With news that the police are to impose a 9pm curfew on
unaccompanied under-16s in London’s West End, Lindsey Darking
asked a group of young people for their views on going out.
Ella, from south London, has just turned 15, but has been going
out at night for over a year. The latest she has ever been home is
Her trips are only allowed because she belongs to a large group
of friends. The group consists of boys and girls aged from 13 to
“Loads of us go around in a big gang,” says Ella. “We go to the
park and hang out there, or sometimes we go to the West End or
Covent Garden or go to see a film. We meet as often as we can, at
weekends and sometimes in the week.”
Although night buses make it possible to go further afield, the
park is a favourite with Ella’s friends because it’s a
place where they can chill out, feel comfortable and be
“Some of the group drink alcohol and smoke weed, but I’ve
only drunk beer. I used to smoke sometimes but now I don’t
think it’s cool,” she says.
Ella says her mum doesn’t worry too much because she knows
Ella will be relatively safe in the group. If she was on her own it
would be different.
“Mum always says to make sure I’m with my friends,” she
says. “She knows them so she’s less worried. It’s the
same for me. I’ve been to the West End and walked around, but
it’s not frightening because you’re with loads of
“I’ve been approached by people who want to rob you and
who ask for phones and money – it happens a lot round here. I find
it threatening, but if there’s a lot of you, you feel more
“I think the police would be right to bring young people home
from the West End if they were on their own, but not if
they’re with friends and they’re allowed to be
“If you’re too protected you won’t be able to find
out about life without your parents. Having a bit of freedom helps
you grow up.”
Scarlett, 14, who sometimes joins Ella’s group, agrees.
“There’s no point not trusting your children because they
will go behind your back,” she says. “My parents aren’t too
strict and I’m allowed to do most of the things I want to do.
They know I drink a bit but I don’t get roaring drunk.
Sometimes I go to parties or to the West End but I always go with a
group or with my best friend. I don’t agree with the police
escorting people home – you could be meeting someone but they might
not believe you.”
Nargis, 13, lives in west London and has only recently been
given the freedom to visit friends on her own. She’s become
more self-sufficient since she started at a new secondary school
around 20 miles from her home.
“When I was younger I wasn’t allowed out much,” she says.
“I had to be with adults or my older brother. Now I sometimes go to
friends’ houses or to the cinema after school, and come back
on the bus on my own. But if it’s after about 7pm my mum
always comes to collect me.
“I’m quite happy going to places on my own. It’s
good for me. When I started at the school I had to learn the
different bus routes. Now I take the bus to lots of different
places, which makes me feel more confident.”
But like many parents, Nargis’s mum worries about her
safety and insists on regular phone calls.
“If mum’s at work, I have to ring to say when I’m
home. When I’m out I have to let her know where I am. She
always says if there’s a problem I should ring.”
The fear of what other people might do to their children, rather
than what their children might get up to on their own, is uppermost
in many parents’ minds.
This is the case with pals Harry, Alex and Will, all 13. For the
most part, their parents trust them to keep out of trouble,
and instead tend to worry about gang attacks or the threat of
“My mum is quite strict,” says Harry. “I usually have to be back
about 8.30pm, or when it gets dark. It’s worse when
there’s something about an abduction on TV – then my mum
tells me all about it and says that’s why she doesn’t
want me to go out. My dad would let me stay out later because he
had a lot of freedom when he was young, but my mum doesn’t
The three boys live in rural Hampshire, so there are fewer
places to go. At weekends and after school they play on the games
machines in a local club, or build jumps for their BMX bikes.
“I would like to stay out later and have more freedom,” says
Harry. “I’d like to go to clubs or the pictures, but my
parents don’t want me to come back on the train late at
night. I’ll be allowed more freedom when I’m 16,
because my older brother was.”
Like Harry, Will also has to be home by nightfall, and
doesn’t tend to stray too far. “I don’t argue about it,
but I’d like to go out later and do more exciting things,” he
says. “But my parents want to protect me. They talk a lot about
safety and always tell me to be careful. They text me when
I’m out, to see if I’m OK.”
The mobile phone is a godsend for parents, but it is not
foolproof. Alex and Will were once so late home that their parents
had to go out searching for them. “We were at the club on the games
machines. We were enjoying ourselves so much we didn’t
realise how late it was,” says Alex. “My parents weren’t very
happy and I was grounded for several days.”
The parents had tried ringing the boys’ mobiles, but Will
says he didn’t hear anything. Alex, however, was more
“I knew my parents were ringing, but I didn’t want to go
home,” he says. “So I put my mobile on silent.”