Fancy a bite of my plasticine?

Fancy a bite of my plasticine?

You’ve all seen the memes (I hate that word) that read ‘when I was a kid I played outside until the street lights came on, dug in the mud and played in the woods’ etc etc and such like. Most of us around the 30 mark and above can relate to it and fondly recall our childhood memories of minimal technology and imaginative play. 

These days however we live in a much more dangerous world; full of germs and bad people and injuries waiting to happen. As a result of this we cocoon our children in safety and risk assessments, striving to remove such hazards before our children have to even consider encountering them. Modern day children are safe and protected without even having to think for themselves. A click of a button tells you where your child is by tracking their smartphone, a pocket sized bottle of hand sanitiser removes all germs in one foul swoop. A detailed risk assessment that every child caring establishment is required to make covers all the broken branches, steps, trip hazards and possible exits so the children can play safely.

Now don’t get me wrong I totally track my eleven year old daughter’s smartphone when she doesn’t pick up my call after school and I recoil in horror at the thought of any of my children unsupervised in a public toilet (oh my gosh the germs and the other people’s pee and the grossness! I can’t cope). I really appreciate the risk assessments my childcare providers take time to complete so that my partially sighted son only hits his face/head/body a minimal number of times each day. Even so I have to question is it necessary to push our concerns and precautions to such extremes? 

We survived didn’t we? I know a couple of my friends broke bones and one or two must have picked up a bug here and there from our outdoor antics but we survived? Quite well might I add! Our experiences surely contributed to the well balanced common sense we all use to make sensible, reasonable decisions when it comes to our own children’s care. 

What concerns me is that we are too obsessed in modern times with sheltering our children from the horrors of life that many of them will not grow to have the same standard of common sense as their elders. A friend recently pointed out that we already have a generation of graduates with an inflated opinion of entitlement and deflated ability in common sense. What will this next generation of kids be like? Too scared to experience life in case they catch a cold? Incapable of making decisions that should be second nature to an intelligent species like us? 

My husband travelled to Eastern Europe with his band a year or two ago. He was amazed by the low hanging, head height barbed wire and open manholes he saw as he walked around. He asked his guide why there were no signs warning people of the dangers and clearly very little health and safety considerations. The guide’s reply was quite simple; he looked at my husband with some confusion and said “if you’re stupid enough to not look where you’re going and you fall in a hole then it’s your own fault, no one else’s!” This is both obvious and true. In modern society we are all too quick to blame others and immediately stake claims of damages, negligence or fault. Health and safety has definitely reached extremes in our society. Do we want to pass on this mentality to our children? Or would we prefer that they develop to be the intelligent, observant and sensible species that we are designed to be? We are after all the most intelligent species on our planet, right? We are also the only species who requires a sign to tell us the floor may be wet by a water fountain or that there’s a gaping hole in the floor. I mean we obviously wouldn’t see the hole if it wasn’t for the sign so we’d all take no precautions and totally fall in it. We are not using our brains, we are just waiting for someone else to tell us how to do everything. Our children are learning this same behaviour from so young that they accept it without question.

It’s a scary prospect but most of the time if you allow children to have the relevant information they usually make good choices. Granted, once in a while they may choose to play in the rain with no coat or eat chocolate cake for breakfast but what harm would it do, really? They’d soon make a better choice the next time once they are cold and shivering or nauseous and tired from the post chocolate cake sugar crash. They would learn to make the link between a cold, wet day and a warm, dry coat or a delicious piece of toast and jam and not needing a nap by 10am instead of just learning that someone tells them to so they must, without understanding the reasoning. 

Then again, what do I know. I played in the mud and the rain, fell off a great many things and tried to eat plasticine as a kid so my brain is probably fried. 

Such cruelty, such sadness, such fear. 

Such cruelty, such sadness, such fear. 

In light of the horrific events unfolding in my city this last two weeks I find myself questioning just what kind of world we are bringing our children into?  I imagine most UK residents are aware but for those internationally who may not be, a 16 year old girl named Rebecca Watts went missing on February 20th at 11am.  After extensive searching and public appeals Police have confirmed they have discovered what they believe to be her body parts and five further people have been arrested in addition to two others.  This sickens me to the core as I’m sure it does all of you.  I am deeply saddened for her family and friends and disgusted by the behaviour of the people that have committed such a horrific act of senseless violence and put an innocent family through such unimaginable hell. 

I don’t deal well with fear or violence, I am easily disturbed and will not watch crime dramas, murder mysteries, horror films or anything such like that is deemed entertainment.  I am simply too afraid of the potential reality.  I look at my children and wonder how I can possibly keep them safe.  I mean there’s a lot of them for starters; three with one more on the way in just six weeks time.  I have limited observational skills let alone enough limbs to hold onto them all at once. 

Currently this fear gravitates towards my ten year old daughter who has recently discovered the joys of hanging out at the park with her friends, chatting and listening to music on their phones.  We live just a five minute drive from said park but a good twenty minute walk, so she is only allowed to attend the park when myself or a family member are able to drive her to and from home.  My mum and stepdad live just a five minute walk from the park, so sometimes she is allowed to walk back with friends who live nearby, to their house.  

Frequently, although I admit much sooner that I expected in her young years, we argue over what time she must be home by.  Being just ten years old she is yet to be aware of the horrors of the world and does not appreciate the potential danger of walking home at dusk rather than in daylight.  She also does not realise how quickly she could be snatched by a passer by or how weak in comparison she would be against an adult.  Nor should she, at just ten years old.  She should be concerned with things of childlike innocence, of fun and games and laughter.  Still the potential threat every time I allow my beautiful, first born child out of my sight just chills me to the bone. 

Should I keep her home?  Wrap her in cotton wool and have her be the outcast of her social circle with the overly strict and protective mother?  I don’t believe I should.  I was born in a generation where we played out in the streets and our favourite toys were bikes and trees and skateboards.  Or those fantastic little coloured plastic balls on strings with a loop that you hooked around your ankle and sort of skipped and ran along, jumping the plastic string and causing the ball to fly round in circles.  We had no mobile phones, no means of tracking our whereabouts whatsoever.  Our parents simply opened that front door and set us loose with the faith that we would return unscathed at our instructed time.  If we did not, then I could be sure to hear my mum bellowing my full name at the top of her voice as she angrily marched towards our usual hang out location to haul me off home amid threats of never being allowed out again and grounded for at least a week.  I believe our children should be granted the same exhilarating experiences, running and jumping in the fresh air. 

Now it appears to me that the world has become more dangerous as I have aged, that more and more members of our populations choose to act on their sick, perverse or violent desires.  Yet the logical part of me thinks with such advances in technology and the authorities capabilities the risk of being caught has also significantly increased.  So is it just that the media make us so much more aware these days but that the number of occurrences has not changed so much?  Surely these monsters existed throughout previous generations?  Did they just fear acting on their depravities more than these modern day fiends?  Has the extortionate amount of media resources and coverage made it more commonplace and as a result made such demons feel it more acceptable to commit such cruelties?  They say our younger generations are desensitised towards violence, seeing it so much from such a young age in computer games and movies.  Perhaps, even as shocking as each individual incident is, having our senses flooded with so many cases of murder, violence, rape and abuse almost daily on TV and the Internet, not only as news but also under the premise of entertainment, has conditioned us to accept it as a part of our world. 

I for one cannot accept this.  Therefore I see no option but to educate my children on the horrors that are out there, sadly puncturing their innocence.  I told my unsullied daughter about Rebecca Watts and I have kept her updated on the case with as much tact as I can manage, trying to find and keep a balance between how frightened she is by the information and the education she is receiving through the knowledge that I am trying to equip her with.  I hope that she sees the love in my eyes and hears the fear in my voice.  I hope she understands that this is why I must be unfair and mean sometimes; not giving in to her pleas to stay out just fifteen minutes longer, or to venture to an unknown park that I don’t know how to get to even though all of her friends are going to be there.

Mostly I hope she always knows how much I love her and her siblings and how I would give absolutely anything to just keep them safe.  However, this is the price we pay as parents; we must suffer the agony of allowing our children to blossom and grow, to experience independence and learn the ways of the world.  All we can do is love them and educate them and hope  for the best.  

I will be hugging my children extra tight tonight and remembering how lucky I am to have that moment.  My thoughts and heart go out to all that loved Rebecca Watts and also to all the other parents in the world who are no longer able to hold their children.  

For those of you that still have the opportunity, cherish it.