I was really interested to see the first episode of this series looking at children’s development across the world. There is no doubt that there has been a decline in freedom for children today to play out or travel independently. Apparently, 90 percent of primary aged children are taken to the school gates by an adult and the distance children are allowed to roam away from home has shrunk by 90 percent in the last 50 years. The programme ran a controlled experiment with 3 groups of children under the age of 7 navigating their way to the London Eye with a map and travelling unsupervised on a bus. All of the intrepid travellers reached their goal, albeit with a few hitches along the way! They seemed to enjoy their new found responsibility, but what can we parents learn about balancing risk and independence?
It’s all about “managed and sensible” risk. As a parent, you are best placed to understand your child’s unique temperament and stage of development when considering how much independence they can manage. Children can then be supported to take small, achievable and incremental steps to work towards managing on their own. The benefits are huge! Not only do children learn new skills and realise that everyone makes mistakes along the way, but ironically, they are probably safer after having taken an age-appropriate risk. With good support, children’s development is kick-started, confidence increases and they begin to understand that their own behaviour can influence what happens to them.
The main risk to this process is us as parents! We need to manage our own anxiety and concern about whether our children can cope with the challenges of independence. Watching what we say and how we react is all important. It is helpful to remember that risk taking is a normal part of every child’s journey into adult life, whether it’s the toddler leaving a parent’s side to explore at play group or a teenager going in to town with their friends. As the programme concluded, perhaps the most crucial thing is to keep our children only as “safe as necessary!”