Is it safe out there?

Do we need our adults dead, and was everything safer in the past?

When I was reading Kate DiCamillo’s Raymie Nightingale earlier this year, what I was thinking was how nice it is when the adults can remain alive. The children can go about their adventures anyway, because the adults will let them. Or won’t think to worry.

Just like in the past. Perhaps. Debi Gliori was saying in Edinburgh last month that her publisher required her to put her alphabet book in more historical times, just so the two children could go out on their own and have alphabet adventures all over the place.

So is it a modern problem?

In books contemporary with me, characters in boooks did what I did; they went out as and when they felt like it. More or less. In books set in much older times, characters have even more freedom, unless they are enslaved by the need to work for a living.

The question I have is how do today’s readers know? Do they think ‘hey, I could do that’ just because it’s a new book set in the here and now, or do they automatically think that they won’t, because the book is old and they can tell the difference? If I’m ten, do I know that a book is old? Do I look at dates for different editions, and change my behaviour accordingly? Or do I simply decide that climbing down a well seems like a really fun thing to do?

In Debi’s book they were not allowed to go kayaking, even if we pretended it was in the olden days. It had to be a pretend kayak on dry land. (The mind boggles were you to apply this to the Famous Five.)

I’m just back from Sweden, where children are a little freer than British children. I read a manuscript while there, featuring a girl, aged about ten, who goes out on her own when visiting her grandparents (OK, so the parents have been partially removed), and she ends up in the 1600s. She returns safely, but still. Had granny come along she probably would have stayed put in the 21st century.

And there would have been no story.

What year is the cut-off point for unaccompanied children, and is it a moving point? Is it realistic to have a year before which normal children were out alone, and after which they are accompanied at all times?

2 responses to “Is it safe out there?

  1. Ha! I once made a fictional child (in her own home, with family on hand) climb a step ladder to draw a picture on an interior wall. That didn’t survive the edit! That was about 2000.

    I think seventies/maybe early eighties are the last possible point of real adventures outside. After that it has to be history or fantasy of some sort. Maybe around that time parenting changed and there was more communication between child and adult. My parents simply did not know what I was doing (I was swimming in tidal rivers, cooking over bonfires, kayaking etc. So were my friends.)
    Also there is much more traffic.
    In story book life it makes things very difficult, even after you flatten the mobile phone battery, remove one parent and replace with dozy grandparent etc. The remaining parent has to be beset by work/ineffectual/ ill (and then is severely criticised by American reviewers, as if I am advocating that we are all the same!)
    In real life it is even worse. Children go from totally escorted primary school life to secondary in one hard leap. One day they have never caught a bus alone, and the next it is illicit cider in the park. They have hardly ridden a bike but by 17 are taking driving lessons and the next thing you know they are off on the road in cars. And then there is the internet with ever higher standards of looks etc. to which to aspire. I wouldn’t be a young person today. No wonder they take the edge of the tension with weed. No wonder there are so many mental health issues. Lambs to the slaughter, poor things.

  2. It’s true we didn’t tell the parents what we did or where. But they could probably guess, as they must have done similar, or worse, in their day.

    I tried to think back to what age I was when I did certain things, and decided that if Offspring were slightly older than I had been, then it wasn’t entirely unreasonable to let them, or make them, do that too. Son was very shocked when I stuffed him on a bus back to primary school after the dentist one morning. But it might have been more ‘am I allowed to?’ than ‘I can’t possibly do this.’ I hope.

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