A parent’s job is to guide – but not to bubble wrap

Goliath tarantulas - tasty, apparently
Goliath tarantulas - tasty, apparently
Mutiny Festival 2017 Picture: Paul Windsor

Keep children safe – but beware the nanny state

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Ihave never understood people who place Baby on Board signs on their cars.

What is their purpose? To exclaim to the world that they are parents?

Or is it to point out that other drivers should take extra special care when driving behind or close to them? Surely we should all be driving safely around others, whatever age the passengers are.

And what about the driver I saw who nearly caused a crash on a roundabout when she failed to indicate that she was turning right? As she gaily drove past, her indicators motionless, in the back of her car was a Baby on Board sign. Oh, the irony.

Of course, we all want to protect our children from danger and the roads can be scary. But we can’t keep them indoors encased in bubble wrap for 18 years.

The recent series on BBC1, Human Planet, showed how some children in the rainforests of South America learn from the age of five how to catch Goliath tarantulas – spiders with a leg span of up to 30cm.

Although these spiders are not fatal to humans they do carry venom in their fangs and when threatened they release hairs from their abdomen that are a severe irritant to the skin.

The children wander through the forests, find the spiders and catch them, wrapping them in leaves before roasting them on an open fire and scoffing the lot.

Can you imagine the risk assessment form that would need to be filled out if that was a school trip in the UK?

Firstly, children as young as five wandering the forest alone; secondly, actively searching for arachnids that are known to cause severe itching if they release their hairs; and thirdly, congregating unaccompanied by an open fire.

However, these children were used to it, and came away unharmed and full from a delicious and nutritious snack of roasted tarantulas.

In our culture it can be a big deal the first time we allow our children to the corner shop (as long as there are no roads to cross) to buy some milk or some sweeties.

But is this really helping our children develop the skills they require to understand and respond to dangerous situations?

My son goes to a school that is surrounded by woods. At break times the pupils are allowed to roam free, building dens and generally running amok.

From what he tells me, it can get a bit Lord of the Flies sometimes, and on occasions the teachers need to get involved to prevent an escalation of hostilities when large sticks are being thrown about.

When my son tells me tales of building dens and their subsequent demolition by a rival class, I am glad that I am not there to witness it, but also pleased that he has the opportunity to get physical and learn how to deal with potentially tricky situations.

Letting children roam around forests, allowing them to get involved with cooking (including using the oven and hob themselves), and sending them out on little shopping trips involving crossing roads – these are all important parts of trusting and helping your children grow up to be sensible and responsible adults. Give guidance, of course, but let’s remove some of that bubble wrap around our children.