This Daily Mail piece by David Derbyshire is so profound it has been cited over and over: How sryetfsfri
Children Lost the Right to Roam in Four Generations: an interview with four generations of the same family about how far they were allowed to wander as kids. It comes from Britain but will sound familiar to anyone in the Western world — alas!
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.
Imagine if this had happened to any other group: If we kept restricting the rights of women, or minorities — it would be seen as a terrifying, intolerable assault on their freedom.
But because it is done in the name of “safety,” and because we get so used to the restrictions that they begin to seem like common sense — and maybe not quite strict enough — the right of children to any kind of unsupervised, unstructured, independent life keeps washing away. How much freedom has this family lost?
The oldest member, George, was allowed to roam for six miles from home unaccompanied when he was eight…. [He]Â has never lost some of the habits picked up as a child and, aged 88, is still a keen walker.
His son-in-law, Jack Hattersley, 63, was also given freedom to roam.
He was aged eight in 1950, and was allowed to walk for about one mile on his own to the local woods.
As for mom Vicki Grant, 36, she biked around the neighborhood. And her son doesn’t go much beyond the yard on his own. His mom drives him to school.
We can bring back a wider, wilder childhood if we want to. Find other families who want their kids to play outside and let them. Â Don’t schedule every hour of the day. Push the schools to give less homework. And for God’s sake, don’t arrest parents who let their kids roam.
If not, I’m trying to imagine the next update of this article. All I can picture is prison (with WiFi). – L
I can’t help but notice how many freeways and roads are between Sheffield and Rother Valley. We can’t blame parents alone for the loss of childhood freedom. Since 1919 We have purposely designed our cities to maximize vehicle throughput and require car ownership and the result is an environment that is lethal for 8 year olds. You can’t blame parents for wanting to keep their children safe when it’s barely safe to cross the street.
Even sadder to think the biggest loss is over one generation.
What Josh said is true we no longer built our cities and towns for people we only built then for cars. Sad but true. Also lawmakers can retract restrict the rights of children because they don’t worry or sadly don’t know any better.
“You canâ€™t blame parents for wanting to keep their children safe when itâ€™s barely safe to cross the street.”
But there are still small towns with low-traffic residential street after street. I live in one, and there are others nearby.
The number of kids roaming is only marginally greater.
(sighs and shakes head sadly)
How can Vicki be 36 if she was 8 in 1979? I was 8 in 1979 and I’m 46 now. Or are Vicki and Vicky two different people since the age is different and the names are spelled differently? I’m so confused.
Confusedlavalamp, the article cited is from 2007
It’s sad people are so afraid of a supposedly “more dangerous” society. I used to ride my bike 2 miles every day in the summer to go to the pool. As well as regularly ride or walk within a mile radius. No wonder kids are terrified these days when they are never given the chance to explore and gain their own self confidence.
Josh has a point. But living in a small city (8,000 people or <), can be an opportunity for kids to walk and/or ride their bike anywhere in that town. Most recently when I visited the small Wisconsin town that I grew up in, I was driving to Wal*Mart from my friend's house which was on the other side of town. A seemingly long way from where I was staying (at my friend's house). But you know something? It was exactly 1.9 miles from my friend's house. But the much larger Alabama town that I live in now, a drive to the local grocery store which I consider a hop, skip and jump away from my house is actually 2.1 miles! Further than the cross town commute to Wal*Mart from my friend's house in Wisconsin. So distance seems relative to the size of the city. A "long" distance in a town the size of 8,000 people would be considered a snap in a metro area with a population of 100,000. Then a relatively "short" distance in a metro area with a significant population would be the distance to the next town if you lived in a town of 8,000 people. Heck, as a kid, I rode my bike everywhere in the small town I grew up in in Wisconsin and most times, I walked to school unless my cousin and I suckered my uncle into giving us a ride! So much of it depends upon the size of the town that kids live in. Big city=kids get rides, small city=kids travel on their own.
I am 48 and often was allowed to wander around the nieghborhood usually with several other children near my age. Our favorite location was the huge field just a mere two blocks away. It was far enough to seem like another world. I even attriubute my pursuit of a degree in the world of architecture with those early days of fort building and designing the layouts for all of the other kids “dwellings”. We invented our own leaders, rules and even names. The sad truth now is open space is no longer nearby. I bet the grandparents and great-grandparents mentioned in you article explored at great distances because of the woods and nature inticing them along. Those once lovely fields and orchards that surrounded our neighborhood in Northern California, our now packed tight with suburban homes where no one ever emerges. It creates an environment that doesn’s really beckon my own children to explore.
“A “long” distance in a town the size of 8,000 people would be considered a snap in a metro area with a population of 100,000. Then a relatively “short” distance in a metro area with a significant population would be the distance to the next town if you lived in a town of 8,000 people.”
I lived in a town of 5000 people from grade 3 to grade 6 and another of 3000 people from grade 7 through high school. I didn’t consider anything in town to be a long distance.
Road construction may play a part, but a small one. Talk to people who grew up in metropolitan areas that have good public transportation. If they’re over the age of 40 or so, chances are they started taking the El/subway on their own from a young age and were able to get all over the metro area independently by junior high or at least by high school. But my Chicago suburb is easily accessible to the El and I doubt one in five high school kids knows how to fully utilize the system or would be allowed to, and certainly few below high school age. I mean, only the worst parent in the world would let her young kid ride the subway alone, right? 😉
Yes! “Push schools to give less homework.” Lenore mentions a most important part of the Free Range equation.
For more information see Alfie Kohn’s book: “The Homework Myth: Why Our Kids Get Too Much of a Bad Thing.” Also, “The Case Against Homework” by Bennett and Kalish.
Thanks Lenore! Free Range Rocks!
Also what’s more sad is that parents who try to let their kids roam will end up like me (arrested for child endangerment), and the jury actually agrees with the police.
I also think there is a correlation between kids’ freedom and their real life responsibilities. It’s a vicious cycle: the are allows to do so little so they are unable to do much, and vice versa. In these days, very few work to contribute to the household earnings or are truly in charge of some household responsibilities that are essential.
That’s probably why so many parents support the giving of homework – they feel it teaches kids to be responsible.
This is what is called “normalization”. The mentality of forbidding the things that were completely normal and acceptable to previous generations. And accepting those that weren’t. This is a choice by all. Some people are just natural sheeples. These are the people that make the not so normal, normal over time. People speak up less, and comply more. To the point were that is a good thing for THEM and THEIRS. And anything else is just “bad”.
If people actually paid attention to what’s going on around them. And listen to that inner voice, they’d see the world is not in a very good shape. And keeps getting worse. It’s not as bad as most people think it is, but it’s not as good as it once was. At least not emotionally and mentally. More and more people just fear. Because fear has been normalized. Previous generations can attest to this.
It can definitely be hard to let kids have that freedom and that space when we are so conditioned to worry but my 13 year old is now definitely free range and has about a 3ish mile radius that he roams in with his friends. All by walking. There are days when he will text me after school to say he’s going somewhere and I realize HE’S never been there but he’s not too worried about it because he has a rough idea where it is and he’ll be with friends and as he said one “And mom, that’s why I have a phone. I’ll either look up the directions or call you”
And guess what? All was well.
I’m wondering if the difference is less “children aren’t allowed to roam” and more “children aren’t particularly interested in roaming”. For example, back when I was a kid, I didn’t do a great deal of roaming on Saturday morning… Saturday morning cartoons were on! But now, there’s a cartoon network. And a Disney Channel. And so on, though another dozen channels with programming aimed at children, plus Netflix.
I had a computer in my home (in the late 70’s) which was unusual. Today, not unusual. We had Atari 2600. They gots PS4.
The kids who ARE interested in running around outside are in sports leagues… lacrosse, baseball, soccer with organized games, and official start times, and adults serving snacks. Which means there isn’t much opportunity for pick-up games in the schoolyard or park, which means there’s that much less reason to go down to the schoolyard or park. Another thing that changed, of course, was we didn’t KNOW what was doing down at the schoolyard, or park, until we got there. Now, the kids can call someone before heading out. Our generation would go, see who was there, and then figure out what games, if any, we could play based on who wanted to play (and, of course, on whether or not anyone brought a Frisbee, or a football, or whatever); new kids might show up in the middle of a game and be integrated onto a team right in the middle of a game. Or the game might change… a game of foursquare or ball tag might turn into a game of kickball, if enough players showed up. But these require a critical mass of people to be there… nowadays, you can’t count on there being enough people at the park to do anything… so “let’s go the park” turns into “let’s call around and see if anyone’s going to the park” turns into “nobody’s going to the park, let’s just stay home and watch TV.”
Walking six miles to go fishing sounds like fun if the alternative is to stay home and be put to work doing chores. But it’s not going to beat many of the multitude of alternatives that today’s kids are offered.
It’s not just kids, either. I don’t have to go to the library to check out books any more… I browse the catalog at home, pick out what I want, and then download it into my Kindle, all without ever needing to even go outside.
I can choose to look at this as something “lost”. Or I can choose to focus on what’s been gained.
@Josh: I grew up in the 70’s and 80’s, in a big city. I’m a city boy, who’s learned to also adapt and enjoy the outdoors. And we went everywhere. Traffic? What’s traffic? We were smart kids and knew how to cross the street. Kids back then knew timing and spacial awareness. Kids these days have no clue what that is, because they were never taught. I’ve found many kids these days were prepped to succeed in life, financially. But that is it. Common sense, logic, reason, compassion, courtesy, those have all fallen to the way side. Which is why more and more kids in the Millennial generation are entitled.
Other than the mentality of people, nothing has really changed that much in the last 30-40 years in terms of LIFE. We still have crime (but mush less now), we still have economic woes (but better living for those that never had it before), we still global conflicts (don’t think that will ever change). So why have people’s mentality changed. Because of technology and social media. Media (conventional or social) have shared information (true or not), technology has allowed that sharing of information to happen in seconds to millions of people all over the world. And such as human nature, when people just absorb information, but never really learning that information and everything that goes along with it, you get people who spread false info, or inaccurate info. Which then others hold as gospel. You know…because it’s on the internet. It must be true. People have been doing this for at least the last 15 years. That’s more than enough time to recondition their brains to think differently. Or specifically, to think how the powers that be want them to think.
Yes, yes, it may sound all like a conspiracy theory. But if people paid attention, it wouldn’t. They would see it as fact. 😉 Don’t be a sheeple. Think for yourself. This day and age is much safer now for kids, than any other generation. Yet, parents fear far more now than ever before. Or they are just really lazy parents, who don’t want to put the time and sacrifice to being a parent. Parenting isn’t supposed to be easy. But many parents compromise their children’s well being for their own convenience.
Yes, absolutely. My son is 5, and he has Legos inside. There are no Legos outside. I can force him to play outside, but let’s face t, sticks have fairly limited play value. He doesn’t do much “roaming”, and it’s certainly not because I’m keeping him indoors!
Hands become dirty. They are washed. The dirt comes off. The person stops washing hands because they’re no longer dirty. A typical problem of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is compulsive hand washing. If a person is unable to stop washing hands that are clean then this is a sign of mental instability.
In order for a bureaucracy to ‘wash hands,’ they have to set up a Department of Hand Sanitization. They perform their task and the problem of ‘dirty hands’ goes away. However, the Department of Hand Sanitization doesn’t. They keep performing their task.
This department of hand sanitization is really a metaphor for the Department of Safety. Nothing will ever be safe enough until enough people complain about ‘hands that have been scrubbed so raw that they’re bleeding’.
Years back, people were graduation HS without even being able to read! I remember those days. (I’m old) Schools wanted problem kids to go away so they overlooked things. The public became outraged over this. AND SO THEY SHOULD! Today things are different.
Today there are kids that graduate HS and can read but they are amazingly incompetent in life skills. This is why it’s scary to roam. I think we need to start demanding a similar curriculum what they have in some parts of Europe where the class is held outside and learning traffic rules.
I was discussing how this 20-year-old didn’t even know how to sew a button on a shirt. This is TRUE but it gets even more amazing. A 15-year-old overheard my complaint and piped in. “But they don’t teach us that in school”!
James you’re spot on. It’s gone hand in hand with the rise in fear over the years though which turns into a vicious cycle – don’t want you roaming so here’s more stuff at home :more stuff to do at home so they don’t want to roam. I’ve sent my 2 out to play and it’s viewed as a punishment. It has a lot do with the fact there is no-one out to play with. If they could be sure of a bunch of friends being at the park I’m sure they’d go. Even organising a bunch of kids to be at the park is so hard, everyone is busy/kids not allowed to go without adult etc etc
Let’s talk conditioning – as in physical fitness. The response of my direct neighbors when I invited them to join us for our walk to and from school (my 5 year old bikes or scooters) – “My kid could never go that far!” It is exactly a mile from doorstep to doorstep…but they are right. Their kids are wiped out from playing in the driveway – a mile must seem incredibly far.
It was then that I reflected on how much time I’d actually devoted to increasing my son’s stamina. Over the summer he joined me for my morning jog (again, him on his bike). We built up to 4 miles. And he didn’t always love it. It was work.
In a community where he will be questioned for getting too far ahead of me – it is work. For all the sidewalks, it is not pedestrian friendly because drivers are unaccustomed to looking for kids walking or biking. Again, this has created work for us to ensure my kindergartener is being safe (even with me). It’s maybe too much work when you can give a kid an iPad and they are safe without any effort.
From south west Ohio. I use to ride my bike 5 miles to state line to friends house. The local police use to give us a hard time about being alone, but they where the only one to cause us any trouble.
Fantastic points! Thank you for being a voice of reason in a world were people dictate their decisions based on fear. I personally do not want to live in fear and I don’t want my children to either.
I live in the US and, the story is the same except, it’s not the parents. I have boy/girl twins who turned 13 only 5 months ago. I beg my son to go outside all the time and, he walk or skateboards 1 mile to school. It’s the design of our city for cars and freeways that restrict my children from traveling much further. I grew up on a farm and we typically played or fished 8-10 miles from home. With everyone leaving rural areas and moving to urban areas the radius our children play has shortened.
I forgot to mention it’s also the social interaction they have with phones and tablets. When we were kids we went outside to play and make friends. I can’t get my kids outside enough because, they feel digital interactions are all they need sometimes.
Something’s odd about the age of Jack. Article says he was eight in 1950 (which means he was born in 1942). If he was born in ’42, his age would be 74 and not 63 (as stated).
w.r.t my previous comment. Sorry. Jumped the gun. The quoted article is from 2007.
I would imagine that parents were more tolerant to the risk of roaming kids when a large proportion didn’t make it out of childhood due to disease… A shift in relative AND absolute (threat of the car) risk associated with roaming in comparison to everything else and the added convenience of access of families to the car explains all this. I don’t really get the issue.
It is ironic though, because the Daily Mail and its ilk is one of the main reasons that kids don’t roam anymore, given it has spread ideas about ‘weirdos everywhere’ and ‘irresponsible mums’ (always mums) etc
I think there is something on what James wrote. In addition to safety concerns, playing indoor is oftentimes more fun for kids over some age. Lego, video games, whatever. Outside may be more fun then playing with toys or reading random book, but video game is more quickly fun/challenge/stimulating then outside.
Yet another thing is that adults don’t do outside activities either. There are no neighborhood soccer games (or basketball or whatever) where adults would socialize. Adults rather join a gym or do some class or do sport individually. Men used to do these (women not so much in here) and boys would join them. Children mimics adult behavior and grown up behavior is not like that anymore.
Even adults with small children dont like all that much time in the park. They take children to the partk, but it is quite apparent most would prefer to be at home.
That is cultural thing. Adults in China, both men and women spent their evenings in park and oftentimes moving. There was dancing, there was gymnastics, some were kicking soft ball (for some reason mainly older women), etc. Children were running around. Of course, it was not majority of aduts who was outside, but enough of them to make it look like normal way to spend evening.
Maybe if we want the kids to value time outside and spend time there, we might need to start from ourselves. How many adults spend time outside with relaxing, healthy or fun activities? Adult way is to watch tv, browse the net or go to the bar. We don’t do it for ourselves, but somehow wonder why children don’t do the same.
@test, very good point about adults not being outside in their recreational time.
Geez do none of you have children. There are crazies, pedophiles, bullies and any number of reasons for restricting a child’s roaming. I have two Geandchildren and I wouldn’t even consider letting them play in my front yard alone. Until society changes this situation will continue. A big help would be to get rid of Hollywood and porn
“There are crazies, pedophiles, bullies and any number of reasons for restricting a childâ€™s roaming.”
(BL channeling this guy:
This is free range blog.
James: “Iâ€™m wondering if the difference is less ‘children arenâ€™t allowed to roam’ and more ‘children arenâ€™t particularly interested in roaming’. ”
I see both.
My child has friends who wanted to be able to walk from their house to ours (maybe 200 yards with sidewalks the entire way). Mom said, “no.” Mostly the same with going a few hundred yards to the neighborhood school.
But I can also see how staying indoors and playing with a game system (or being on the phone with friends … or both) would be more attractive than being outside.
For my son, we did a bit of carrot and a bit of stick. The stick was “you are going to the downtown (about a mile from our house) on your own.” The carrot was, “and here is money to pay for lunch at your favorite Mongolian restaurant.”
We prepped him by doing this enough with him (getting there, ordering lunch, paying for it) that he knew how to do it himself (and we knew that he knew how to do it, and he knew that we knew that he knew how to do it). After the first round, no more nervousness.
A few years later we put him on a light rail train thingie by himself. But, again, we had ridden this before with him. A few years later, while visiting Minneapolis, he *wanted* to head back to the hotel earlier than we did and requested that he take the local light rail back and then walk the rest of the way.
And so on.
So … the parents CAN push even if the kids don’t particularly want to roam, but they obviously are less likely to do this if they don’t want the kids roaming in the first place.
How to have free-range kids? Give ’em guns!
It’s not just physical activity restricted. Cognitive development such as spatial and mathematical ability is also impaired. See Children and Travel http://www.theitc.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/ITC-occasional-Paper-9-Children-and-Travel-April-2016-1.pdf
How to control the masses.
Isolate individuals: travel (autos), work (cubicles)
Create fear of others: news (crimes), movies (violence)
Separate children, adults and seniors
Distract from individual contemplation
Drugs: foods (pesticides),water (flouride),medicines (psychoactives)
It’s such a shame that kids will never understand thecfun most of us had as kids. I guess the alure of tech is too great. It’s just kind of sad that most kids don’t want to play out anymore. I personally feel that older kids, young teens need to play out too. They are still kids…enjoy it and have fun while you can.
I was with you until you mentioned pesticides and fluoride. I like having strong teeth, and I like having food that bugs didn’t destroy.
This is one of the reasons we chose to raise our children in a small town. Our kids Roma and wander and we don’t worry. We drive them to school as it is a 45 min bike ride and they are 11/2-10 yrs old. We do t let our kids watch TV rather go out and play. They get a video on Monday only. Unless sick when they watch all day. We don’t push homework as it’s useless. We let them be kids. Break their own falls and help teach them to get back up. We r trying to bring back a bit of old school to their lives. They’ll appreciate soon enough.
I could roam (I’m 53; born 1963) but always had a sense what was safe roaming and what could get me in trouble. If I went in the woods, I always made sure I knew the way back. My cousin and I would ride bikes to the mall when I was ten (a good 15-20 minutes by car). The only time I caused my parents worry, was when I was about 7 and did not come home when the street lights came on…I was tagging along with a policeman selling tickets to the Policeman’s Ball door-to-door.
As an adult, I still walk in the woods most days. I’ve had trips to places many would not venture to go to and have done some epic two week bicycle trips. There is value in roaming.
As a religious Jew I see some very real benefits of our practices (besides religious beliefs telling us to act in this way). Every week for 25 hours from Friday night to Saturday night we don’t drive anywhere. No shopping. No computers, phones, electronic games, TVs etc. (life or death/serious injury exceptions exist… We do call ambulances or drive if someone is in labor etc). It’s family time. I don’t understand how kids won’t walk places…
Even my 3 year old can walk over a mile and was doing that since he was about 2.5 when he refused to go in the stroller and that was during a regular weekday! The skills rollover to the rest of the week- playing at a park, playing independently with toys without batteries, imaginative play, going to friends houses and playing ball there….
We should all institute something similar- time slots that are electronics free (for mom and dad too), walk with your kids places, see nature etc.
My kid isn’t free range but he just turned 3. And we are in a city. We are working on crossing streets safely, I let him walk near me without holding my hand in areas we know etc so I hope he can grow up with basic life skills.
Josh here, I appreciate everyone’s responses.
I have to admit my particular city environment colors my perspective. San Francisco is consistently ranked as having the worst drivers in the nation. And we are one of the most dangerous cities to be a pedestrian in, with 30 fatalities a year and one pedestrian injured every day.
This is all by design. The city has steadily grown in population and car ownership. We have a regional public transportation system that hasn’t seen many major upgrades since the bart trains were rolled out in the 60s. Nation wide per-capita miles driven has steadily increased since the halcyon childhoods of some commenters here.
Teaching spatial awareness isn’t enough in an environment with more cars on the road all the time. I regularly have to yell to be seen by drivers, rolling through a crosswalk while looking at their phones, and I’m six foot two. Uber and Lyft have only accelerated this problem giving their drivers a financial incentive to drive as fast as possible.
It is ironic that the generation that enjoyed a wide ranging childhood in the 60s and 70s is the same generation (speaking very broadly here) that drove the car centric development across the country, moving to the exurbs, demanding wider freeways to shorten their commutes. It is also the same generation that (locally at least) comes out to oppose efforts to restrict cars in the city. My generation hasn’t done much better though, just following the trends we were raised with. But now days a lot of communities are working to reverse these trends.
This is all to say that if we want our kids out exploring the world we need to be conscious of the way we are shaping that world, and making it safer means designing it for humans instead of cars.
“As a religious Jew I see some very real benefits of our practices (besides religious beliefs telling us to act in this way). Every week for 25 hours from Friday night to Saturday night we donâ€™t drive anywhere. No shopping. No computers, phones, electronic games, TVs etc. (life or death/serious injury exceptions existâ€¦ We do call ambulances or drive if someone is in labor etc). Itâ€™s family time. I donâ€™t understand how kids wonâ€™t walk placesâ€¦”
Apart from the “no shopping” bit you’ve described what the Amish do, not just on their Sabbath, but all the time. They don’t even keep phones in their homes, but have community phones for business use (business with non-Amish people).
My kid is free to roam but when she did ppl made so much fuss, coming to tell me where she was (I knew! ) or bringing her back, that she gave up. Now she us eight and won’t go off the street by herself. She will go with other kids but they don’t often want to. It the do-gooders that are the trouble! !!
Here’s a great video on it.
Apropos Rotherham and Sheffield
What else has gone up during the last generations? That’s right, spice consumption. We are not adapted to TURMERIC and CUMIN, and they’re screwing up our epigenetics. We turn more and more anxious every generation.
I’m not sure if REMOVING KEBAB from our diets works, put it’s worth a shot.
Rotherham’s environs might not have been the best place for kids to wander around in. Just sayin’.
Agreed, agreed, agreed!
I see a correlation between household labor saving devices and children’s range to roam. As more labor saving devices came to be (and air conditioning), then life revolved more around inside the house and into private spaces. Also, parents (mainly mothers) now had more time to police their children.