Parents have a really important role in helping to connect kids with nature and the outdoors, writes play expert Tim Gill
Parents are routinely lambasted for keeping their children indoors. Yet they are also first in the firing line if they do let their kids outside and anything goes wrong. How can they find their way past this dilemma?
There are far too many people trying to tell parents how to bring up their kids, and I do not intend to join them. What is more, our whole society has a problem with risk aversion. The issue cannot simply be laid at the feet of parents. That said, they can either be part of the problem, or part of the solution. It is helpful to start by finding common ground that everyone can agree on.
Growing up is, at heart, a transfer of power from adults to children. We do them no favours by starving them of any chance to take responsibility for themselves. As Judith Hackitt – chair of the Health and Safety Executive no less – has said: “the creeping culture of risk aversion and fear of litigation puts at risk our children’s education and preparation for adult life.” One boy quoted on the BBC website put it more bluntly. “Kids should be allowed to experiment and try things,” he said. “Otherwise when they grow up they’ll make very stupid mistakes from not getting enough experience at childhood.”
It is not mere nostalgia for us grown-ups to recall the places where we played as children (usually out of doors and out of sight of adults, and often in wild, exciting locations) and the things we did. We cannot and should not try to recreate a carbon copy of our own childhoods – but we can and should remind ourselves of the value of a taste of freedom and adventure.
We also need to put the risks in perspective, and avoid the paralysing trap of ‘worst first’ thinking. Nothing grabs our attention quite like fear. The media knows this, and so should every parent. That does not mean being callous or negligent when we hear about child tragedies. But it does mean taking a reality check.
If you are a parent struggling with this territory, I invite you to try the following. When your child climbs a little higher than you are comfortable with, pause for a moment before stepping in, and see how they get on. When your kids argue or fight, ask them to sort things out for themselves. When, on a family day out, they explore the park or the woods that little bit further, practice using your peripheral vision rather than your vocal chords. In sum, see if you can sign up to that most invaluable of parental techniques: the lost art of benign neglect.