Monday, 24 March 2008

Are children safe in the UK or are we exaggerating and worsening the risks?

I was reading the Observer yesterday, which had an excellent Climate Change issue with Thom Yorke, lead singer of Radiohead as the guest editor.

He helped launch the Friends of the Earth "Big Ask" Campaign, to lobby the government to bring in a 3% carbon reductions year on year to reach the 60% reduction needed by 2050. Watch an interview with him here.

In amongst it was an article about what could be the greenest city in the world, namely Freiburg, Germany. I remember going there in my teens on a school trip in the late 1980s and thought it was great. There were a few mediaeval bits that allied bombing in WWII had not completely destroyed, and a brilliant tram. Trams were a novelty to me then and now, although I did use the one in Sheffield when I was studying there in the 1990s.

What struck me most about this article was not the climate change angle and public transport options. It was a picture with little toddlers, not older children, playing in a woodland on bits of plank and felled trees. It was called "an adventure site" an was largely Freiburg's answer to a children's playground.

How can this be? Where is the health and safety? What about splinters? Is this irresponsible?

The kids looked like they were having a great time but being a father to a toddler myself, I could feel my concern rising as the planks and log was in no way secured and looked like something I would have put together when I played with my friends in the 1970s.

But isn't that the point?

Don't get me wrong, I am a Dad and have baby number 2 on the way. I worry about my kids and my natural instinct is to not let any harm come to them.

What I struggle with is letting my son grow up and explore the world around him. I'm pleased to say that he has a cautious head on his shoulders and still gets cuts and bruises as evidence of him trying new things out and learning about his environment, and maybe having some fun along the way.

Should we be protecting children or should we be teaching them to spot potential risks and manage them?

The Noise To Signal blog has collected together some info on the old child safety films that many of us grew up with. It is amazing how long this tough line in parenting has been going with children made to see a little squirrel, Tufty, narrowly avoid becoming road kill by a wise owl, or the scary tales of the unfortunate Charley the cat.

Tim Gill's is an expert in this area and you can read more at his site Rethinking Childhood .

Maybe we are playing it too safe? Before I became a parent, I thought that there was a lot of scaremongering.

You hear about flashers and worse near children's playgrounds as if it is worsening problem. The fact is, bad people have always been around and there are probably no more around now than in the past. My Mum surprised me once by recounting a story of being flashed by some pathetic man in the 1940s when she was growing up in the country. She was so matter of fact about it and even managed a cheeky joke about saying how "he had nothing to boast about"! ;-)

What I want is for my children not to be scared, be in control and to be able to deal with what life throws at them and hopefully have good lives.

Wrapping them up in cotton wool, fitting GPS devices to their clothing and even locking them indoors is not going to help them.

As Tim Gill would say, adults worry about children (which is ok) but where we probably go wrong is by trying to make childhood zero risk.

Wouldn't it be even better if we taught our children how to manage risks not to always avoid them?

Maybe they would grow up better able to deal with life and have a great childhood in the process?

I did, although the thought of my son climbing and jumping out of trees is starting to give me palpitations.....
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