Tuesday, June 19, 2007

How children lost the right to roam

Do you remember those carefree days of summer when we were kids? Roaming around the neighborhood enjoying what we could. Are those days lost for kids of today?

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 contrast between Edward and George's childhoods is highlighted in a report which warns that the mental health of 21st-century children is at risk because they are missing out on the exposure to the natural world enjoyed by past generations.

Is the fear that is keeping our children tethered to home costing them more than just the right to roam? The report's author, Dr William Bird, believes children's long-term mental health is at risk. Is knowing this enough that parents will let their children roam free? If not, why not? What do they fear?

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