My wife came in to my office with a sheepish look on her face. She said that my son’s friend had just called to the door, and had asked if he could go to the park to play. She confessed that she had said “yes” and that he was now gone – out into the world alone.
She was not sheepish because I minded. On the contrary, I had been campaigning for over a year to let our now nine-year-old have greater freedom to venture out unsupervised in our safe, rural village. Now, in a fit of absent-mindedness, she had let it happen.
Until then, my wife had always found a good reason to object to sending the older kids on solo runs to the park or to school. Being a medic, she often found a scientific article on the brain development of eight-year-olds which proved that cars are, in fact, completely invisible to them – or something to that effect.
Our boy came back unscathed from his adventure. He was grinning from ear to ear, bright and buoyant with the energy of freedom. I remembered from his ruddy face my own joy, as a lad, at being outdoors and free for hours on end, calling over to friends, playing football, climbing trees or engaging in tribal warfare.
With his excited words tripping over themselves, he recounted his adventure to the park. He told me brightly of a new friend he had met, and of how first nobody believed he could, but then he had actually done 16 keepy-uppies with a football, and how it seemed normal to be out alone – almost normal, anyway – and, above all, that it was brilliant fun. It soon became clear that floodgates had opened. The questions came tumbling out as to the extent of his new-found freedom.
The next day, his friend called over again. I answered the door this time. Unbeknownst to my better half, I had actually given some significant thought to mitigating the risks of sending our child out unsupervised. In addition to the usual stranger-danger talks, and training in crossing the road, I had thought to use technology.
One of my primary excuses – sorry, reasons – for buying myself an Apple Watch last year was that it would enable us to contact the kids when out and about. Not only that, but we could track them by GPS, and see where they were.
I had already trained up my trustworthy boy in its use on local runs near our house. He knew how to use the watch to call home if there was an emergency. He knew to come straight home if I binged it. Critically, he also knew that we could see where he was – which helped ensure he would be where he was supposed to be. I duly strapped the watch to my boy’s wrist, and left him off, with my heart in my mouth. Yet I also felt a share of his joy as he disappeared out the garden gate with his pal.
Despite my enthusiasm for childhood freedom, it was me who spent the following hour regularly checking my boy’s location and counting down the time to his promised return. He arrived home, bang on time – proud and happy.
The following Sunday morning was Mother’s Day. I was busy with the baby while my wife enjoyed her Mothers’ Day lie-in. So I duly sent the older kids off to the shop to buy the necessary croissants and coffee for her special breakfast. For just as their freedom has expanded, so has the range of their chores.