Holidays · Parenting · Summer Adventures

Are Our Kids Lonelier Than We Were?

kids playing in streetWhen I was a child, playing in the street was a normal occurrence. My Nan lived in a ‘walk’, which was a pedestrian-only road with no cars anywhere near where we played, and she happened to live next door to a family with a daughter of the same age as me, so I spent countless summers playing Barbies and cartwheeling on my Grandparents lawn with Sara, who was my best friend. Eventually, my parents moved nearer to my Nan and we lived in a cul-de-sac with a huge green in the middle, on which all of the kids who lived in the cul-de-sac played. We were a mixed bunch but we got on well and there was always someone to hang around with.

As I got older, I was allowed to go to the park with my friends. I grew up on an estate in Basildon, a new town that was built to accommodate the overspill from London in the late 1950’s, which meant that my grandparents were, and still are in fact, the only people to ever live in their house. The entire estate was populated by first and second generation Basildonians and us third generationers were blessed with a level of freedom because of the perceived sense of safety that comes from living in an area where everyone knew everyone else. In those days, it meant that misbehaviour was also fairly low, because no sooner had you thought about doing something naughty than a well-meaning onlooker had told your parents!

With Sausage at the beginning of her first ever summer holiday from school, I’ve been thinking a lot about things we can do to keep her occupied. She’s an only child, like I was until the age of almost 9, which means that she doesn’t have any ready-made playmates in the form of siblings. As much as I’d love for her have a playdate every day, that’s simply not possible, so it’s down to us to arrange other things for her to do, like the weekly pony lessons that she’ll be starting on Wednesday. But, I can’t help but wonder; are our kids lonelier than we were?

She’ll probably never be in a position where we’d let her play in the street, not least of all because people drive down our road like utter twonks, but mostly because the world is not the shiny, happy place it once was. I wrote this post a year ago about how shocked I was to see someone leave their child in the car while they went into the shop and had many comments suggesting that I was over-reacting and judgmental. I revisited the post after April Jones disappeared and wasn’t at all surprised to know that many people now agreed with me about how much freedom children are able to have in modern times.

Sausage will never have the level of freedom that Husband and I did and as such will never know what it’s like to ‘knock for’ someone, play in the street, ride her bike up and down until she’s called in for dinner, do cartwheels on a front lawn, knock on the door and ask for a pound when the ice cream man turns up, or be best friends with the kids next door. And I have to admit, that makes me really sad.

However, as sad as it makes me, it’s not something on which I’d ever compromise as her safety is the most important thing. So, what do you think? Are your kids lonelier than you were as a child? Should we do more to make sure they have someone to play with everyday? Or is that just not possible in modern times?

Leave me a comment below.

9 thoughts on “Are Our Kids Lonelier Than We Were?

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  2. Just read something very interesting that made me think of this post: there were 6,500 hospital admissions in 2011 for dog attacks (and that figure doesn’t include people who were treated in A&E and sent home) with children under the age of 10 being the most likely to suffer severe injuries. Six people actually died from dog attacks and whilst I don’t know their ages I do recall at least one baby and one toddler being mauled to death by family pets in the last couple of years. Our children are far more likely to suffer at the jaws of our beloved and trusted pooches than at the hands of the loner who lives round the corner, but very few of us would apply the same level of paranoia to the dangers in our own home. I suppose if we did we wouldn’t let our children have riding lessons for fear of them falling off and ending up in a wheelchair or worse, we wouldn’t let them ride in cars for the same reasons (679 deaths in 2011), we wouldn’t let them swim in pools (8 deaths) or even take a bath (16 deaths) for fear of drowning, we would have to feed them through a tube to avoid choking to death (210 deaths), and we’d all have to move to bungalows as stairs are a definite no-no (693 deaths). One child out of thousands gets abducted and we all say that our kids can no longer play outside, but all these other things result in considerably higher rates of death or permanent disability and yet we still know that it would be crazy to prevent our children from doing them. It just makes me wonder if we really need to be keeping our children inside after all.

    Obviously there are other dangers on the streets like being hit by a car so there are some places that children just shouldn’t play, but I am starting to question whether or not I should be quite so paranoid about the idea of my children playing in the field down the road unsupervised. I have a few more years before I really have to worry about this one but it has gotten me thinking, can I overcome my own paranoia in order to let my children have a happier and less lonely childhood???

  3. where we used to live we were extremly lucky and had open fields all around and only a few houses in sight all of which we knew well and there were several children simualr ages as my eldest as a result quite often the children were out playing climbing trees and such like with maybe one of the adults in ear shot, when we moved into our house now, which is a whole world away from the countryside retreat and in a more built up towny street, i missed the freedom my eldest two had. But now we have been here a couple of years its not that bad, my eldest has a good set of friends who he calls for and then they retreat back here or to someone else house, my daughter has a best friend she sees alot of too, and my youngest has his siblings and there friends to entertain him so although he doesn’t go out to call for his own aged friends he isn’t lonely, as for playing outside of house i do allow them to go to the park if they wish (my eldest is 11 and daughter 10) and ride their bikes around.. I agree with the comment above, the world really isn’t that much more scary than it ever was, and it is a shame to not allow our children to lean the vital lessons playing out of eyeshot of adults quite often teaches them….

  4. The reality is that child abduction is not more frequent these days at all, we just have considerably more national media coverage than we used to so we are far more aware of it when it does happen. Even with all the high-profile sex offender cases that have been in the news lately they are convicting people for things that actually occurred back in the 80s. The big change is the lack of community we have now.

    I grew up on a quiet street where I played with the rest of the kids every day and we often took our bikes a few blocks away to the park for hours. All of our parents knew each other and would keep an eye out for us. Since leaving that street I have lived in five other properties and in four of those I didn’t know any of my neighbours beyond a polite wave or nod of the head in passing, and that’s the same for most people. I think it’s also true that nowadays people would think twice before knocking on your door and telling you that your child is up to no good as they’re terrified of being thought of as interfering or judgemental so the kids who do play out on the streets can get up to all sorts without fear of being found out.

    Luckily for us we have just moved to a lovely village and now live on a quiet cull-de-sac and within a week we’d already met and had a good natter with half of our neighbours. But even so I would probably be nervous about letting my son play on the street, I’d be happy for him to knock for the other kids and see if they wanted to play in our garden but the media has left me just as weary as everyone else.

  5. I have 2 boys & they are playing better togeather more & more. One of the reasons i always wanted 2 was so they could play togeather, i’m an only child & my best friends who lived next door were away for mos of the holidays, so yes i was lonly. I even remember feeling lonly when we went to the beach/ day trips etc. My boys are only 4.5 & 3, but are desperate to play out, they have several friens on the street who call for them, but are a little older, so i only let my boys out when either my self to my husband can go out and watch them. I have however been trusting them to play in our tiny front garden with our water table, when i’m in the kitchen making tea, to try and teach them boundries.

  6. Really interesting thoughts. I’m an only child and wasn’t really lonely, I had what are now ‘play dates’ with local people and exercised my imagination. I think it depends a lot on the child and how they are parented too; I was encouraged to read and play by myself and just sit and think sometimes, but then I’m more of a loner by nature too.
    It’s sad to think that kids can’t really go out and play now because of the dangers though, but I’m not sure that makes them lonely.

  7. I read this with a little sadness because as a 50 year old growing up in the same town I remember the freedom that my generation were allowed as children. As very young kids we spent our summer holidays playing out the street as your generation did, but by the time we were about 10 we were exploring places much further afield like the woods or parks on other housing estates. We’d be out all day and back home for tea. None of us had mobile phones or watches, we’d simply ask an adult the time and leg it home as fast as we could if we were late. Every morning before we set off we’d get the same instructions from our mum – mind the roads (so few cars on them in those days) and dont talk to strangers or take sweets from them. There always seemed to be adults around who looked out for us, even though at the time we saw them as busy-bodies who told tales to our parents! We were taught that there were certain adults around who “hurt children” but fortunately never came across them. Child abduction didnt happen on anywhere near the scale that it does now. Ive seen so many changes in my life with regard to the way adults and children interact with their peers. There’s the concept that staying in is the new going out, probably because staying in seems the safest bet. Being out on the town at night these days can be a dangerous game, as can playing in the street. More and more adults entertain in their homes and less children are seen playing out. Some children these days suffer loneliness and boredom because it isnt safe to let them play out unsupervised. I feel very sorry for parents of youngsters who have to spend alot of their hard earned money trying to keep their offspring amused, something I think local councils should take on board, I was shocked to discover how much they charge kids to go swimming. In the early seventies we used to use our local pool often and it didnt skint our parents and we were mixing with our mates for hours on end. We also went to Saturday morning cinema most weeks because they only charged pennies, these days one has to take out a mortgage to treat the kids to a film, and there,s no way young children can be left in the cinema while the parents go shopping for fear of the local pervert (yes, sadly we know of a few of them round here) making his/her move. With each generation we will see increasing numbers of children partaking in solitary activities because as parents we know how unsafe the streets are.

  8. I think it depends where you live. We’re lucky in that we live on a close that opens on to a field. My boys play with other boys on the close whose parents I know well and wherever they are playing they are visible and within shouting distance of at least one of our houses and we keep each other informed by text. Of course, we don’t have eyes on them at all times but I guess it’s a calculated risk. I couldn’t imagine keeping the boys in while everyone else played out. I don’t let dex go with them at the moment though because they aren’t responsible enough to mind him. We’re looking to move at the moment and this is one of the big things ill miss – although we’re hoping to move within a 3 min walk so the older boys will still be able to walk down to the field. It’s something I’m struggling with with coby at the moment as he’s soon 11 and in high school so I’ve armed him with a mobile phone and am starting to let him have a bit more independence – to the shop or from nearby after school activities. He has to be in constant text contact though (ie on arrival and when setting off) – but is he 100 per cent safe – no. I think it’s one of those that you’re never going to be entirely comfortable with but there comes a time when we have to prepare our kids for adulthood by building their independence. It’s a toughie and I’m really glad that our position at the minute means that the boys don’t have to miss out on playing out or calling for friends – things that, like you say, were a big part of our own childhoods xx

  9. We have 4 kids so they are never lonely. There is always someone to do something with!
    Where we live in Greater London, there are quite a few kids of similar ages and now and again, not often, they do go over to other peoples places, or all come around here for a swim.
    They can ride their bikes up and down the street safely and my older two can walk down to the shops, and walk to piano lessons, school and brownies on their own safely.
    I probably had more freedom as a child but I was definitely more lonely.

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