Thursday, 17 March 2011

Free-range kids

When we arrive home in England, it'll be harder to do what we've done here.

Yell to Shark, 'See you later!' listen for the reassuring slam of the front door, then settle down with a beer and Henry IV. She was gone for six hours.

This is great parenting. This is realising the independence of kids by edging them closer to the nest edge, then delivering a swift rear kick over the threshold.

And what a relief, watching them go! We come from Small town, remember, where low-level assaults, muggings, vehicle damage, vandalism, and simply making your town a worse place to live by pissing in your lobby are all average weekday pursuits.

But here, I'm watching Shark go and breathing a sigh of relief. I'm not worried. I can't say there's no crime, but there's no threat on the streets, and I'm not surprised I hear the English expats say they raise kids here because 'it's safe'. I know what they mean. You can let the eight-year olds wander off, reasonably assured that in the road outside they won't be knocked over, kidnapped, stabbed, or be turned into a crazed alcopop junkie head.

It's the same with Squirrel, too. Last week I kissed her fluffy head goodbye amidst two hundred thousand people surging through a Hong Kong shopping mall, then said, 'Call to tell us which ferry you'll catch'. She nodded and disappeared, almost immediately, weaving her way over Hong Kong to find her favourite library corner. I knew she'd stack up a pillar of books, stay put, read her way through the pile until her tummy rumbled. Remembering the promise of spaghetti, she'd rewind her route, catch the ferry, and forget to call.

Shark and Squirrel say they love this independence. They love moving about the islands on their own, making meeting points, accepting a few spending dollars, slipping a mobile phone into their pockets, and being left alone to get on with it.

But what's the betting I won't be able to kick the kids out in England on a school day?

It's not only the random muggings that worry me back home. Not only the overflowing skips, local hobos and empty cans of Stella rolling down the back lane. No, it's the community police and EWOs. They'll be out in force, crawling the neighbourhood, sniper-hunting any kid, Mon-Fri, 9-3.

In my humiliating experience, they don't give a stuff whether a kid's escaped the institution, or whether they're the cute alternative-educated Squirrel, skipping innocently to the library. In Squirrel's mind, she's returning Unicorn in Danger! on the due date to avoid the 15p fine. In the head of an officious CPO, it's an opportunity for righteous family intervention on the basis of poor parenting and child protection.

Next of course I'll fear the Daily Mail. How will it read in the Daily Mail? If I were to tip Shark out of doors to go play on the rec for five hours come Monday morning? So-called 'home educated' child wanders streets while neglectful beer swilling mother lives in squalor.

Then what's the betting I'd run into women like Jilly, policing the local school gates and toddler groups. The type who reckons it's a crime to let your kid touch a toilet roll or look at a non-organic grape. They feed on horror stories about children being kidnapped and locked in car boots.

And England, what have you done there? Brought CCTVs to local street corners, created a fear of kids, trained teachers to never apply a plaster without attending a safety course and completing the approved paperwork? How else can you bring about the feeling that someone's watching you; someone disapproves; someone's sure it's illegal. In that culture, what's the likelihood that an ignorant neighbour will pick up a phone to make a complaint about kids out during school hours?

So, Shark, Squirrel, and the home-girl Tiger. Take my wise parental advice, and get out the door while you can. Enjoy your roaming freedom while it lasts. It may last only while you're in Hong Kong.


Grit said...

Here's the website:

ladybirdcook said...

crikey, that'll be a massive difference for you! I can't imagine not free-ranging my kids. In fact, I have no idea where they are right now...

Nora said...

It sounds to me that's how kids should be brought up. You better stay in Hong Kong for quite a while yet. At least until they are ready to go to university.

Kelly said...

I had a couple of traumatic experiences before I had kids, including working with a woman whose daughter was kidnapped and murdered on the streets of Toronto (age 11). Also, being an urban American, I am hyper careful about personal safety. So it took me a loooooong time to be able to allow my boys some free-ranging. I started when the oldest was 10, giving him a bike route in the neighborhood, letting him wander around our small B.C. village on his own. By the time they were young teens they had their own bus passes. Cell phones are a must for me, though. I need to be able to reach them; hear their voices. I try to keep a lid on it, but I do call them, or ask them to call in from time to time.

Now that the older two are adults, and very independent, you'd think I'd lighten up. Nope. Peanuts, 10, is begging to be allowed to walk around the block on his own. I'm trying to gear myself up for it. But if I also had to worry about "school attendance counsellors" (as they are called in Ontario), I'd lose my mind. We don't seem to have them in B.C. It's funny, I never really thought about that till now.