us more scared, more terrified of what might happen to our children to the extent that we hide them away and perhaps over protect them. Because of this, I think this type of laissez faire where kids disappear off for the entire day, isn’t seen very much any more.
When Does Laissez Faire Parenting Become Neglect?
I bet 30 odd years ago, none of the parents who left their children out all day (my mother-in-law included) would never have dreamed that they were being neglectful. But just a few years ago, a mother lost custody of her children after a judge heard that her children were left to their own devices for up to 3 hours whilst she did her own thing.
What would happen today I wonder if a couple of kids aged 12 were left to wander the acres of land in a farm and ‘something’ happened to them? Would their parents be charged with neglect? Perhaps laissez faire is only deemed neglectful if kids are left to their own devices in front of TV, iPads and X-Box games? Perhaps it’s not considered neglect if children are outside playing their own games and using their imagination?
I think there’s surely got to be a balance. Parents have got to let their kids be children, to explore and grow and run free with their imagination, but there has to be boundaries. Obviously older children, especially in groups will have more freedom than the young, but at this stage, I have no idea when that tipping point should be. For now, I will continue to watch over my kids and worry about that later.
I’d love to know your thoughts on this. Would you consider letting your children run free all day? Are you parents to older kids and let them do this?