Schools that let kids climb trees, explore the bush and enjoy some rough and tumble, report less serious fighting, fewer accidents and better classroom behaviour than in more cosseted schools.

Each generation of parents seems to be more conscientious than the last. That can be a mixed blessing for the children if it means the parents are so conscientious they feel an obligation to see the child is supervised and entertained every waking hour at home.

In our review feature today, “Letting kids run wild”, AUT researchers tell what they discovered when they asked children aged 10-12 and their parents and grandparents how often they were allowed to go by themselves or with friends to the local shops and parks and to school and each other’s homes.

They found the freedom to do these things unsupervised dropped slightly from the grandparents’ generation to the parents’ but more markedly for today’s children. That suggests unduly protective habits started with today’s parents (generation X) but they might be putting a rosy hue on their own upbringing.

The grandparents (boomers) might remember when they stopped allowing their children to roam as freely as they themselves did in the 1950s ’60s. A number of tragic child abductions in the 1980s had a profound effect on them.

Quite suddenly, many children started being driven to school and collected by car in the afternoon. Around home parents wanted to know where the children were at all times. Roaming wild, climbing trees and playing in creeks, became alarming.

It was undoubtedly an overreaction to rare crime but it has continued and children’s lives became even more cloistered as “stranger danger” programmes and health and safety regulations took hold in schools over subsequent decades.

Supervision of children, not letting them anything considered dangerous, usually means organising what they can do. The researchers found today’s 10-12 year olds attend an average of 4.1 organised activities a week, more than twice as many as their parents. At some point this surely comes at a cost to a child’s own initiative and ability to amuse themselves.

One of the speakers at a symposium in Auckland next weekend called “Rewild the Child”, blames problems such as school bullying and youth suicide on children’s loss of connection with nature.

Teachers in schools that let kids climb trees, explore bush, enjoy some rough and tumble report less serious fighting, fewer accidents and better classroom behaviour than they have seen in more cosseted schools.

It is food for thought. It is hard not to worry when the kids are out of sight but at least when they are in sight, parents could relax more, refuse to entertain them, watch them become curious and creative.

Source: NZ Herald

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