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Old Fashioned Summer Fun: Independence Days

09/08/2014 00:51 | Updated 20 May 2015

Climbing and independence

If you missed our first old fashioned holiday column, it's all about getting some of the simplicity and freedom of a traditional summer back into our children's lives.

It doesn't mean having to switch off all screens for the whole holiday - too drastic and too unrealistic in today's wired world - but it does involve skipping the rushing round and over-scheduling of term times, having less structure and trying to leave our kids to make their own fun more than perhaps they're used to. It's also about getting back to nature and encouraging a bit more independence.

It's not so long ago that even children with ages still in single figures were packed off to play out for the day with a sandwich, a drink of squash and a reminder to be back for tea time. Many hours were spent roaming free, with no parents watching over whatever they got up to.

Off the kids would go, exploring fields, swimming in brooks and faffing about in the woods, or for city types in the local playground or park at least. And all without a mobile phone to call for help when the occasional incident or accident did inevitably occur.

Life wasn't perfect back then, even if we can make it seem that way with our rose-tinted specs on, but youngsters did get considerably more freedom and responsibility.

Fast forward a few decades and most of us keep our kids on a tight leash. Summer holidays mean driving them about to museums and theme parks and supervising primary age children pretty closely. Even in the park - even in our own gardens - we tend to have watchful eyes on them to a much greater degree and older age than our own parents would have had.

So just why have we curtailed their freedom so much? Over the decades our world – and perhaps more crucially, our perception of the dangers it holds for our children – has changed. All that rolling news coverage of child abductions and murders, and our considerably busier roads (not helped by the fact we started taking our offspring everywhere in cars...) can give even the most robust of us nightmares.

Of course some of these risks are indeed greater, some of them are just perceived that way because the media is reminding us of them on a 24 hour 7 day a week basis.

But by increasingly cossetting our children and wrapping them up in cotton wool, we're getting in the way of a very natural process: that of them becoming independent of us and ready to fly the nest one day. Our kids need to learn to look after themselves but if we helicopter over them, we're not allowing them to do so.

Of course most of us no longer want to let our seven-year-olds potter with a gang of their mates beside the railway tracks as express trains zoom past, or maraud through an unsecured building site, but that doesn't mean we can't find safe and sensible ways to push their boundaries (and our own) in the context of life now.

It could be leaving a group of older children in one area of the park, while you retreat to a bench further away (bonus: you get some time out) or not hovering quite so closely over your little one when he or she is exploring the playground equipment.

It could be allowing them to climb trees, walk back from your hotel's reception to your room on their own on holiday, pop to the post box or the corner shop down the road.

There's no right answer about what the boundary pushing activity needs to be for your child - it depends on their age, their character and level of maturity and where you are and live. Whatever you and they decide is appropriate, chances are they will relish the challenge.

By allowing them a shade more freedom this summer, they'll grow and mature far more than if we never unwrap that cotton wool, or if we unwrap it so slowly that it still stifles their maturing.

So yes, it's natural and normal to be protective and to ask ourselves "what's the worst thing that can happen here?" but it's also wise to ask how likely that worst thing really is.

Tweet us at @parentdish_uk about your #oldfashionedaugust activities.

How much freedom do you allow your children and is it less than you enjoyed as a child?

Liat Hughes Joshi's book 'New Old-fashioned Parenting', inspired by her Parentdish column, will be published in February 2015.

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