British Kids Being Mummy-fied

Hi Readers:  Just in case you were wondering what America may to start look like, in terms of helicoptering, check out this story from ahead-of-the-craziness-curve England. It notes:

The survey of 6,099 people commissioned by LV= Streetwise, a charity that educates children about safety, revealed that nearly a quarter of children aged 15 or under were not allowed to sleep at a friend’s house, 60 percent were forbidden to travel on public transport alone and 43 percent can’t go to the park without a parent or guardian.

It said more than 60 percent of mums and dads think the world is more dangerous than when they were kids.

…In contrast, just four percent of today’s adults say they were banned from sleeping-over when they were 15 or younger, only two percent were forbidden to use public transport, and the same number couldn’t go out on their own in familiar surroundings, such as their local town or park.

Got that? Just one generation ago, 98% of children were allowed to go, on their own, to the local park (not to mention the bus)!

All the more reason to get behind May 22’s “Take Our Children to the Park…And Leave Them There Day,” say I.  (Of course, I would.) Kids are being coddled, crippled and caged thanks to overblown parental fears. While most parents think the world has gone to hell in a handbasket filled with predators, kids today are actually SAFER than WE were when WE were kids — at least here in America. Crime is lower today than it was in the ’70s and ’80s (and not just because the kids are inside).

England is ahead of us when it comes to parental hysteria. It is time for us to declare our independence –again! And if you want to celebrate with a cookout and sparklers, go right ahead. (Just keep a fire extinguisher handy.) — Lenore

Don't Tread on Kids

45 Responses

  1. Gosh….as a British parent, what can I say….!

    We’re not all that bad…honest!

  2. If you read the article, that “under 15” is never defined, so this may be parents of kids aged five to fifteen. In that case, the numbers aren’t as bad as they seem. Nonetheless, walking to school at eleven at the earliest?

    Do I ever get to sleep in???

  3. Oh- and- do you have any crime statistics from 2010?

  4. Of course, contrary to U.S. trends, the violent crime rate in the U.K. has been increasing for the last 20 years or so as the right to self-defense has been steadily eroded. So they may have reason to worry.

  5. Yeah, I don’t like the way those stats are expressed. The children 15 or under who aren’t allowed, for example, to ride the bus alone, contains a certain percentage of children under 5, who OF COURSE wouldn’t be.

    But the adults who responded to the question might have been thinking, “Yeah, I could ride the bus when I was 14.” But maybe they couldn’t when they were 8.

    Without seeing exactly how the questions were worded and how the answers break down, the described percentages could present a number of different pictures, some of which would be essentially the opposite of some others. Either the survey, or the reporting, or both, are terrible.

  6. The org’s press release, with a few more details, can be found here:
    http://www.lv.com/media_centre/press_releases/todays-kids-have-less-freedom

    And it makes the comparisons between what adults say they were allowed to do and what kids say they are allowed to do look at bit dodgy.

    It seems the children who were asked were between 5 and 15. (So, assuming an even distribution, the 25% who aren’t allowed to sleep over could just be all the 5 – 71/2 year olds).

    Also, the adults are all adults – not just parents (so that covers more than one generation). And I’m guessing from those numbers and the way the info is phrased that those adults were answering for when they were 15 – not at any point before they were 15 (because, for a start, I don’t believe 98% of adults in the UK were allowed to go to the park on their own from the time they were born. Or even from 5 years old). So comparing their answers to the answers of a range of kids from 5 – 15 doesn’t make sense.

    Having said that, I certainly think parents here are more “protective” now than they were when I was growing up.

  7. Jim – That simply isn’t true. Violent crime has not been increasing in the UK for the last 20 years. It peaked in the mid-90s and is now back down to early-80s levels.

  8. Yes, UK crime has dropped
    “t reports that the risk of becoming a victim of crime has fallen to a new historical low of 22%.”
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2010/jan/21/police-figures-unexpected-drop-crime

  9. Other than the facts that both organizations (from the linked press release) and media sources (from the Reuters link Lenore posted) are willing to publish astonishingly badly described information, I can’t tell a darn thing from this. Who was surveyed? Is it even possible to generalize from the survey sample to a larger population? I can’t see a darn thing in either link addressing this.

  10. I wonder how much in the percentage change in sleepover prohibition is due to a demographic shift. When I was growing up, my friends who were children of immigrants were usually prohibitted from sleeping over at friend’s houses, but my friends who were second generation American or beyond were not. I’m not sure why this was, but it was. The percentage of foriegn-born population in my area has now climbed to 25%. I wonder if an increase in the foriegn-born population means a decrease in sleepovers. Of course, this doesn’t explain the other shifts, which are due to increased helecoptering, but I wonder if it doesn’t contribute to the increase in sleepover prohibitions. Sleepovers are one case where we can’t look to non-Westerners to be more “free range.”

  11. Oh, I’m as ready as anyone to admit that parents are more protective (at least in the US, and quite willing to believe that Britain’s the same.) I just HATE badly done/poorly reported on studies and dislike using bad arguments to make good points.

  12. Pentamom – if this is in response to my post, I didn’t mean to sound like I was calling yours into question. I would have worded it slightly differently if I’d read your post before I hit submit. More along the lines of “what she said”🙂

    And here too, ditto – I hate badly reported studies. Especially the selective use of surveys to push an agenda rather than investigate a subject. On which point I’ll also note that LV= Streetwise is, to some extent, an organization that does better when people are more paranoid about safety. Which does not necessarily mean they are deliberately disingenuous in their commissioning or interpretation of the survey, but it’s something that should make people (especially Reuters) think twice before taking it at face value.

  13. Sorry, helenquine, I should have been clearer. I meant to agree with you, and just add that my previous reaction was for the reasons I described. I didn’t mean to sound like I was taking issue. Also, I just wanted to emphasize my agreement about protectiveness being real, in case that got lost in my critique, but I wasn’t assuming you were “arguing” the point with me. I need to learn that people who read my comments don’t live inside my own head. 😉

  14. lol I am more fearful of teenagers sleeping over (probably lying about where they are going..) then younger kids. Hopefully I will be all cool by the time I have teenagers (gettting there.. oh oh)

  15. I’m questioning the methodology of this survey too – not least because of the imprecise and undetailed reporting of it, but also because I *cannot* find the actual survey anywhere within LV= Streetwise and LVs websites. Further, LV= Streetwise certainly is *not* the first organisation I’d trust to deliver rigorous, dependable results. (LV= Streetwise is a small charity that delivers “Safety Tours” in Dorset, while the larger for-profit LV= organisation which operates it is a savings-and-investment and insurance company. Can you say, ‘Conflict of interest?’)

    Like Pentamom, I’d hardly disagree with the idea that parents are more protective today than they were 30 years ago. BUT using shoddy studies which are then reported badly to make that argument just isn’t sufficient.

    What’s more, I must say: having moved to London from the U.S. seven months ago to complete an MA in Childhood Studies, both my personal experience and my academic knowledge of childhood in England leads me to lean toward saying that America is in fact the more fearful country. Maybe not by much, but at least by a little.

    So, um, the sparklers and cries of independence might just be a bit premature.

    (One thing England *DOES* have going for it is a longstanding, vibrant heritage of advocacy running counter to the mainstream – with a rich history of adventure playgrounds, national organisations like Play England advocating for risky play, and regularly commissioned reports and studies by the government which keep tabs on matters of childhood. For instance, just as an example of the kind of work consistently being done, I can’t recommend enough that you read Tim Gill’s study about risk-aversion:
    http://www.gulbenkian.org.uk/publications/education/no-fear . This kind of robust infrastructure for positive advocacy just has not been matched yet in the U.S., and in my personal opinion, that’s to America’s extreme detriment.)

  16. I can assure you wher eI live plenty of children bus or walk to school on their own. Play out visit friends etc not everyone in England is like that.

    I don’t think this report is a true reflection

  17. England is ahead of the US, in general, when it comes to loss of personal and civil liberties. The average British citizen is under more camera surveillance and has to abide by more rules infringing on personal choice than the average American citizen knows. That is also generally true in the EU, and look at how happy most member nations are now.

  18. Hi Lenore!

    I saw two great free-range kids at the grocery store today. Two boys, around age 10 got a cart and came into the store alone. They bought a big bag of dog food and a few essentials, paid, then went back to their father waiting in the parking lot with the car. The boys loaded the car, accidentally tipping the shopping cart while removing the dog food. Dad didn’t even blink as the boys righted and returned the cart and jumped in the car. They were polite, efficient and looked like they felt very responsible! What a great way to have you kids gain some skills and help out dad at the same time!

  19. bmj2k – I wouldn’t disagree that the UK government has introduce intrusive legislation and surveillance techniques. And having returned to the UK after a long stint in the US some of it really grates. But these restrictions are not the ones this survey is talking about. It’s talking about the restrictions placed on children by there parents.

    I’d also point out that although the UK seems to have, for instance, a lot more government surveillance, the US’s use of prison on its population is quite staggering. It’s a tactic that removes a lot more rights and abilities but from a more restricted section of society. So it is not always possible to put countries in a simple ranking of most “free” to least “free”. These are complex ideas with many, sometimes contradictory, facets.

  20. Even granting all the points made about the stats being “dodgy” (good British word, eh wot?) of the survey, I still think these numbers speak very eloquently. I posted the numbers onto my Facebook as my status, and I’m using this little pulpit to encourage others to do the same.

    Here is the exact wording I used, which fit into the Facebook number-of-characters requirement:

    British survey: nearly a quarter of children aged 15 or under are forbidden to sleep at a friend’s house, 60 percent cannot ride public transport alone, and 43 percent can’t go to the park without Mom. By contrast, just four percent of today’s adults were banned from sleeping over when they were 15 or younger, and only two percent were forbidden to use public transport or go alone into their local town or park.

  21. Kenny – it may be eloquent, but it seems unlikely that it’s true.

  22. “By contrast, just four percent of today’s adults were banned from sleeping over when they were 15 or younger, and only two percent were forbidden to use public transport or go alone into their local town or park.”

    This is mis-stating the statistics from the study. Questions for adults were phrased differently- they were asked “at such-and-such an age” whereas parents were asked about their children aged 5-15 without regard to the child’s exact age.

    I personally find most of the comments here supportive of Skenazy and more credible than my own point of view and think that it’s notable that most of the comments this time do not agree with the use of statistics in this article.

  23. helenquine, thank you for pointing out that there are many ways to look at ‘freedom’, and it is a complex and contradictory terrain – especially when we’re to consider children’s freedoms.

    I echo your experience, that while I personally found the UK’s higher rate of surveillance and (arguably) more intrusive legislation slightly alarming when I first came here, America has suppressed many freedoms in other ways – for instance, as you mentioned with shockingly high prison populations, appalling policy and social prejudices in regard to lower and working classes, and things like Arizona’s recent immigration legislation. We may feel like we have more freedom ‘from’ unwanted burdens in America, but our freedom ‘to’ live healthy, happy lives in supportive communities is, I feel, much worse off than much of the rest of the world.

    But it is a complex matter, to be sure, and one for considerable discussion.

  24. oh my goodness, all that talk about whether the statistics are right or not, or if England is worse than America, as if that is what is important. I’m sure that anyone older than 25 can tell you, that in America, Britain or Australia (where I live) being a child now is very different to being a child 30 years ago. We were ‘allowed’ to do very different things to what we allow our children to do know. Just as 30 years prior to that children played with wooden hoops in the street and were photographed in their sunday best by a man under a hood in the street (imagine that today!). I learnt a lot about humans good and bad by coming into contact with them. Still, I fear overprotect my kids (although things are a lot easier for no.3). New world calls for new thinking, Thanks for giving me something to think about.

  25. Daniel – “… our freedom ‘to’ live healthy, happy lives in supportive communities is, I feel, much worse off than much of the rest of the world.”

    I wouldn’t go that far. I think (especially for myself as a woman) that the US is definitely in the top sector (and I would put the UK and most of Europe up there as well).

  26. Sure, absolutely, helenquine – we are a privileged nation in many respects, and I probably should have added some qualifiers to my statement. (Looking back on it, I think I meant to add that I was referring to ‘developed’ nations only.)

    The U.S. is certainly within that top stratum, but – and here’s what I wanted to emphasise – when you examine quality-of-life ratings like the Human Development Index, the EIU’s Liveability Index, even the so-called “Popsicle Index”, the U.S. is typically ranked at the 13th, 17th, even 21st… somewhere at a slot radically below what most Americans are aware of (and often near the UK as well). European countries like Sweden, Iceland and Norway offer their citizens access to far better standards of life than us. We’d do well to learn from them before touting our own superiority.

    The other concept I wanted to put forth was the older idea of ‘Positive’ and ‘Negative’ Freedoms; in the States we often see references to freedom ‘from’ something (negative freedom), but we don’t often think about our freedoms ‘to’ things (positive freedom). Freedom is not just about a lack of constraints and interference, but can also be about having access to positive support in our life. It’s something to consider when we discuss our children’s freedoms and well-being.

  27. Daniel – That I can get behind🙂.

    On the freedom “to” side just to take this further ff topic and [gasp!] be positive about childhood today – to some extent kids seem to have more freedom to express themselves nowadays than I think I had as a teen. And I don’t mean that I was told off for saying certain things – but that the technology and skills kids have now make publishing their voices much more possible than it was when I was growing up. And kids can develop communities that I would never have been able to manage. I think all this can give them a broader view of the world than most kids could have managed 20 years ago.

  28. Score one for positive news about the state of childhood these days!

  29. I’d rather be safe than sorry. I live in the UK (but I’m an Aussie) and let’s face it, the UK has had some very gory child-killers in the past (as has every other country – it just seem very notable here for some reason). It doesn’t really fill me with great confidence to let my kids stride outside alone or on public transport.

    I don’t trust the world with my kids. Sorry. No report is going to change my mind. I live in the same world they are talking about and I will argue ’till the cows come home that our society is worst than it was 30 years ago – relaxation towards so many issues, and the breakdown of the family are major contributors towards an unhealthy world, that we sadly live in today.

  30. The article is ridiculous. Sure: there were 6099 subjects, but nowhere is it mentioned how old the under-15s in question were. It makes a big difference if you’re questioning 4 year olds versus 14 year olds. I smell data manipulation.

  31. On a related note, the dangers of bread (stole it from The Fresh Loaf):

    http://www.geoffmetcalf.com/bread.html

  32. “I’d rather be safe than sorry.”

    Sadly, safe is not an option, especially not if your kids are in the home or in a car, instead of riding bikes and playing outside.

    Danger is everywhere. It’s just a matter of which risks you take.

  33. “in the States we often see references to freedom ‘from’ something (negative freedom), but we don’t often think about our freedoms ‘to’ things (positive freedom).”

    …because – I supsect anyway – the “freedom to” you are discussing isn’t actually freedom at all –it’s entitlement at the expense of someone else – it’s licence to compel others to ensure that you receive the “standard of life” you want. Only with “freedom from” compulsion is anyone *truly* free.

    But, yes, it’s hard to compare levels of freedom in different countries because governments are restrictive about different things, they interefere in different ways, and they erode different freedoms for different groups of people. All that said, I think most Americans take their freedoms so for granted (particularly freedoms such as the freedom of speech and the freedom of religion and various civil liberties), that they are often mistified to discover they do not necessarily have them, at least to the same degree, in other countries. And I do think it’s pretty obvious if you are looking for a particular kind of freedom to determine where you will most likely find it.

  34. Sky,

    Sorry, I don’t really want to wade in too deep into this – it’s a whole ‘nother discussion – but I mean something far different from what you suppose when I say ‘freedom to,’ something much different than simple entitlement. You might find this essay describing positive and negative freedom interesting:

    http://www.seop.leeds.ac.uk/entries/liberty-positive-negative/

    I’d also just say, perhaps as a helpful illustration, that as the American markets have been deregulated and made supposedly ‘freer’, since the 1970s sociologists have noted first that income disparity – the gap between the rich and the poor – grew significantly, and second that class mobility – the capacity to rise upward economically – has stalled. At present, the U.S. and the UK have systems that are greatly inflexible, offering substantially less mobility than Canada and the Nordic countries.

    So while Americans have gained a ‘freedom from’ one thing – regulation of the markets – it’s come at the great expense for most Americans’ ‘freedom to’ be rewarded with economic mobility for their hard work. There’s nothing about ‘entitlement’ and ‘compulsion’ in the picture at all.

  35. “I’d rather be safe than sorry. I live in the UK (but I’m an Aussie) and let’s face it, the UK has had some very gory child-killers in the past ”

    And were all these child-killers who abducted a child from a public place while that child was there unsupervised? I really doubt it. When I think of the high profile cases from America in recent years, I’m struck by the fact that a large number were taken from their OWN BEDROOMS. I can actually think of more who were taken from their own bedroom or within shouting distance of their parents than those who were out roaming on their own.

    The fact that Elizabeth Smart (Polly Klaus, JonBenet, and the host of others) was kidnapped from her bedroom has absolutely no bearing whatsoever on the safety of lone children on public transport (for example). Society needs to stop treating it as if it does. Every single time a child is abducted or killed, it leads to discussions on how unsafe the world is and how you can’t let your children do the things that you did without any regard for HOW that particular child was taken. Parent reaction to all of them is to keep their kids under lock and key and, yet, even the most paranoid of my acquaintances don’t sleep in shifts so that someone is truly watching Jr. 24/7.

  36. Donna, I suspect Amy may be referring very specifically to the three or four very high-profile cases that have happened over the last two decades here in the UK where young children have, in some cases, kidnapped and then tortured and killed other children.

    The murder of toddler James Bulger, for instance, was particularly horrifying: two 10-year-old boys did manage to abduct him from a public shopping centre (his mum was nearby) and then take him to a nearby railway line where they tortured and molested him, eventually killing him and leaving his mutilated body to be found two days later. The wikipedia entry can give you more information:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Murder_of_James_Bulger

    It was *exactly* the sort of thing that all of us would fear: an innocent child snatched away from mum in a public place, under her very nose.

    The case was highly reported in the media and etched into Britain’s common culture and since then there have been a few other high-profile cases of clinically disturbed child-killers torturing and/or killing other children that have created a particularly unique heightened public fear around child safety. However statistically anomalous these cases were, there’s a lot of stirring public emotion behind them – something to be aware of when talking about child safety and risks in the UK.

    (Just dig up some of the archives from the time to see the vitriol that was spewed by newspapers like The Sun and The Daily Mail… in essence, they were fuelling a lynch mob. Public sentiment around the case has even today made it difficult to adjust the criminal age of responsibility in the UK – too low, at age 10 – and to reform the UK’s youth justice processes, which are, to put it lightly, extremely draconian, insensitive and harsh – and for which the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child have criticised them for consistently.)

  37. “It was *exactly* the sort of thing that all of us would fear: an innocent child snatched away from mum in a public place, under her very nose.”

    But that is exactly MY point. The kid was right next to his mother. He was not wandering alone. And the fact that there were only 3 or 4 in 20 years is further proof that there is simply NOT an epidemic of children being abducted and murdered. Even in the US, anytime you mention this topic, you get “what about Adam Walsh?” Adam Walsh is now a 30+ year old tragedy. The fact that everyone keeps going back to that is an indication that this is not an epidemic – they can’t come up with any other names to support their theory that the world is so much more dangerous now (completely ignoring that that was actually THEN).

    Nobody is saying that there are not horrible people out there who do horrible things. However, never letting your children out of the house or leave your sight is not the proper reaction. First, because it’s an extremely rare event – less likely than winning the lottery – and not something that we need to be on high alert for at all times. Second, it doesn’t actually protect your child. These horrible people can come into homes or take your children from your presence just as easily as they can snatch a child walking alone on the street (probably easier since the sleeping child or child with his parents is probably less self-aware and more vulnerable). Third, it hinders kids development of independence as well as ability to become self-aware and confident in public and listen to their gut – things that will actually protect them throughout life.

    If there were no negative repercussions, it’d be fine to keep a billion kids under lock and key to protect the 3 or 4 who are tragically murdered every couple decades but it’s simply not healthy to live in this irrational fear of being snatched all the time.

  38. Even in the US, anytime you mention this topic, you get “what about Adam Walsh?” Adam Walsh is now a 30+ year old tragedy.

    Even for strange abductions – already fairly unusual – Adam Walsh was an exception.

    The children most likely to be abducted by strangers are teenaged girls. Six year old boys are a real rarity.

    Of course, people want to lock up their babies and not their teens.

  39. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t disagree with you, Donna – I just wanted to point out the extremely sensitive emotional terrain that one’s likely to come by when discussing these issues in the UK: it’s helpful not to dismiss the concerns outright, when they’ve become so culturally embedded in UK society (much more so, I believe, than any abductions have in the U.S.).

  40. “The children most likely to be abducted by strangers are teenaged girls. Six year old boys are a real rarity.”

    I agree on the boys. Abducting boys is a rarity. Adam Walsh and that “I know my first name is Stephen” kid are the only ones that I can think of.

    I disagree on the teenage girls, though. They seem to run a pretty wide gambit from about 5 to 15. I can probably come up with more abducted girls in the pre-pubescent/pre-teen range than in the teenage years. At 15, Elizabeth Smart is pretty much the oldest high profile child abduction that I can think off (I don’t count Natalie Holloway since she was actually an adult). Whether this is because the older kids don’t get the airtime the younger kids do or more younger kids are actually being abducted, I don’t know.

  41. Can we please refer to Steven Stayner by his name instead of That kid? His family went through the hell of his kidnapping, his struggle to rejoin the family after his courageous act of defiance to save Timmy White. Only to lose him 9 years later.

    Had Kenneth Parnell been locked up for life in 1951, the first time he was convicted of raping a child – the lives of Steven Stayner, Timmy White would have been very different.

    Maybe Cary Stayner (Steven’s Brother) would have taken a different path and Carole Sund, Julie Sund, Silvina Pelosso and Joie Armstrong would not have been murdered.

  42. Donna – according to the Justice department in 1999 for children.

    But 58% of stereotypical kidnappings and 81% of non-family abductions were of children older than 12. Also there fewer kids in the older age range (kids under twelve made up approx 70% of all children). So as these things go (and the risks are small anyway) younger children are less likely to be victims (assuming things haven’t changed dramatically in a decade).

    From the same source: 69% of stereotypical kidnappings and 65% of non-family abductions were girls.

  43. Donna, you’re mistaken. The risk level for stranger abduction for girls *peaks* at 15. And it’s much higher once girls enter their double digits.

    Why are most of the high profile cases of younger children? I don’t know, but it’s not because most kidnapped children are very young.

    I’d guess the younger ones get more press because they’re perceived as being more vulnerable, because we might picture older girls as having “asked for it” in some way (or question that it was “really” an abduction – I know I had my doubts about Elizabeth Smart because it was such an unusual scenario!), because we think of children as being innocent and of harming them as being particularly distasteful but don’t feel quite so strongly about adolescents.

  44. Hi. I love this post especially..can you provide me with the data re: this, “While most parents think the world has gone to hell in a handbasket filled with predators, kids today are actually SAFER than WE were when WE were kids — at least here in America. Crime is lower today than it was in the ’70s and ’80s (and not just because the kids are inside).”

    I’m preparing to use it as ammo and want to be fully prepared!

    thanks,

  45. Hi, I have to say that I do know some parents who are a little “over causious”.

    However, where I live, kids play outside unsupervised, dont come home for hours on end (because theyre having fun), walk to school by themsleves and go to the shops by themselves.. all from about as young as 7/8.

    I dont recall ever hearing about anything bad happening… and Im British!

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