As mentioned in a previous post, social trust has declined and one casualty of this is the loss of children’s independent mobility. When I was growing up, I was lucky enough to be allowed to play outside with my friends, but fewer and fewer children appear to be allowed to do this anymore. This can obviously impact on children’s physical and social health, where not allowing access to the outdoors leads to less opportunity to exercise or to socialise with other children. The media have a part to play, and with recent stories about Shannon Matthews and the Soham murders, parents are coming under increasing perceived social pressure to watch their children, or be stigmatised as bad parents. This change in how children spend their time is also impacting on opportunities for children to learn how to use streets safely. Quite often, children are only experiencing their first taste of independent mobility when they attend secondary school. Currently, there is still a social norm around children being able to travel to secondary school on their own, although more and more parents are starting to accompany their children to secondary school. Unfortunately, there is a spike in pedestrian road traffic accidents, at the age of 11, which happens to be when children start attending high school. Coincidence? By reducing independent mobility and protecting their children many parents may actually be doing more harm than good, so there is a massive need for parents to practise road safety with their children, prior to them going to secondary school and being allowed to be independently mobile.
(above) children playing in the streets in the 1950s
(left) “Let me out!” – a modern child will often not be allowed to play in the streets anymore, and be independently mobile
Sustrans have recently been running a campaign to counteract this over protection of children, called Free-Range Kids. This campaign centres around a simple ‘call to action’ to allow children more freedom and is a clever way of repositioning the journey to school and playing outdoors, both of which are key parts of independent mobility. This campaign aims to positively impact on social capital and trust, and ties into an idea which many adults can remember from their own childhood and often took for granted.