The Archive Series ~ Originally published August 17th 2008 on my old blog.
Recently Bill Kerr wrote a thoughtful post on the Cotton wool culture. This is a culture in which children are mollycoddled by society and kept out of harm’s way. His post was inspired by an article in the Guardian, ‘Kids need the adventure of risky play‘ [print]. I commented on Bill’s post and he responded with a selection of related links which I have listed at the foot of this post.
The article in the Mail online, ‘How children lost the right to roam in four generations‘, is particularly telling. It sets out quite clearly how from one generation to the next children are not roaming as far as their parents and grandparents. The article also mentions how walking through parks and gardens can reduce stress levels. It mentions that adding plants to your environment can also reduce stress. Recently, news that the German government plans to ban the Kinder Surprise chocolate egg as they pose a health risk to children has also generated comment regarding the cotton wool culture.
The view from our home in Bellambi looking towards the Pacific Ocean back in the 1960s.
Now, when I was seven our family moved house to a place called Bellambi. Between us and the ocean were open areas and an old rifle range that was rarely used. There were beaches, creeks, rock platforms, bush tracks and large sandhills.
The same stretch of road recently. Open space replaced with houses.
It has been turned into a suburb now. One end of our street was actually a dirt road back then. All that free space has largely disappeared. This Google map shows the area today.
Where I roamed as a young boy. Click on the map above to view a larger map with a scale and labels.
As kids we would roam around the area. There was so much to do and so much to explore. We would go fishing, swimming, sliding down the sandhills on cardboard or sheets of masonite, look for bullet shells, let off fire crackers, search for geckoes, build massive sand-castles and so on. We would be gone all day, returning home at dusk. No worries, no fears. [We even smoked cigarettes at times, something I never took up thank goodness. You could buy a packet of Rothman’s Tens for 21 cents. We would look for empty drink bottles. The bottles were worth three cents each. Seven bottles could buy us a packet of cigarettes. We even smoked at primary school in Year 6 at St Columbkille’s when we were on incinerator duty.]
When I was eleven years of age I began riding my brother’s bike around the area. Peter had recently resurrected his old bike and I was keen to learn how to ride the old thing. When I turned twelve I received a Speedwell bike for my birthday and the area in which I roamed with my siblings and friends extended regularly to seven or more kilometres. I remember riding up the hills of Corrimal to the home of my good friend, Robert.
Even before that I used to ride my Cyclops scooter to the home of my friend Peter in Corrimal. At the age of 10 a group of us climbed Brokers’ Nose, on the escarpment west of the Illawarra. My sister and I rode our bikes from primary school on the highway in Corrimal all the way home to Bellambi. Sometimes we even walked home, a journey of several kilometres, if we missed the school bus. We were aged 10 or so at the time.
Things have certainly changed. How far did you roam as a child? How far did your parents and grandparents roam? Would be happy to read your own stories…
Perhaps this could be a meme, How far I roamed as a child… Would you like to help me get it started?
Addendum: Today I was interviewed by ABC radio here in the Illawarra. One of their interns discovered this blog post yesterday and arranged for an interview with Nick Rheinberger during the ‘Mornings‘ show. The interview went live to air as I was teaching my Year Eleven Ancient History class. The interview covered such points as real versus perceived dangers, the degree of violence in the world, the role of the media, taking risks, and the debate over to what extent one should allow children to freely roam. At the conclusion of the interview I returned to teaching. There was a talkback session on the topic with the general public on the radio afterwards. I am hoping to secure a recording of that as I was not able to listen. I shall add links and audio as they come to hand. I added some more links below.
Times Online: Help! How afraid should I be of stranger danger?
Lenore Skenazy: Free Range Kids
Times Online: Let ‘cotton-wool kids’ hang out on the streets
Times Online: Our cotton-wool kids
Telegraph.co.uk ~ The danger from our ‘cotton wool kids’
Telegraph.co.uk ~ Get a life and take sensible risks, says safety chief
UCL Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis ~ The Capable Project
UCL Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis ~ Children who play unsupervised are fitter
Babies online ~ Unsupervised Play is Good for Children
HTI ~ Cotton Wool Kids
Times Online ~ ‘Bring back the conker fight to re-educate cottonwool kids‘
Spiked ~ Unwrapping the ‘cotton wool’ kids