Are Overprotected Children At A Disadvantage Of Dealing With Life's Realities?


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A small face looms out of the gloom, bringing his red scooter to a halt just before the road. The boy, five, is on his own. Seconds later, he's off again, calling over his shoulder, 'I'll meet you after the bike tunnel.' I find him, breathing heavily, by the school gate, beaming with pride not at beating me but making the journey (more or less) alone. But his bubble is soon pricked: his face crumples after a classmate calls his exploits 'naughty'. And heaven knows what his grandma would say!

A generation of overprotected children need to be given greater freedom to learn about risk as they play, the health and safety regulator has said.

In a joint statement, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and the Play Safety Forum (PSF) said children need to do outdoor activities such as climbing and playing conkers in order to grasp the realities of the world.

It comes in response to a "significant loss in freedom" for children over the past 40 years and proposes a more balanced approach which accepts children will often be exposed to risk and even danger when they play.

Play providers should focus on "sensible adult judgements" rather than an overblown fear of litigation and prosecution, the statement says.

They should determine how children can benefit from challenging play while still making sure they are not exposed to unnecessary risk.

HSE chair Judith Hackitt said: "Health and safety laws are often wrongly cited as a reason to deny children opportunities, contributing to a cotton wool culture.

"I welcome this statement, which brings clarity and focus to what really matters when managing the risks associated with children's play.

"Whilst HSE's main focus is on health and safety in the workplace, it is clear that attitudes to risk are formed long before young people enter the world of work.

"Play outdoors teaches young people how to deal with risk and without this they are ill-equipped to deal with working life."

The HSE said previous research had shown a "shocking" half of children aged between seven and 12 are not allowed to climb a tree without an adult present and one in five children of the same age have been stopped from playing conkers because it is "too dangerous".

Robin Sutcliffe, chair of the Play Safety Forum, said the statement would help councils, schools and charities give children greater freedom to learn from adventurous play.

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