Cotton wool kids don’t climb trees

Published by Emma Lee-Potter in on Sunday 22nd January 2012

My teenage son’s bike is his pride and joy so he was even more stunned than me by a new report that says one in ten of today’s children can’t ride one.

And that’s not the only shocker. The survey (conducted by charity Play England) reveals that parents are so over-protective that only one child in five plays outside every day while a third have never climbed a tree or built a den.

“Playing outside, chalking on the pavement, climbing trees and riding your bike are simple pleasures that many of today’s children are missing out on,” says Catherine Prisk, director of Play England.

If we carry on like this, our generation of parents are in danger of turning children into mollycoddled wimps. We drive them everywhere, monitor their every move and wrap them in cotton wool. We worry about everything from the dangers of online chatrooms to the risks of climbing trees. Some schools have even banned conkers because they could be used as “offensive weapons,” while others say games like Stuck in The Mud and British Bulldog are too dangerous for the playground.

My own childhood was far more carefree. When I was little, I was out every day of the holidays – building dens in the woods with my friends, biking hands-free round the block and playing on the swings down the road.

But times have changed and protecting our children while giving them the chance to have fun and play outside is a tricky balance to strike.

I definitely veered on the over-protective side when my two children were little but as they grew up they wouldn’t have it. My daredevil son ended up in casualty several times every summer after attempting manoeuvres on his bike that would make a grown man tremble – let alone his mum. He got stuck up more trees than I’ve had hot dinners and when I took him for his first riding lesson at the age of five he emerged saying “I was the only one in the class who dared put my hand in the horse’s mouth!”

8 comments so far

  • I’m 100% with you, Emma. How do children learn to assess risk unless they’ve faced it? And to start again after failure? If I’d bottled out when falling off my bike twenty times when learning, I would have missed so many expeditions, fab scenery and pure enjoyment that two wheels gives you.

    My son was encouraged outside from the start; he climbed rocks (albeit small ones), fell over, endured cub camp, the school bus and went on to have a fab time in his school’s CCF. How many kids have had the exhilaration of helicopter rides, abseiling, shooting at Bisley, running around in mud?

    He went on to travel around Australia, New Zealand, North and South America and has friends in most continents.

    And all because he was encouraged to go out to play…

  • I agree that children are in danger of being over-protected. While there are obvious areas in which they should be protected, there are things that they need to find out for themselves if they are to grow up into fully rounded adults, and this means that they need to have a childhood in which play of many different varieties and challenges figures prominently.

    Liz X

  • Kids are definitely over-protected these days. Growing up near open countryside, I spent all summer cycling round, climbing trees and making dens. On an edge-of-city housing estate, it’s not been so easy for my (now) Teen to go out and play. If kids are found climbing trees or making dens in our local protected wood, people complain. So Hubby made her a tree house at home – basically a roofed platform built round a small birch tree – with a rope ladder, a climbing wall next to it and a rope to swing down on like Tarzan! Even now, at the advanced age of 15, it’s where boys head as soon as they come round!

  • Hi Alison. I love the story of your son’s pursuits. They sound really fun and very character-building too. Riding bikes, playing outside and building dens seems such a fundamental part of growing up, I reckon.

  • I completely agree, Liz. Obviously there are certain things we need to protect our children from but playing outside is such a carefree, fun thing to do. When my son was little he hated sitting still inside, he always wanted to be splashing through puddles and riding his bike!

  • Thanks for commenting, Red Dirt Kelly. I agree totally about running, jumping, biking and taking (a few!) risks.

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