Forts, Foraging, Fishing, Nostalgia & Outrage – Being a 1980’s Kid – SDP #25

[podcast] In July 2014, South Carolina mother Debra Harrell was arrested for allowing her 9-year-old daughter to play at a popular park unattended while she was at work.  The media rhetoric trended toward a portrayal of Debra Harrell as, at least, a parent who exercised poor judgment.  Yet, let’s appropriately reframe this matter by acknowledging that rhetoric is defined as language designed to have a persuasive or impressive effect on its audience, but often regarded as lacking in sincerity or meaningful content.  Ms. Harrell’s actions, placed in the context that her child was at a well-attended park, provided a cell phone, and enjoying the environment, seems like something that wouldn’t have raised an eyebrow in, let’s say, 1974. 

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Other articles and studies concur that today’s children do not enjoy the freedom of previous generations – and the effects are not making kid’s safer, but are actually destroying children’s coupling with nature and that deprivation is placing them at increased risks for depression and anxiety.  We’ve gone too far and have insulated children from the sun, cold, wind, spider webs, raindrops, etc.


In his article, How Children Lost the Right to Roam in Four Generations, (2007), David Derbyshire described the shrinking “roaming range” afforded to children over the past century.  Mr. Derbyshire examined one family and explained the unsupervised “roaming zones” granted of each family member when that person was age 8.  Great grandfather George was allowed to walk six miles to go fishing in 1919.  A map of his “free range” (in the YouTube version and this podcast) represents about 30 square miles.  Grandfather Jack, in 1950, walked about one mile in his own woods.  Mother Vickie, in 1979, was allowed to walk alone to her community pool about a half-mile away.  In 2007, son Ed, was able to walk 900 feet (.18 square miles) to the end of his street.


Six thousand respondents to online magazine SLATE’s (Jessica Grose & Hann Rosin, 2014) survey produced a clear trend that kids today have a lot less freedom than their parents did.  For example, in 1940, most children were allowed to walk 1-5 miles from home alone in 2nd or 3rd grade.  In 1990, most children were allowed to walk 1-5 miles from home alone in middle school!

THE OVERPROTECTED KID (The Atlantic, April 2014)  

The article offers numerous examples from field experts converging on the position that by engaging in risky play, children are effectively subjecting themselves to a form of exposure therapy, in which they force themselves to do the thing they’re afraid of in order to overcome their fear.  But if they never go through the process, the fear can turn into a phobia.


David describes a pre-cell phone era of biking his town without boundaries, when a noon whistle, wristwatch and streetlamps marked his schedule, the value in making forts, fishing along a swift river with a friend, and running the mossy trails of the monastery at the edge of town.


David will respond to discussion thread comments or questions & also to emails.  The Safety Doc Podcast is hosted & produced by David Perrodin, PhD.


Opinions are those of the host and guests and do not reflect positions of The 405 Media or supporters of “The Safety Doc Podcast”.  The show is curse free and adheres to nondiscrimination principles while seeking to bring forward productive discourse and debate on topics relevant to personal or institutional safety.

Articles utilized for this podcast and BLOG entry