When I was a kid I got in trouble with the police. I was 8 years old. Mum and Dad had gone to work and it was school holidays. I woke up in the morning, brushed my teeth, had my Coco Pops and I was gone. Fun was to be had, the sun was shining and there was no way that I was going to stay inside. I met Tim and Simon up at the Gully. The Gully was a sharp crevice that we climbed down. There we had all sorts of fun. We caught lizards and many was the time that my mother would scream at me to “GET IT OUT”. Sometimes Tim would bring his mini motor bike. Tim would ride and I would sit on the back. We would race around the paddocks. Many a time we fell off, the grazes we brought home were a sight to see. Tim’s parents and Simon’s parents were at work too. Like mine they just left them to their own devices; just as long as they were home in time for tea.
Being boys we got up to all sorts of mischief. Life as a boy would not be life if we did not. On the fated day that we got in trouble with the police we were bored. The motor bike had broken down and we couldn’t find any lizards. We decided that we would climb an olive tree. These olive trees grew along the side of Nelson Road. They were enormous things with ripe and squishy olives. Don’t ask me why but Simon spotted a lorry coming up the road, he dashed down the tree with a ripe squishy olive and threw the olive at the passing lorry and it went ‘SPLAT’ all over the side of the lorry. This sent Tim and I into fits of mirth. We were boys after all.
So it became a challenge. We would sit up the tree, dash down, throw our olives and if we hit the cars we would dash up the tree and hide. Every time we hit a car or a lorry we would scream in jubilation. This went on for about half an hour. Tim spotted a near new Cortina coming up the road. Down the tree he dashed and let fly – ‘SPLAT’ – the over ripe olive burst and oozed all over the passenger side window. Tim dashed up the tree out of harms way.
But this time the car screeched to a halt. A little old lady got out and she was furious. (In truth she was probably only about 40 but 40 was OOOOLLLLLDDDD) She stood in front of our tree, hands on hips and screamed her rage, “What do you think you are doing?”, She raged, “Do you want to kill someone?” For some reason, up on our lofty perch, we all answered in unison; as if she was a school teacher, “No miss!” She pointed at us, “You, you and you, get down right now!!” Down we came, heads bowed in shame.
“Right” said the old lady taking out a pen and pad from her car, “Name and address please.” We all could have given her a false name and address; I mean she would never have known. But in our fear we blurted out our names and addresses which she wrote down diligently onto her pad. “You’re parents shall be hearing from the police and I hope you are all suitably punished!” At that she was gone.
True to her word she reported us to the police. That evening the police visited our homes and had a chat to our parents. My father was furious and gave me an almighty whack on the backside. I was grounded for the rest of the holidays. That was punishment indeed. And although I could have gone out during the day when my parents were at work and they would never have known I did as I was told. After all what I had done was stupid and that was the consequence.
This was 1973. This would not happen today. Eight year old kids home alone? SHOCKING! Roaming the streets alone! SCANDELOUS! Climbing down gullies and climbing up trees unsupervised! GAAAAASSSP. Catching lizards? What if they got BITTEN! But this was an age when kids were kids and kids had fun. Today kids are marshmallows to the ninth degree.
As a parent today I despair. My kids cannot do anything. They go to soccer training which is just over a kilometre away from home. They are not allowed to walk home alone. The coaches won’t let them. The coaches will make them wait at the ground for their parents to arrive. My eldest kid was made to ride his bike to and from training when he was 12. Apparently he tells me the other parents would OOOOHH and AHHHH and say how disgraceful it was that he was made to get home on his own. If it rains and the ground is a bit muddy they call the games off because, “Its not safe.”. I remember the mud-baths we played on when we were kids. Not one game was ever postponed. After the game we would find the muddiest part of the ground and all dive in head first. It was fabulous fun. I despair for what our kids are becoming, I really do.
When I was seven I caught a bus to Adelaide on my own to meet my mother for doctor’s appointments. I went to the city with my ten year old sister to watch Bambi, I didn’t cry when Bambi’s mum got shot, honest, I just had water in my eye. We were independent. My parents would prepare me, “Now you catch the 502 at 11.30. Just tell the driver you need dropping off near the Forum on O’Connell.” And we did that many a time. I would catch the bus on my own to Rundle Mall, go down Hindley street and play the games at Downtown. The place would be packed with kids. Not any more, kids are wrapped in cotton wool!
“Once upon a time in New York City, it wasn’t a big deal if pre-teen kids rode the subways and buses alone. Today, as Lenore Skenazy has discovered, a kid who goes out without a nanny, a helmet and a security detail is a national news story, and his mother is a candidate for child-abuse charges.” So begins the story on the American Today show website. I raised my arms to the heavens and screamed, “HALLELUJAH”, when I read it. I screamed because out there, there is a parent like me. A parent that wants their kids to learn life skills to get on in life. Life skills are certainly not something that kids will learn living in a cocoon. ( source: http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/23935873/ns/today-today_news/t/mom-lets–year-old-take-subway-home-alone/ )
What struck me about this article is that it pointed out that far from being more dangerous today; the world is actually a safer place. Said Skenazy, “The era is long past when Times Square was a fetid sump and taking a walk in Central Park after dark was tantamount to committing suicide. Recent federal statistics show New York to be one of the safest cities in the nation – right up there with Provo, Utah, in fact.” Yes that’s right, New York, that place where you supposedly get mugged just walking out the front door, is one of the safest cities in America. But the problem is that the parents have convinced themselves that the world is a more dangerous place today. It is, in fact, not the case. Skenazy believes that, “The problem is that people read about children who are abducted and murdered and fear takes over” Skenazy simply doesn’t think fear should rule our lives. Inevitably though, it does.
I insist the WORLD is safe. It is no more dangerous today than it has ever been. Skenazy, for her trouble, got labeled a child-abuser and an irresponsible parent. She didn’t even give her kid a mobile. She gave him some coins and said if he were to get lost to call her from a public phone. What an arse! So incensed was she that she embarked on her own research. She approached the public and asked them this simple question, “What if you wanted your child to be kidnapped by a stranger and held overnight? How long would you have to leave him or her outside and unattended for that to actually happen?” ( Source: http://stats.org/stories/2009/land_free_home_scared_sept2_09.html )
Skenazy notes that kids are actually safer today than they were in the seventies. In fact the chances of your kid being abducted ar approximately 1 in 1.5 million. The world has gone insane. Skenazy tells stories of a school bus being evacuated because there was a single peanut on the floor. She tells stories of kids being dropped off at their door by the school bus rather than a designated bus-stop. Worse the kids are not allowed off the bus unless they are met by a parent.
If you think it is any different in Australia, think again. Just last week a school was in the news because it banned kids doing handstands and cartwheels for fear of injury. God forbid what they would have done in the seventies when kids hung upside down on monkey bars and ate their lunch just to see if they could actually swallow while hanging upside down.
What society is doing with this ridiculous protectionist attitude is stealing kids of their childhood. It is creating a “Marshmallow State” where kids simply do not know how to take risks or initiative. Skenazy believes that the world is losing “perspective.” People now make assumptions and the assumption is always negative. We see every person as a potential abductor or paedophile says Skenazy, “ …until proven otherwise.”
And that is the world that we have created. We have created a world where everyone is assumed bad instead of good. We have created a world where fear dictates our every decision. Mostly this hysteria has been created by a media that is hell bent on reporting every negative occurrence that they can almost to the exclusion of anything else. Despite what the media will have us believe statistics actually show the world is generally SAFER today.
For the record; how long would it take your child to be abducted if you left them outside? Answers that Skenazy received ranged from ten minutes, an hour and right up to three months. The answer is approximately 750 000 years. I kid you not. I don’t know about you but personally I will take the risk!