When can children be left alone?

Peterborough Telegraph's Man behind the mic column by Paul Stainton, BBC Radio Cambridgeshire host - peterboroughtoday.co.uk
Peterborough Telegraph's Man behind the mic column by Paul Stainton, BBC Radio Cambridgeshire host - peterboroughtoday.co.uk

We all remember our school summer holidays with a certain fondness, often clouded by the rose-tinted lenses of time gone by.

Mine, according to my slightly unreliable memories, included long, hot sunny days spent on my bike with my mates, roaming wherever our wheels took us, with salmon paste sandwiches (yuk) and a couple of bottles of ‘pop’ in my backpack for lunch.

I also recall playing cricket until we couldn’t see the ball, due to the descending cloud of night, and then racing home, all the time trying to think of a good excuse, for being half an hour late in, again.

My parents never had to plan ‘what to do with the kids’ in the summer holidays – From around the age of eight or nine, we were expected to “Go out and play” as soon as we had finished our breakfast and come back when we were hungry.

Most of the time they never had a clue where I went or what scrapes I got into – It was a carefree time, where you explored, fell over, hurt yourself and got back up again. There was nobody around to say,

“There, there, my dear, let me kiss it better” and no phones to text mummy on.

I hung from trees, jumped in rivers and ponds and played hounds and hares, with little or no care for hidden dangers – we were kids, being kids.

I learnt valuable life lessons – don’t sit in a bed of nettles whilst hiding, check for dogs before climbing Mr Jones’ apple tree and the fact that dock leaves do not alleviate the afore mentioned nettle stings, but they are useful to have around when one is caught short in the wilderness. Many of today’s children miss out on these simple pleasures and you know what - it’s our fault.

We watch the news and check our social media feeds and then convince ourselves that evil lurks on every corner and that our children are in mortal danger every time they disappear from our sight. I didn’t leave my daughter ‘home alone’ until she was twelve, even though I was babysitting my sister on a Sunday night, aged nine, and making chips for supper, in a proper chip pan!

The law doesn’t state a minimum age at which a child can legally be left on their own, although parents and carers can be prosecuted for neglect if children are deemed to be at risk. In fact, last year the NSPCC referred 54 such cases, from across the county, to Cambridgeshire Police with people calling them with reports of children left alone overnight and young children left to feed themselves and use dangerous kitchen equipment.

However, deciding when a child can be left to their own devices is a difficult decision for any mum and dad and we know our children best.

I am not sure my parents’ approach was the right one but neither is wrapping our children in cotton wool.

They must be allowed to learn about life and most importantly we must allow them to be children. So, why not experiment this summer whilst the kids are off school; for one day take your children’s phones away, pack them some sandwiches and push them out the door. Could they cope? Could you?