Readers — Here’s a letter from Korea (where my book was just published in translation!). What’s upsetting is how parental paranoia seems to be creeping around the world, like a virus. — L.
Dear Free-Range Kids: I’m an elementary/middle school English teacher in South Korea, arguably one of the safest countries in the world. Here, kids work very hard, spending almost all of their time studying in school and in private academies. However, what little free time they have is entirely their own. It’s not unusual to see older kids and young teens (10-16 year olds) out on their own, travelling to academies or out with their friends until quite late in the evening, often up until about 11pm. Here, children are pretty safe and adults would have no reservations about helping a child in need.
However, this is beginning to change. A couple of incidents over the past two years or so have made parents more wary about their children’s safety and the same paranoia that afflicts western society is gradually taking a grip. For teachers, more and more restrictions are being placed upon us, too.
Myself, I grew up in the Scottish glens. There, I had complete freedom and have very fond memories of dissapearing for entire days; leaving the house at 8 or 9 am with a packed lunch and returning in the evening, filthy dirty, tired, scratched, cut, bruised and utterly happy. My friends and I would cycle to town, a distance of 8 miles, on public roads. We were always aware of the dangers of traffic and strangers and acted accordingly.
These days, in the UK, children don’t get to be children. They are treated like fragile objects, like pets. Restricted to the garden or even kept indoors, supervised and monitored at all times, their friends are vetted and held in suspicion, and every opportunity for some good, mud-raking, knee-bruising fun is denied or restricted by health and safety paranoia.
I fail to see how the current generation of kids can grow up to be responsible, sensible, world-wise adults if they cannot learn the important lessons that sensibly unrestricted childhood and good old fashioned play bring. — T.B.