Today the National Trust’s Outdoor Nation website posted a piece from me that aims to win parents over to the goal of expanding children’s horizons. I had to think carefully when writing it.
Most of my energies go on persuading others – educators, planners, politicians, regulators, the media – to make it easier for parents to give their children a bit more freedom. Very little of my work is directly focused on parents.
One reason for this is that, as I have written before, I am suspicious of ‘experts’ who try to tell parents how to bring up their kids. But I recognize that parents are a key audience for my work. After all, if they do not care about expanding children’s horizons, there is little prospect that anyone else will do much about it.
The piece invites parents – especially those at the more anxious end of the spectrum – to try their hand at a little benign neglect. It’s a key idea for me, as anyone who has heard me speak on risk will know. This post of mine expands on the notion, and the video below illustrates it (though you have to watch very closely).
Benign neglect cuts to the heart of a central dilemma of modern parenting: how do parents square their wish to keep their children safe from harm with the job of taking their kids that bit further along the road to being confident, capable, resilient people?
I say a modern dilemma, but in fact questions about responsibility in childrearing have been around for decades. Back in the early 1970s childcare expert Mia Kelmer Pringle wrote a book called The Needs of Children – intriguingly enough, commissioned by the then Tory government. In this short publication – highly influential at the time, though largely forgotten today – Pringle asked: “How can responsibility be given to the immature and to the irresponsible?” Her answer is unequivocal: “There is no way out of the dilemma that unless it is granted, the child cannot learn how to exercise it.”
Many people and agencies shape children’s lives. But it is parents who are at the sharp end of decisions about their everyday freedoms. My sales pitch for benign neglect is an invitation to fully embrace Pringle’s insight: responsibility cannot be taught, it can only be learnt through experience.
You can read the piece in full here. Feel free to comment, either here or on the Outdoor Nation page.