This programme on C4 the other night was one of those great documentaries which have you not only gasping in outrage but squirming in recognition. It was mostly told from the kids perspective and featured several over-protective parents including one I dubbed “Microchip Mum” as she wanted to have her daughters micro-chipped and a dad who escorted his thirteen year old son wherever he went. The sections where the children talked matter-of-factly about their fears were the ones that gripped me: it was so obvious that the parents had transferred their anxieties to their children. These children weren’t so much cotton-wool swaddled as imprisoned by their parents’ fears.
I can be pretty anxious myself, especially when it comes to road safety ( I noticed that the fear these parents felt didn’t prevent them driving their children around constantly, despite the statistics on car safety) and things like vaccinations. But the parents didn’t seem to care that their children were constantly being kept ‘safe’ indoors playing on their computers and not having enough exercise (despite the attendant dangers of meeting paedophiles in chat rooms and obesity, which we hear of ad nauseam): one child was not even able to go to the gym. Why don’t they just take their children for a walk, or to the park, I wondered – perhaps selective editing was to blame here. Some of the parents seemed very controlling, like Microchip Mum who said she’d like the microchip to show where her daughter was at all times and set off an alarm if she went somewhere she’d forbidden her to go – “the little madam”. The high-pitched alarms that are being installed to deter teenagers in public places (only teenagers can hear them) could soon be joined by parent-controlled microchips in the list of sinister ways our society is becoming more and more surveillance based and less and less about community.
I used to walk my younger sister to school in our Dorset seaside town from the age of about 6 onwards, and I continued to walk with her and two younger children when I was nine or ten and living in London (the journey was about a mile long). At eleven, I was taking the tube to school alone, although my mother started coming with me when I switched to cycling. I don’t think I’d let my seven year old son walk to school, even though his school is only five minutes walk away, but I’d be happy to join a walking bus or take turns with other parents. It was a great moment in the documentary, however, when the thirteen year old boy convinced his parents he was trustworthy and took the bus to school for the first time.