Coddling Children Harms Mental Health
The Daily Mail has an interesting piece over children in modern societies having “lost the right to roam” and the profound implications it has on their mental health.
When George Thomas was eight he walked everywhere. It was 1926 and his parents were unable to afford the fare for a tram, let alone the cost of a bike and he regularly walked six miles to his favourite fishing haunt without adult supervision.
Fast forward to 2007 and Mr Thomas’s eight-year-old great-grandson Edward enjoys none of that freedom. He is driven the few minutes to school, is taken by car to a safe place to ride his bike and can roam no more than 300 yards from home. Even if he wanted to play outdoors, none of his friends strays from their home or garden unsupervised.
The contrast between Edward and George’s childhoods is highlighted in a report which warns that the mental health of 21st-century children is at risk because they are missing out on the exposure to the natural world enjoyed by past generations.
The report’s author, Dr William Bird, the health adviser to Natural England and the organiser of a conference on nature and health on Monday, believes children’s long-term mental health is at risk. He has compiled evidence that people are healthier and better adjusted if they get out into the countryside, parks or gardens. Stress levels fall within minutes of seeing green spaces, he says. Even filling a home with flowers and plants can improve concentration and lower stress. “If children haven’t had contact with nature, they never develop a relationship with natural environment and they are unable to use it to cope with stress,” he said. “Studies have shown that people deprived of contact with nature were at greater risk of depression and anxiety. Children are getting less and less unsupervised time in the natural environment. They need time playing in the countryside, in parks and in gardens where they can explore, dig up the ground and build dens.”
Things have changed radically even since I was a kid in this regard. During school vacations and weekends, the neighborhood kids were often outdoors hours at a time. We managed to ride bikes, roller skate, and so forth without donning more protective gear than a test pilot. Indeed, we even rode around in automobiles without being strapped in to a protective pod.
Some of the additional safety precautions we take nowadays are likely prudent. But parents have somehow gotten the impression that our society is generally unsafe and that there are large numbers of predators out there ready to pounce on any child who is unsupervised more than thirty seconds at a time and therefore shelter their kids from any unstructured activity. This, despite all evidence pointing to decreasing crime rates.
While well-intentioned, all the coddling is likely doing more harm than good.