Some like to call children our future. It’s technically true: they will most likely outlive us adults. They have more time on earth and fresher, more innovative ideas. But children are also our present. If we stick to the United Nations definition of children as under-18s (yes, it is a faulty definition, but I’ll dedicate another story to unpacking that), children represent close to a third of the world’s population. A third of our present.
While it’s true that most decisions taken today will affect children more than us adults, simply because they’ll be around for longer, decisions taken today also affect children today. Let’s think about our immediate neighbourhoods and cities. Is there space for children around where you live? Can they go out and cross the street by themselves without risking being run over by a car? Are there enough places where they can meet with their peers and play?
The latest research on play in the UK, led by Prof Helen Dodd, a member of this community, shows that children of primary school age are losing the freedom to play independently and are not allowed to play outside on their own until the age of 11 – two years older than their parents’ generation. The British Children’s Play Survey, the largest study of its kind, found another important detail: in the sample of 1,919 parents or caregivers with a child aged 5–11 years, children played for an average of three hours per day, with around half of that time being outdoors.
Let me go back to my initial question: what kind of present are we making possible for children around us? If we give priority to cars and parking places, where can children play outdoors in cities? If we build playgrounds with fences around them, are we telling children that they need to be tucked away and can only play and exist within a small, well-defined perimeter?