No Roaming – What a Shame

I’ve been trying to make the time to produce a verbose and eloquent narrative lamenting today’s new societal norms with regards to kids’ freedom to roam and the impact that our current growth trends have had.

There are a few “New Urbanist” developments in the Charlottesville/Albemarle (CharlAlbemarle) area that are attempting to reverse this new trend of keeping kids so close to home; but what is needed is more than greenspaces. Parents need to feel comfortable trusting their kids – and trusting those whom they don’t know – and society needs to recognize that there’s more to life than TV, the web and Wii.

Most often, my clients want to allow their kids to roam, but have either deep reservation about their safety (real or perceived) or don’t have anywhere to let them roam. That’s changing, but slowly. The demand for parks in the City of Charlottesville is growing as is the demand Albemarle and surrounding counties (pdf here) even as the City’s population is shrinking.

One of the significant consequences is that kids don’t have relationships with nature:

Experts blamed the widening gulf between children and nature on over-protective parents and the hostility to children among some conservationists, who fear that they will damage the environment. They said that this lack of exposure to outdoor play in natural environments was vital for children’s social and emotional development.

Dr Martin Maudsley, play development officer for Playwork Partnerships, at the University of Gloucestershire, said that adults had become too protective of wild places: “Environmental sensitivities should not be prioritised over children.”

He said: “Play is the primary mechanism through which children engage and connect with the world, and natural environments are particularly attractive, inspiring and satisfying for kids. Something magical occurs when children and wild spaces mix.”

How far we’ve come (or retreated) – image courtesy of the Daily Mail.

Don't go beyond earshot!

A major study by Play England, part of the National Children’s Bureau, found that half of all children have been stopped from climbing trees, 21 per cent have been banned from playing conkers and 17 per cent have been told they cannot take part in games of tag or chase. Some parents are going to such extreme lengths to protect their children from danger that they have even said no to hide-and-seek.


‘My mum says that climbing trees is too dangerous,’ said Kiara. ‘But my dad lets me. If I fall over and it hurts, I just get myself up and smile.’

The Play England study quotes a number of play providers who highlight the benefits to children of taking risks. ‘Risk-taking increases the resilience of children,’ said one. ‘It helps them make judgments,’ said another. Some of those interviewed blamed the ‘cotton wool’ culture for the fact that today’s children were playing it too safe, while others pointed to a lack of equipment or too much concrete in place of grass. The research also lists examples of risky play that should be encouraged including fire-building, den-making, watersports, paintballing, boxing and climbing trees. (ed note: bolding mine)

(Visited 80 times, 1 visits today)


  1. Julie Emery August 28, 2008 at 15:10

    It’s interesting to see this in the UK as well. We seem to have this interesting idea in this country that if people die or get hurt or have bad things happen to them it must be their own fault. So, if we eat the right things, get the right exercise, protect our children enough, bad things can’t happen. And, if they happen to other people we tell ourselves that they didn’t do the right things and then we feel better.

    Better to let the kids have some freedom and learn. The world is much less dangerous than people (and local news stories) would have you believe! Growing up in an environment of fear has to be worse for kids than letting them take some risks!

  2. Fred August 28, 2008 at 17:45

    A lot more adults would be happier if they engaged in this kind of “risky play!” Parents and non-parents alike.

    “The research also lists examples of risky play that should be encouraged including fire-building, den-making, watersports, paintballing, boxing and climbing trees.”

  3. Jim Duncan August 28, 2008 at 18:25

    Fred –

    Amen. I did all of those (except for the paintballing – it wasn’t around) when I was a kid, and definitely are better for it.

    Julie –

    Fear is a good thing, but overly fearful parenting leads to overly fearful kids. It’s a real shame.

  4. Property in Brazil August 29, 2008 at 05:38

    I agree with Julie that if we eat the right things, get the right exercise, protect our children enough, then the bad things will not happen. If they happen to anyone then it means he is not taking the right things and don’t care much.

  5. Bill Burruss August 31, 2008 at 14:41

    This post looks too good and want to respond, but I can’t. I’m taking my kids camping at Otter Creek. We took a walk near there two weeks ago and saw four snakes. A copperhead was there on the path and my wife pushed it off a rock so others wouldn’t step on it. When we came back the snake had returned to same place. This past month we also saw two hawk on another trail. This is more fun than getting overweight in front of the TV. Have a nice Labor Day.

  6. Daniel Nairn September 2, 2008 at 10:11

    This really is a big problem you’ve put your finger on. I wonder how much of it is due to our perceptions of danger and how much of it is due to the physical environment itself. Probably a little of both.

  7. Pingback: Six Questions about Albemarle County's Neighborhood Model -

Leave A Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *