For many people here, their youth was spent climbing trees, walking or riding bikes to and from school, and feeling safe to loiter at the local shops or milkbar for fun. Strangers weren’t dangerous, and you could walk down the street and wave at passers by. Children could spend hours out and about without parents being concerned. But the Day for Daniel reminds us that these beautiful memories of freedom as just that, memories. And the emergence of a bubble-wrapped generation is very very real. At what cost will this come in society? Is the Day for Daniel an appropriate day to talk about it?
The world was a different place 40 years ago to what it is today, where we worry if our children or grandchildren are out of site for any significant time. Kids don’t ride to school much in the cities anymore, they only walk past a certain age, and they certainly don’t climb trees. Stranger danger and the fear of harm coming to those we love has made us want to protect our children from … well, almost everything.
Some say our fears are causing us to wrap our younger generation in “bubble wrap”, creating a generation that is glued to devices, indoors, and restricting the growth of independence that comes from getting out and taking risks, trying and succeeding.
A major VicHealth study this year has revealed more than a third of Victorian parents with children aged 9-15 avoid situations where they are without an adult in case a stranger approaches them.
On the Day for Daniel, we all cast our minds back 11 years ago to the day that young 13 year old went missing in a coastal town of Queensland, doing the seemingly safe task of catching a bus to the shops and we quiver.
His family have fought hard to bring the issues of “Stranger Danger” to the forefront of our education system in a way we must all be grateful. In my house we talk about Daniel openly and how he was lured to a car, taken and killed by a nasty person, so our young children are aware that these things actually happen. We don’t wrap this part of it in bubble wrap. We don’t sugar-coat the fact that it happened, in fact we’re blunt with them… don’t go near cars that pull up near you in the street, ever.
Victoria’s peak health promotion agency is pushing for ways to counter parent’s fears and the “bubble-wrapping” of children predicting that one in three children will be overweight or obese in a decade unless lifestyles improve. But what can we do about it when our fears are so well-founded?
We’re all scared, all the time of something going wrong for our loved ones, those beautiful innocent children. Every parent and grandparent’s nightmare flashed across TV screens earlier this week, when 11-year-old Michelle Levy “ran away” from home and was searched for, for two days before being found in the home of a stranger.
It used to be that we could run away from home for hours and our parents would shrug it off.
Daniel Morcombe’s parents probably wish they had wrapped him in bubble wrap to keep him from harm.
But, the well-known and widely recognised fact is that independence is important to build in a child over their life, so we have resilient, responsible and capable kids entering our workforce and community in the future.
We sure can’t go back to the good old days… as much as many of us would like to. So how do we as families, walk the fine line between placing your kids in the path of danger and protecting them from harm, whilst building independence and resilience? Is the Day for Daniel a day when we really have to ask this scary question?