The key challenge for the next generation is to give children the freedom and experiences they need in order to develop into adults. Otherwise we will end up with a generation of toddlers, incapable of dealing with life’s many challenges.
Children’s lives are – in some ways - becoming more restricted today: many are no longer able to play in the streets, walk or cycle to school, play in local parks, or just spend time with their friends, away from the supervision of parents and teachers.
The changing nature of childhood is an expression of growing parental fears for children’s safety and an erosion of trust in fellow humans. But the irony is that – by being preoccupied with safety - we are not necessarily making children’s lives any ‘safer’. So, for instance, if children have no practice in living and are told to ‘yell, run and tell’ if approached by a stranger, how are they going to learn to read the intentions of people they do not know later in life? Children need to learn to deal with risks and develop the capacity to assess challenges. They also need to be given the opportunity to develop resilience to life’s inevitable blows.
It is, of course, perfectly reasonable for parents to worry about their children’s safety. But such concerns need to be balanced by a recognition that children need to operate away from home and school, and develop the skills that are necessary for a rewarding, healthy life. In order for parents to develop the confidence to give children more freedom, we need to start challenging the corrosive tendency to undermine trust in fellow human beings.
Helene Guldberg is a contributor to Sustaining Architecture in the Anti-Machine Age (buy this book from Amazon (UK) or Amazon (USA)), and Rethinking Risk and the Precautionary Principle (buy this book from Amazon (UK) or Amazon (USA)).