The Great Indoors, or Childhood's End?

See children's roaming rights shrink dramatically, in just three generations

Not too many decades ago, being a child in the western world meant having a license to roam: you spent a large chunk of your free time outside, exploring your surroundings, chasing adventure. This is the Huckleberry Finn mould of carefree childhood - even if you weren’t floating down the Mississippi on a raft, you could easily imagine that you were. 


That mould has definitely been broken. A British study called One False Move, investigating the mobility of children, found that the average eight-year-old saw its ‘home habitat’ shrink to one-ninth of its size within a single generation. In 1970, 80% of British kids 7 or 8 years of age were allowed to go to school unsupervised; by 1990, this figure had dropped below 10%.

The result of this gradual shrinkage of children’s habitat, is the effective end of the outdoor childhood. This evolution, by and large underreported, is put in stark perspective by this map. Zooming in on parts of Sheffield, in the north of England, it pictures the differences in size of the stomping grounds of four generations of the Thomas family - each snapped at eight years of age:

  • In 1919, George, the great-grandfather of the family, was allowed to walk six mile by himself to go fishing at Rother Valley.
  • In 1950, Jack, the grandfather, was allowed to walk one mile by himself to go play in the woods nearby. Like his father, he walked to school.
  • In 1979, Vicky, the mother, could walk by herself to the swimming pool, half a mile away.
  • In 2007, Ed, the son, was only able to walk to the end of the street on his own - a mere 300 yards. He was driven to school, and even to a place where he could ride his bike safely.
  • The map accompanied an article in the Daily Mail, which quoted a report warning that the reduced exposure to the outdoors could harm the mental well-being of children.

    Ironically, parental fears for their offspring's well-being have been an important factor in reducing their children’s unsupervised access to the great outdoors: fears of traffic, of predators, of being seen to have their children roam unsupervised. 

    But the growing list of fears, whether old or new, real or imagined, wasn’t the only factor driving the trend. George Thomas’s childhood home was overcrowded and held little attractions, while his great-grandson has a room of his own, stocked with games and toys, with access to the entertainment provided by tv and the internet. 

    Perhaps also to blame are the fragmentation of communities, and the concomitant increase in car-dependency. Could it be that the scrambled-egg city of today is a contributing factor to the fact that today’s is perhaps the first generation of children raised in zoo-like confinement?

    Strange Maps #571

    Got a strange map? Let me know at strangemaps@gmail.com.

    LinkedIn meets Tinder in this mindful networking app

    Swipe right to make the connections that could change your career.

    Getty Images
    Sponsored
    Swipe right. Match. Meet over coffee or set up a call.

    No, we aren't talking about Tinder. Introducing Shapr, a free app that helps people with synergistic professional goals and skill sets easily meet and collaborate.

    Keep reading Show less

    4 reasons Martin Luther King, Jr. fought for universal basic income

    In his final years, Martin Luther King, Jr. become increasingly focused on the problem of poverty in America.

    (Photo by J. Wilds/Keystone/Getty Images)
    Politics & Current Affairs
    • Despite being widely known for his leadership role in the American civil rights movement, Martin Luther King, Jr. also played a central role in organizing the Poor People's Campaign of 1968.
    • The campaign was one of the first to demand a guaranteed income for all poor families in America.
    • Today, the idea of a universal basic income is increasingly popular, and King's arguments in support of the policy still make a good case some 50 years later.
    Keep reading Show less

    Why avoiding logical fallacies is an everyday superpower

    10 of the most sandbagging, red-herring, and effective logical fallacies.

    Photo credit: Miguel Henriques on Unsplash
    Personal Growth
    • Many an otherwise-worthwhile argument has been derailed by logical fallacies.
    • Sometimes these fallacies are deliberate tricks, and sometimes just bad reasoning.
    • Avoiding these traps makes disgreeing so much better.
    Keep reading Show less

    Why I wear my life on my skin

    For Damien Echols, tattoos are part of his existential armor.

    Videos
    • In prison Damien Echols was known by his number SK931, not his name, and had his hair sheared off. Stripped of his identity, the only thing he had left was his skin.
    • This is why he began tattooing things that are meaningful to him — to carry a "suit of armor" made up the images of the people and objects that have significance to him, from his friends to talismans.
    • Echols believes that all places are imbued with divinity: "If you interact with New York City as if there's an intelligence behind... then it will behave towards you the same way."
    Keep reading Show less