Sara Malm: You can't teach your children how to be street smart


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The Independent Online

A question was raised in i last week: "Should we let our children roam free?" That question needs to be rephrased. It should be "How can we not?"

Over-protection is the most horrific of the non-criminal ways of abusing your children. Trust me, I attend university with many a result of it.

The NSPCC seems to disagree with Chris Cloke, head of child protection awareness, dishing out advice such as "Never leave eight-year-olds unattended" and "Assess whether you are sure that your ten-year-old is mature enough to walk to school by him/herself". Dear Sir, you have got to be kidding me.

I am not a child's psychologist, nor do I work for the NSPCC or have any children myself (thank God). But I was one not too long ago.

I have always been allowed to roam free. In fact owing to my bookworming nature and an unwillingness to do physical exercise as a young child it was often a case of "hat on, jacket zip, now take your sister and go out and play". I have never ever been walked to school. I was nine when my parents decided that cutting hours to take me to saxophone lessons wasn't necessary any more and that Stockholm's public transport network was more than sufficient.

Aged 14, I was running down the cobbled streets of Oxford on midnight adventures with my new friends from the language school. Cobbled stones again at 16, but the backdrop was bar after bar after bar in Magaluf on my first "holiday with the girls".

Some people might argue that my parents took a great risk by giving me so much independence at such a young age. I thank them for it every day.

I had barely turned 18 when I kissed my mother and Sweden goodbye. I left my family and friends behind to move to London, a city with a population of my entire country. I got a flat share, a job and discovered the great joys of council tax and water bills.

At university I can spot the chickens of the mother hens a mile away. They are the ones who end up making bad choices during nights out and who think it is a brilliant idea to play on their iPads on crowded night buses heading to South London. You can't teach a child to be street smart, it is an art they must learn themselves. It starts with an unsupervised walk to school.

Simon Kelner returns tomorrow.