The demise of the free-range child

In 1971 Mayer Hillman conducted a survey of how English children got about: at what age were they allowed to play in the street, ride a bike, get to school on their own, visit friends and get about the neighbourhood? In 1990 Mayer persuaded me to join him in re-surveying the same schools he had visited in 1971. We discovered a change even more dramatic than we had anticipated. In 1971 80% of 7 and 8 year old children got to school unaccompanied by an adult. By 1990 this had dropped to 9%. The report of the 1990 survey, documenting the demise of the free-range child between 1971 and 1990, is now available online – One False Move … a study of children’s independent mobility
Since 1990 for children things have got much worse. Two new reports document the continuing loss of children’s traditional independence and, one hopes, will inspire a counter-revolution: No Fear- growing up in a risk averse society by Tim Gill , and Risk and Childhood , by Nicola Madge and John Barker.

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  1. Guy Chapman says:

    I strongly endorse this; we work to give our children independence and it’s a constant festival of guilt and disapproving looks. One False Move should eb compulsory reading for all parents.

  2. Cristina Kent says:

    Not wholly unrelated to children and cars; are there any figures for the deaths/injuries to babies and children cocooned in car seats?

  3. johnadams says:

    “Are there any figures for the deaths/injuries to babies and children cocooned in car seats?” I summarized the experience In Britain when it became compulsory in 1989 to belt up children in rear seats. See page 15 of: http://john-adams.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2006/failure%20of%20seatbelt%20legislation.pdf

  4. Jim Tubman says:

    The authors of “Freakonomics” did an analysis of the effectiveness of child car seats vs. regular seat belts (for children older than 2 years) and found that the death rate for children in car seats was no lower than the death rate of children wearing seat belts. The New York Times article about it can be found here:


    The reaction from safety experts was much the same as that experienced by Prof. Adams with respect to seat belt legislation: they were angrily denounced, but their critics did not specify any specific flaws in their data or methodology.

    I am not aware of any study that looks at the effectiveness (or lack of it) of child car seat legislation, other than the one mentioned by Prof. Adams above.

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