Only with freedom do children learn

As a young boy growing up I spent days on end attempting to climb
large trees at the bottom of my garden. My parents had no idea what
I was up to. But these days things are different, and there is a
difficult balance to be struck between making sure children are
safe and allowing them freedom. As parents and carers, if we stray
too far in either direction we are likely to cause problems not
only for our children but also for ourselves.

Although there’s no doubt that children need to be protected from
harm, they must also be allowed to explore and develop. Children’s
all-round development can be impaired as much by a smothering,
anxious over-protectiveness as by a laissez-faire approach.

Similarly, the balance between dependence and independence must be
constantly adjusted as children grow up. As new-born infants,
children are entirely dependent on their carers for everything but,
by the time they are young adults, they want and need some
independence. For parents, allowing their child the freedom to go
their own way can be one of the most challenging and even painful
tasks that they face.

These dilemmas are not unique to parents and children. In the wake
of atrocities such as recent terrorist attacks there is a tension
between freedom and security at all levels in society, with risk
seen as something to be avoided at all costs.

Those who work with children, especially those with particular
responsibilities for child protection, have to tread a fine line
between complacency and paranoia. In the US a scheme exists where
children are implanted with a microchip which enables their parents
to track their whereabouts every minute of the day and night.

As a parent I want my children to grow up believing that the world
is a good place. I want them to be able to have new experiences and
try things, with an inquiring and open attitude towards the world
outside the home.

But there is also a dark side to life about which they must not be
ignorant. Children need to know that not everyone is well
intentioned, and should not be so cocooned and insulated that they
are unable to envisage the possibility of someone doing something

What I want most of all for my children is for them to develop an
inner resilience and sense of security that will help them when
they are faced with the inescapable risks and adversities that life

Bill Stone is a social work consultant for the Churches’
Child Protection Advisory Service.

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