morning, as usual, I waved my seven-year-old daughter Rosalie off to
school. Not from inside the school gates, not even from the car by the
side of the kerb, but from the comfort of my own home.

As usual,
after I’d kissed her goodbye, she walked out of the front door, satchel
on her back and crossed the road alone. The distance she has to travel?
One mile.

Now, many parents may screech in horror at this parental ‘irresponsibility’ — in fact many do, to my face, often.

How could I possibly let my little girl travel such a distance on her own, every day, to and from school?

Do I not fear for her safety? What about all the terrible people out there waiting to abduct her?

Yet for many reasons — which I will explain — I know my decision is the right one, for my daughter at least.

is why, when I read the story about seven-year-old Isabelle McCullough,
whose parents had been warned by Lincolnshire County Council that they
faced being reported to social workers because they let her walk to the
bus stop alone every morning — all of about 25 yards away from their
house — I was outraged.

For one, who is the council to get involved? Surely it is up to parents to set their own boundaries?

bus stop, barely a shout away at the bottom of their drive, is on a
quiet country lane where it would be unusual to spot two dozen vehicles
in as many hours.

More importantly, why
is our modern society so scared of giving children independence? Far
from this being bad parenting, isn’t allowing our children freedom and
teaching them about safety and responsibility a crucial part of bringing
them up?

I’m sure that most of us — any parent of my
generation, certainly — can remember hours of unsupervised liberty from a
very early age.

When I’d barely started at junior school, I happened to ask my mother whether I’d be competent to walk home alone one day.

I should think so,’ she said, and, thinking I was asking if I could
start immediately, didn’t come and collect me that afternoon.

sat waiting for her at the window till the school rang her. She came
that day but after that, I walked the few hundred yards home alone each

My mother didn’t treat this new-found independence with
nonchalance — there were no roads to cross and I had been taught not to
get in a stranger’s car. But as soon as I realised my mother trusted me
to do it, I felt entirely confident to walk alone, and thus began many
happy years of running free, playing in fields and coming home when I

So when, two years ago, my daughter Rosalie turned five, I decided she could also start walking to school on her own.

home in Oxfordshire was a mere 20 yards from the school gates. I could
watch her every step of the way from our front door. And it seemed a
perfectly sensible way to introduce her to what I felt was important:
learning to look after herself.

But when, one day, we asked the
teacher if she could walk home herself, the response was a resounding
and rather shocked: ‘No!’.

We were planning to move soon so I
didn’t make an issue of it. Instead, I taught her how to walk several
hundred yards, over a quiet road, by several houses and the church, down
the lane to the post office so she could learn independence that way

When we moved to another county, Rosalie started at a
school a mile away. My father, living with us, kindly offered to drive
her to save me time in my working day.

I was grateful but
preferred the infinitely more time-consuming goal of teaching her, for
the next term, how to do it herself, gradually letting her walk a little
bit more each day on her own.

Last spring, aged six, she was ready to do the entire journey unaccompanied.

Friends, colleagues of my husband’s, neighbours, expressed concern. Each time, I explained my reasons patiently.

be objective and look at the facts. Traffic is dangerous: ten people
are killed every day by vehicles in this country — one or two of them
children — and a fair few from inside the car, so being a passenger
doesn’t protect you.

homicide is pretty rare, and most murderers are known to the victim. So
your child is no more likely to be killed by a maniac in the street
than you are to win the lottery.

Nor are the streets any more full
of psychopaths than they were when we were children. We all ran around
free, for hours on end. The difference is perception.

Incidents are reported more often than in the past so we have become irrationally frightened. This is not fair on our children.

So next, consider what it does to them to cage them. It’s not just the worrying trend towards childhood obesity.

at the teenagers around you. We know they take illogical and absurd
risks. Unsafe sex. Binge drinking. Illegal substances. Do we analyse

Could it be that children have an innate need to test
themselves, to experience danger and overcome it and make small
judgments about their own safety?

Perhaps if we keep denying the fulfilment of this instinct, we force them to take greater risks later.

Yet, however much I might argue my case, there have been obstacles to
overcome. Within a month of Rosalie walking to and from school alone,
I’d had an email from the headteacher. Would I please go in and see him?

An officer of the Borough Education Welfare department had
been on the telephone. Someone had reported seeing Rosalie walking along
the road alone…

I rang the police to get their view, and
succeeded in horrifying a woman police officer, mother of an
11-year-old, who said she wouldn’t dream of letting her daughter go
anywhere alone.

To be fair, both her headteacher and the council
showed common sense, and said they were simply responding to being
alerted because they had to.

I appreciate their concern, as I am
grateful to the two kind and thoughtful mothers who recently offered to
give Rosalie lifts back from school — but I still believe I am doing the
best by her by allowing her such independence.

Last weekend someone commented on how resilient, confident, outgoing and socially competent my daughter is.

of course. She knows how to operate the pelican crossings on her route.
She can negotiate the shopping centre. She knows where the library is
on her way home, and loves to pop in.

She can cross the two quiet
side roads safely. Best of all, every day she takes a chunk of bread in
her satchel, and feeds the ducks and swans along the embankment coming

This afternoon, just as I finished writing this piece, I
suddenly realised it was 5.30pm — an hour after I expect her home from

For a moment my heart sank, and I prepared to go
looking for her. But then I saw her through the window, her little
blonde plait drenched by the rain.

‘Where have you been?’ I asked.

‘Sitting on a bench by the river reading a book,’ she replied, serenely.

And that’s exactly what I want for her: freedom. That is what childhood is.****

Child Rearing for Fun, by Anne Atkins, is available from Amazon.


Source: Daily Mail –