Who remembers playing out on the street as a child? Who rode their bikes up and down the road with absolute abandon? When I was a lad, we didn’t wear helmets, and we didn’t worry that we were going to be abducted. We just had fun. There were no mobile phones, so the rule that directed us to head for home when the street lights came on was all we had and all we needed.
When we got home, we would eat bread and jam with full fat butter, or some chips cooked in lard. If we dropped them, there was a five second rule that allowed us to pick them up, dust them off and eat them.
We would go out in the car with our parents, but we were never restricted by seatbelts. If there was a sudden stop for any reason, whoever was driving would put their arm out to stop us from going through the windscreen.
We could walk to school on our own without fear of being snatched away, and when we got there, there was no vegan option in the canteen. School dinners made of refined stodge were slapped onto our prison trays, and we were grateful for it. We would wolf down the often unidentified goodness so that we could get outside and play British Bulldog, a game which caused more scuffs, bumps and bruises than a small military conflict. But it didn’t matter because we were having fun. And anyway, if we reported our injuries to the staff on duty, we would just be informed that we would live or notified that our injured extremity hadn’t fallen off.
Weekend were spent climbing trees in real forests, rather than harnessed to poles in activity centres, and if the weather was inclement, we could stay home and watch TV shows full of all the violence and sexism that their makers could muster.
In short there was less concern over the possibility of harm. Accidents were things that ‘happened’, and we lived with that reality. Risk was accepted as part of life, and everyone accepted that there was little point in trying to avoid it. And I’ll tell you what else; it didn’t do us any harm.
Essentially, we were fucking idiots.
I get this kind of post popping up in my Facebook feed all the time. People who believe that health and safety has ‘gone mad’, or that kids are ‘soft’. I read that ‘It didn’t do us any harm’ more times that I care to mention. It is, of course true that it didn’t do us any harm. Those who survived it and have gone on to share our wisdom with the wonderful world of social media came out of it all relatively well. The thousands who were killed or maimed tend not to post quite as much.
I had a very different childhood to the one that my daughter experiences now. Whether our personal experience of it is any different is impossible to say for sure, but given the privileges that she has, and the amount of time she spends laughing like a loon, I reckon that overall, she is probably getting a better deal. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t have a terrible time for the most part, but I grew up in an environment that was undeniably less than ideal, and was comparatively low on belly laughs. For me though, the world didn’t appear to be as fraught with danger as it does today, and many people feel the same way. The fact is though, that the world didn’t seem as fraught with danger because, for the most part, we ignored it.
My daughter, on the other hand, feels that the world is fraught with danger, because we have taught her how to recognise and avoid it wherever possible.
She knows that she must wear a seatbelt in the car.
She is fully aware that not all strangers are going to treat her well, and that the best course of action is to avoid them.
She knows that she could pick up germs from dropped food, and also knows to ask if it is OK to eat after it has been dusted off.
Climbing to the top of trees, she accepts, could lead to serious injury or even death. She still climbs, but she does it with a harness at an indoor climbing center.
She wears a lifejacket on a boat to save herself from drowning.
Knowing what an absolute pain in the arse a serious head injury would be, she wears a helmet when she rides her bike.
She asks for hand sanitizer when she has touched something dubious. Not because we make her, you understand, but because she knows that it makes sense to do so.
The point is that she still has a great time, and is having a wonderful childhood. We have taught her to take a few precautions simply to increase her chances of having an adulthood to go with it.
If anything, the world is a much safer place than it was 40 years ago. Household items are designed more safely, cars have better brakes, airbags pop out of all sorts of unlikely places if you have a crash, the media makes us aware of the threat of weirdos, and the internet gives us endless tips on how to keep ourselves intact. It is certainly true that there are some dangers that are new to the party, but I suspect that the risks are not as great as they are commonly perceived to be. Online predators or groomers as they are known, are not as prolific as the newspapers would have us believe, video game addiction doesn’t threaten the very soul of everyone under 18, and drug dealers will not be preying on most of our children. They are all dangers that we, and our children, should be aware of, but they do not constitute a world more dangerous than it was back in the day.
So, I urge anyone who is considering a rant about the loss of childhood and the extreme perils of modern living to go and take a few deep breaths. If they like, they can hold the last one indefinitely, as long as they are aware that it could very well be to their detriment as much now as it would have been when they were kids.
We are living in a wonderful age. We are safer than we have ever been, and not least because we take better care of our own and our children’s safety. Enjoy it.
Enjoy it responsibly.
Minister of Stuff.