…How about free-range humans?
This article from the U.K. confirms what many have suspected: the personal range of children has shrunk drastically over the last century.
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 article has an interesting graphic showing how the “roaming range” of the generations of this particular British family has shrunk little by little. No doubt this is true in America as well. I’m not sure if this automatically means that children are being raised to be less street-smart and less curious. Certainly my “range” as a kid (which was no more than a mile, I would estimate, if that) wouldn’t be very impressive to my grandparents’ generation. (Although there were limits in the old days too: my dad once as an 11-year-old decided to ride his bike from his Syracuse home to his cousins’ farm in Stockbridge. This produced mighty consternation.)
Do parents of any generation ever realize how many scrapes and even hair-raising incidents occur to their kids even within the safe zones? (The article touches on this.) Well, kids rarely talk about them to grownups. They’re too afraid that their freedoms will be taken away. I recently compared notes with some people on this and it’s true — everyone has childhood experiences (yes, even some involving unsavory people) that they never bothered to tell Mom and Dad about. What happened? Either your radar was working and you avoided any damage, or the sibling protection system kicked in (your smarter, older sibling or friend warned you away from the danger), or some alert adult was looking out for you. But then, of course, we have learned all too much about the worst case scenarios where kids’ wits weren’t enough to protect them, so…
I just wonder why the trend of declining “ranges” for kids (and people in general maybe?) is tied to a discounting of the factors that used to keep kids safe. In my dad’s case, by the time his epic bike ride became known, he was halfway to Madison County and his parents were torn about what to do. Should they stop him, or let him go? In the end, they figured since he was already more than halfway there, they’d just let him go.