Saturday 20 April 2019

Parents are playing it too safe with their children

Irish parents have become overprotective of their children
Irish parents have become overprotective of their children
Sinead Moriarty

Sinead Moriarty

Irish children are wrapped too tightly in cotton wool. New research has shown Irish parents are overprotective and are stunting their children's development by not allowing them to have independence.

Of the 16 countries surveyed, Ireland was ranked 12th place. We have clearly become a nation of panicky-parents.

Gone are the days when most kids walked or cycled to school. Some of the best memories for children are the fun they had with their friends walking to school or cycling home with a pal as they chatted about the day.

I have one friend who on moving to a new neighbourhood aged eight was driven to the local park, deposited by his father close to a group of similar-aged children, and told to make friends. As his father drove away, he shouted out the window that he'd be back in a "couple of hours" to see how his son was getting on.

This boy grew up to be someone who is extremely independent and makes friends easily. Granted, he could have been beaten up, flashed at or just ignored for the afternoon, but it all worked out well.

As a parent I can't even begin to imagine doing this in the Ireland we live in today. I'd be terrified of paedophiles lurking in bushes, kidnappers waiting to whisk my child away or bullies hunting for new prey.

It's ridiculous. The chances of any of these things happening are almost non-existent... and yet. As a parent we constantly think 'what if?'

But, as this new research - carried out at Mary Immaculate College in Limerick - shows us, we are not doing our children any favours.

By not allowing them to walk or cycle to school we are restricting their independence and their ability to develop and grow up. During the long school holidays children were allowed to wander almost at will. Now they have to attend structured summer camps and other organised events in case they might stray.

One thing that hasn't changed is that boys are given more freedom and they get it earlier.

Even when I was growing up my brother was given far more freedom than either my sister or me.

For some reason parents have always, and still do, allowed their sons to roam free at a younger age than their daughters.

Interestingly, the research showed that when it comes to allowing children to make their own way to school, Irish parents' biggest fear was the perceived danger of the roads.

And yet anybody who has any experience of our roads knows that many cyclists, including school-going children are let out without lights, which is inviting trouble.

But while parents are most worried about their children getting knocked down, their children are far more worried about dogs.

The biggest fear for children walking or cycling to school is dogs. While their second biggest fear is being abducted.

I never thought about being kidnapped when I was at school. Flashers were the thing we tried to avoid in the park and the ones I had the misfortune to witness were harmless enough, although it may not be very politically correct to say that now.

It's a sign of the frenzy around any abduction story that children are now so concerned about a "bad person" in a white van attempting to kidnap them.

We need to look to our Finnish neighbours for answers. They came out on top as the country with the highest levels of children's independent mobility.

If Finnish kids can skip off to school without being worried about vicious dogs or child abductors, why can't we? Mind you, the cold in Finland would deter the flashers, so at least they don't have that to worry about.

It is sobering, though, to think that we are restricting our children so much and causing them to live in fear. Perhaps it is time to loosen the reins and let them feel more grown up.

Besides, you could always wear a wig and walk 10 paces behind them… just in case.

Irish Independent

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