Frank Furedi · Over-protectiveness of children · Sunday Times · The Guardian

School stops child cyclists

This one’s not about literacy but it’s certainly worth a comment. Yesterday’s Guardian newspaper has picked up on a report entitled ‘We’re trying to restore our kids’ freedom’ from the Sunday Times (04/07/2010) about a school in Dulwich, south London, which is threatening to report a couple to children’s services because they allow their two children, aged eight and five, to cycle to school every day.
The children have to travel about a mile to school and they cycle on the pavement until they have to cross a busy main road. Here, a ‘lollipop lady’ sees them across safely and they then proceed to school. The parents, Gillian and Oliver Schonrock, strongly believe that the ‘benefits to our children far outweigh the potential risk from “stranger danger”, road traffic accidents and other factors’. The school disagrees, asking what would happen if the five-year-old ‘had a tantrum’. My thirteen-year-old daughter was quick to point out that a child can have a tantrum even if they’re being accompanied by a parent and that if everyone were that risk averse, none of us would ever go out of the house!
The Institute of Policy Studies estimates that the number of children who went to school unaccompanied forty years ago was 80% and that by 1990 it had fallen to just 9%. The research seems to support the views of Frank Furedi, Professor of Sociology at Kent University, who believes that this is yet another aspect of the state encroaching on people’s lives. He thinks that this kind of over-protectiveness has a detrimental effect on children’s development and is quoted in the Sunday Times as saying that ‘the irony is that the measures these parents took actually protect the children by developing resilience and resourcefulness through facing challenging situations’.
In a recent university seminar on children’s literature, the subject came round to differences between how we live now and how we lived then – then being before c. 1970. Everyone over the age of forty remembered having an enormous amount of freedom to play outside the confines of the house, to roam pretty much where they liked, and to walk or cycle to school unaccompanied. Students in their twenties looked at us as if we were stark staring bonkers and couldn’t seem to imagine what this must have been like.
The Guardian website is giving readers two days on which to vote on whether ‘children of eight and five are too young to cycle to school unaccompanied’.