"Children speak English, but they don't go to the corner alone"
Ten minutes to nine in the morning; surroundings of the Cèsar August School in Tarragona. A grandmother does not detach herself from the fence until her grandson, who is in fifth grade, is out of sight inside the school. The woman, who is 73 years old, acknowledges that as a girl she went to school alone "from a very young age" and her children did the same. And then, why can't the grandson go alone? The woman explains that she does not trust because now "the children are distracted by everything."
All the fathers and mothers consulted give similar answers, among the most repeated are: «if this were a town I would leave it», «the problem is that the cars do not respect», «there is a lot of mischief», «the children get confused ...», «I don't trust»... Some parents even point out that the few children they leave 'loose' when they arrive at school are children of immigrants. The truth, however, is that we also see parents of foreign origin who do not let their children leave their side until they open the doors "is that she (she is 10 years old) is not mature, I would not stay calm", one says. Of course, all the parents consulted, a dozen, went to school alone when they were little.
The feeling we find is one of insecurity, both in terms of traffic and someone violating the integrity of children. Albert Papell, economist and member of the active mobility and local development cooperative l'Escamot, explains that this same perception is what he has found in the sessions with families that he has carried out at the request of the Tarragona and Altafulla city councils; a step prior to the implementation of school paths so that children can go to school autonomously.
He points out that, of course, traffic must be well regulated in the school environment. But he remembers: "vehicle accidents are much lower now than 30 years ago." And the data backs up what he says: between 1995 and 2015, hit-and-runs among children ages 6 to 14 fell by 31% and by 24% among youths ages 15 to 17. In addition, with regard to assaults on minors, the data also shows that most of them happen in homes.
Marta Román is a geographer, member of the consulting firm Gea 21 and a reference in school paths. She has advised municipalities of different sizes in the implementation of these itineraries, including Tarragona. She acknowledges that it is common to find reticence on the part of parents, but she is increasingly convinced that the problem is not in the streets, but in the way of raising children. «Children have become a scarce commodity and we do not allow them to run any risk... Overprotection is in fashion; we are not letting them grow », she sentences.
listen to the children
He believes that the key would be to ask the children for their opinion. «The children of today know many things, they know English and some even Chinese, but they do not go alone or to the corner. The other day a 12-year-old boy summed it up perfectly: 'your fears steal our lives' he said».
Both Román and Papell recognize that for children to regain their way to school, social change is necessary and it is better to consider collective responses. "You don't have to be a hero, maybe what you have to do is agree with other mothers," she says.
Papell believes that there can be many formulas to start, such as an adult who takes turns accompanying younger children for part of the journey or older children who stay with others to make the journey.
Although we are clear, it is not easy to be the first parents of the group to let the children go alone without going through irresponsible. Papell brings up the case of Lenore Skenazy, an American journalist, who became news after the arrest of her 9-year-old son by the New York police, who could not believe that she had let him go to school alone in meter. She baptized by the media as "the worst mother in America" she is the founder of the Free-Range Kids movement to promote children's autonomy. And it is that, Roman insists: "giving autonomy to children is an act of love, not negligence."
The geographer does not believe that an age should be set to let children go alone "it is a trap", because it depends on the distance that has to be traveled or the environment. She points out that an English study showed that in the 1970s three-year-olds were allowed to cross streets with traffic "but then there was a mass of creatures in the street," she recalls. And Papell relates it to the fact that we have lost public space as a space for play and relationship and now it only serves us to move around. Kids getting it back to go to school would be good news for everyone, she says.
Impossible to think, however, that reality goes in another direction. We do it when we see a group of parents waiting for their children outside the institute. Yes, overprotecting is in fashion.