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Photo by lili Gooch

We live in London and we plan to move to a new home which we have chosen because it falls within the catchment of both our sons current school and a new secondary school that we feel sure they will both attend. We of course get priority school placements because of the boys ‘looked after’ status, however we have become aware that living further away from the school than their classmates sets them apart and we think that anything that makes them feel more included has to be a positive.
We have reasoned that the small ‘city’ garden in the new house is not an issue as there is a large park close by and a small open common just across the road. Regardless, a garden big enough to contain the boys, their friends, their boundless energy and their various toys and sports equipment would need to be as big as a football pitch.
The new house will be undergoing some quite major works and the boys will be 9 and 10 years old once we finally move in. Knowing our sons, we feel that at this age the boys will be mature enough and sensible enough for us to allow them the freedom and independence to play out in the park or on the common on their own.
I am fully aware that many would immediately disagree with that and I emphasis ‘knowing our sons’. I do not for one moment feel it would be right for all children and I shamefully acknowledge that if I had daughters – as hypocritical sexist and illogical as it is – I would probably not be saying the same for another year or so.
I grew up in the 60’s/70’s and had a pretty idyllic childhood in the English countryside. My oldest memories are of playing out with a friend of the same age, the pair of us wondering around alone in the village that my family moved from when I was just 5. We moved to a small town and my siblings and I played out alone from the day we arrived, this included playing in playgrounds, on farmland, building sites and also at the beach (as well as in the sea) which was a 2 mile walk from our house and a journey we undertook on foot quite regularly.
In contrast my partner grew up in the 70’s/80’s in one of the worlds largest and most populated cities, regardless he too spent his childhood playing out with his siblings and neighbourhood friends. He talks of a similar freedom and independence to that which I experienced and which we both now want to pass on to our children.
Yet we have become aware that – like many reading this I am sure – some of our friends and family are questioning our choice and quite simply think that there are too many dangers – especially in a city – for children of that age.
It seems that more and more parents are denying their children even the most basic of freedom and independence and this is something that my partner and I just don’t understand. It is a freedom and independence that we feel is crucial for their development and which surely has to come at some point in their childhood and we feel strongly that it should be sooner than later as we feel it will teach them to be responsible and to be able to face the challenges and dangers life will throw their way. Without allowing this ‘life education’ we think that we will be letting our sons down.
We are aware of the potential dangers (and of course of the vastly exaggerated ‘perceived’ dangers), but rather than try to create an artificial world that pretends they are not at risk, we will educate the boys to an understanding of what to be fearful of and in the unlikely situation that they are confronted with anything we would have armed our sons with the means to avoid/overcome the danger. We feel that being able to recognise dangers and to have the confidence to confront them is essential and only achievable if given the freedom to do so. A child too protected is surely more vulnerable when faced with a situation so unfamiliar to them or their learning.
Naturally we parents do everything we can to protect our children and would never knowingly put them in harms way, however life is full of dangers that we have no or little control over and indeed others that we do have control over yet we simply choose to ignore. Whether we like to admit it or not I think most of us probably put our children at risk pretty much on a daily basis, yet these are risks that are barely acknowledged or considered.
The most obvious of which is driving them in our cars, hundreds of children are harmed and killed in car accidents every year, more than in any other way. Although we all know that, we still blindly belt our children in and take that risk without giving it a second thought – of course we do, we have lives to live and for many having a car allows us to give so much to our children and for many it is seen as an essential part of family life. Yet we are putting our children at far greater risk in our cars than we would be by letting them play outside.
Also we are repeatedly informed of the shockingly high statistics of child abuse from within families and by those close to the family, yet we think nothing of leaving our children with relatives, good friends and indeed less well known sitters. Of course we do, but yet again this is taking a risk greater than letting them play out.
I am not for one minute suggesting we should not be leaving our children, but I am saying that if we are willing to take those calculated risks so readily, why is it different when it comes to playing out? Playing out seems to be the one area that parents focus on and are fearful of and that we have became paranoid about. Yet playing out is such an essential part of childhood, especially in these days of too much sweet and fatty foods and of electronic games that are all having an impact on our children’s health – in their childhood and more worryingly into their adulthood.
We all know the risks to children playing out are no greater now then when we were growing up – when all kids played out – do we not? Of course the media coverage highlights the dangers so much more then it used to, but we are regularly fed data that says it’s our perception that has changed, not the degree of danger.
I think nowadays it is often about the parents need to be seen to be doing the ‘right’ thing (and that need may be even more relevant for an adoptive parent), yet perversely that seems to be exactly the wrong thing for a full and healthy childhood for our children.
So we are moving house for our sons to be able to play out with their classmates, yet we wonder if any of the parents of their friends will feel the same as us and if there will be any friends to play with?
And of course the really big question is – will we feel the same in a years time?

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