Countryside ban for children because mums cannot read maps and hate mud
Middle class parents are too afraid to take their children rambling because they struggle to map read and are reluctant to let them get muddy, a new study suggests.
By Julie Henry
Published: 9:00PM GMT 20 Feb 2010
The countryside is off-limits because it is out of the comfort zone of many affluent, suburban parents, according to researchers.
A lack of map reading skills was one barrier, while fear of their children being hurt, running-off or getting dirty was also cited.
As a result most parents limited their excursions to country parks and farms that catered for families.
The Hertfordshire University research carried out at a prep school in the south of England found that while children were open to the idea of rambling, their mothers were not confident in the great outdoors.
Debbie Pearlman Hougie, a senior lecturer in rural geography at the university, said: "None of the mothers I spoke to could read a map.
"I put a 1:25,000 Ordinance Survey map on the table and they didn't know where to start, they also didn't know anything about rights of way.
"There were stories of families who had gone for a walk and ended up on someone's land and got shouted at and never went back.
"They did not know how to make up circular walks or work out where it might be safe to go cycling with children."
The academic, who will present her findings to a Countryside Recreation Network conference this week, said middle-class mothers were also obsessed about injury and dirt.
"I think with this group of people, their fear of danger is exaggerated," she said. "They are very scared of children not only being run over, but being stolen even when they were with them.
"There also seems to be an obsession about cleanliness. Perhaps because children are in expensive clothes, mud seems to be abhorrent."
Ms Pearlman Hougie said parents had doubts about children's stamina levels and were worried that if they set out for a five mile walk, their children would give up half way round.
"Exposure to the countryside did not seem a priority," she said.
"At the same time children were not pestering their parents for kite flying or rambling, even though the older children were very aware that going walking was good for you and there was a definite desire to want to escape to exciting places where they could get lost."
The academic said it was important to focus research on middle class families because it was assumed that as they could afford to get to the countryside, they were more likely to be involved in out doors pursuits.
Poul Christensen, chairman of Natural England said: "Children are being denied the fundamental sense of independence and freedom in nature that their parents enjoyed.
"Our research shows that contact with nature has halved in a generation, and that the overwhelming majority of children now want more opportunities to play outdoors.
"Whether through pond dipping or tree climbing, nature-based activities can play an important role in the educational and social development of children.
"Society must question its priorities in providing safe open spaces for play â?? the money spent on parks and trees in this country is a fraction of that spent on the roads that cause parents safety concerns."
The new research comes amid growing evidence of children being cosseted by paranoid parents.
Figures released last week showed that the proportion of primary children walking to school has fallen to less than half, compared to 62 per cent in 1989.
Research in 1971 showed that 80 per cent of seven to eight-year-olds got to school on their own. By 1990, that had dropped to nine per cent.
Further evidence of a "risk averse" culture was revealed by a recent Royal Society for the Arts study which found that youngsters were being deprived of the freedom to develop, to manage and take risks â?? and, ultimately, to grow up.
Some of the blame for risk aversion was laid at the door of women, who, the report suggested, tend to mollycoddle children more than men.
Research in America has identified a "subculture of affluent suburbia" that found parents work commitments meant "family time" was limited. Youngsters spent much of their free time on computers or being shunted between various after-school activities.