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May 16, 2011 / Mervyn Dinnen

Punk Rock and Spangles

It was always better in our day. The music was better, the football was better…even the sweets were better.

This blog post from Speccy Woo has got me all nostalgic for the good old days. He makes some good points about modern parenting paranoia; our parents did rather let us get on with it and write the consequences off to experience. Those were more innocent times, before the culture of accountability and ambulance chasing no win no fee lawyers.

Somewhere between our parents and us something changed…someone had to take the blame if it went wrong. Someone was accountable and therefore responsible. The council, the school, police, shop owners, bus drivers….everything could have been prevented, someone was at fault.

We can’t deny this shift as it partially informs all the parenting decisions we make. That and environment.

I liked Speccy’s sepia tinged image of children running amok, kicking cans and climbing trees. My childhood wasn’t quite the same as I grew up in a London suburb and there wasn’t much greenery around. It was more cars and concrete than cows and conifers; hence some of the freedoms that were enjoyed by those away from London weren’t really available to me.

The nostalgia trip has made me think about parenting concerns as children move into their teens.

My son is growing up in a desirable London suburb, fairly central (Zone 2 for those who know these things) and hence has been similarly denied some freedoms. He’s 16 now, but over the last few years we’ve had to balance a desire to give him latitude with more practical safety concerns – within a three mile radius of home 5 or 6 boys his age have been stabbed over the last couple of years, you can often find police at 3.30 in the main road nearby heading off fights between two rival local schools, and if he comes home late at night on his own he has to change buses at a place that I always try to avoid.

So I’ll try and join the dots between younger abandonment and teenage knowing.

Some decisions are now made slightly easier for us; there is a loose infrastructure in place which may take away some of the innocence but also provides for something a little safer.

When I was 10 I was at a friend’s house for the day. We were bored so his mother gave us some money to go out to the park for the afternoon. We didn’t go. Cycling past the local tube station we decided to leave our bikes there and ride the tubes around London for the afternoon. We saw a group of men going to football at West Ham. My friend had never been to a football match (my dad had taken me to Arsenal a few times) so we decided to go. The men told us how to get to the ground and when we got there a policeman told us where the juniors entrance was. We queued, paid (surprisingly, by today’s standards, the small amount of money we were given covered all of this) and watched the game. OK, we left half hour before the end as it was a long way back and if we were late we may have been rumbled. We never told anyone where we’d been, and to this day I’ve never told my mother! (oh, and our bikes were still where we  left them)

I don’t believe this could happen nowadays, which is quite possibly a good thing. I suspect that two 10 year olds on that kind of journey would at some stage alert the interest and concern of an authority figure…part of the loose infrastructure I mentioned earlier. Additionally, the cost would be prohibitive and we would have needed to have arranged tickets in advance.

An unnecessary curtailment of a child’s sense of adventure or a necessary check to ensure safety? I’d love to get your view.

But first consider this. On 25th August my son will collect his GCSE results and head straight off with some friends to the Reading Festival for 4 nights of camping, music and, no doubt, mud.

It’s now become a traditional rites of passage for 16 year olds all over the South East of England. GCSE results and Reading Festival….always happens the same day.

My parents would never have let me do that and unlike my football experience it’s hard to explain 4 nights away. But it’s more of a no brainer for me as improvements in organisation have meant that this should be a relatively safe few days. And a more enlightened education syllabus means he knows more about the good and bad of sex and drugs and rock n roll than I could ever teach him!

So, have we stripped away our kids’ chances to experiment or have we given them a wider choice and safer environment?

Let me know what you think….

Punk Rock and Spangles?? Well, the music and sweets were better in our day…or were they??

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6 Comments

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  1. James Mayes / May 16 2011 6:43 AM

    People rip me for living in sleep ole Worthing… but I have the beach 5 mins one way, a country park 5 mins the other and I live on a street where my kids know the names of 20+ of the neighbours. Priceless. Good post Merv.

  2. David Goddin / May 16 2011 6:50 AM

    Lovely post Mervyn. I think all parents of Gen-Y or millennial children struggle with this…

    Even though we live in a rural town, I don’t feel I can give my children the freedom that I had. Yes there are wider choices but it doesn’t feel that the environment has become safer. In fact, for us the threat of the many local crazy drivers is very real and we fear it as parents. That stops us letting our young boys go out in the way that I did at their age. The hardest part is working out what is rationale fear and what isn’t, as we see our fears adopted by our children.

    Bigger, better, faster, more….. we asked for it and got it. Now we are parents we have to find a way to deal with it.

  3. schristinejames / May 16 2011 8:03 AM

    These mean streets are surely different than they were in my childhood. We would leave the house with an apple and some cheese in our pockets, and a pen-knife, and return when it started to get dark.

    Yep, kids with knives. We used them to cut string and whittle wood to make bows and arrows. Occasionally we made traps to catch the parents in the event that they came looking for us. They never did.

    You may never have told your mother, but I expect she suspected that you’d had a mini-adventure. I’m sure your son will have whale of a time, and live to tell the tales. Maybe you’ll get an edited version.

    Punk Rock and Spangles / Punk Rock and Skittles / Punk Rock and Randoms: whichever way you look at it, and whichever era you grow up in, it’s the parenting, the caring, and the conversations that count.

  4. Katie / May 16 2011 8:15 AM

    Ah, the nostalgia of the good old days. What a wonderful fiction. The world hasn’t become any more dangerous or scary than it was 20, 40 or 100 years ago. There have always been threats. It’s just that the media is now constantly feeding us with stories that previously would have gone unreported on a large scale… indirectly (or directly) scaring the bejeezus out of parents.

    Whether you’re growing up in London or out in the sticks doesn’t actually matter, there are risks attached with both. Parents that won’t let their kids play on quiet residential streets unaccompanied or obsessively monitor their teenagers whereabouts by mobile phone are suffocating their kids with their own fears, rather than preparing their kids to deal with the realities of life, e.g. whether that’s traffic, cows, building sites, the next door neighbours dog, farm equipment, drugs, gangs, or the vaguely creepy guy that lives at No.3.

  5. Neil / May 16 2011 8:36 AM

    I guess I’m from the generation inbetween you and your kids (if that is demographically possible!) so I got to run out and about as a child and then go to Glastonbury when I finished my GCSEs.

    The point I was trying to make, which I think David and Katie echo, is that a lot of the fear is completely irrational, not that there weren’t always risks and challenges as there are now. In the words of Phillip Larkin, “They fuck you up your Mum and Dad” and that was written in 1971.

    PS. I left the swear word in, because I reckoned if someone who was offered the position of Poet Laureate could it, then your blog could cope with it too….. 🙂

  6. Bina Briggs / May 16 2011 12:29 PM

    Great post Mervyn, it took me back to my childhood days in Kampala, Uganda. As promised, here’s a glimpse of it….They were carefreee days, however, we also had to be careful and mindful of our surroundings and to some degree of the different communities we lived in.

    My upbringing was strict, in a Gujarati family, surrounded by mainly an Indian/Gujarati community. Kids were allowed to play outside in our compounds, or a playground or sometimes on the residential roads. I grew up on cricket, badminton and hockey, playing and watching! Entertainment for the kids was either playing these games, running around or climbing mango and guava trees! Most kids played without any supervision but you knew where they were, in and out of the houses in the neighbourhood, however, all were inside by sunset.

    Music was mainly Indian music, listening to All India Radio and Nairobi Radio, was alllowed to see an Indian film once a fortnight or so, lived on Indian films and it was a big occasion if we were taken to the Sunday evening special show at the Drive-In Cinema, it was like a mass promenade/picnic! TV did not appear until fairly late when we were introduced to Dr Who, Bonanza and The Man from Uncle! TV was strictly rationed!

    We all devoured books, loved English classics and yet on the other end of the spectrum, loved Mills and Boons romantic novels too! Pocket money was rationed too.

    Food – Indian food and local african specialities of staple foods such as toasted Corn on the cob, boiled chilli Cassava(mogo) and plantains. Cadbury chocolate, grapes and apples were a luxury!

    We were lucky that we did not have the same pressures the kids and parents have these days. We made our own entertainment, there was always something to do or just be there with the grown ups! Looking back, I know now that we were protected and restricted but I did not know any different and all in all has stood me in good stead!

    Punk Rock and Spangles?? Well, the music and sweets were better in our day…or were they?? I sure think they were…through rose tinted glasses! x

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