“Daisy chaining is a popular activity among kids today.”
It’s not every day someone says that, is it?
So I was a little bit taken aback when Dr Tanya Byron told us about daisy chaining, as part of a keynote presentation at the Drinkaware Annual Conference last week, where I was a speaker along with Carrie from Mumsnet and child behaviour expert Eileen Hayes.
And Tanya definitely wasn’t talking about flowers.
Don’t Google it – especially if you’re at work right now – but essentially daisy chaining is group sex, with people in a row – and it’s apparently reasonably well known among even young teenagers.
It’s tempting to dismiss this as another bit of Daily Mail hysteria, but Dr Byron says it’s a regular topic of discussion in her clinic for young people – with girls frequently reporting that they take part, but have to get drunk to get through the experience.
It’s a depressing thought. And to someone who thought snogging under the pier was a bit risque when I was 15, it’s hard to fathom.
How did we get to a place where someone says the words “daisy chaining is a popular activity among kids”? I thought teenagers were all in their bedrooms making inappropriate Tumblrs and buying their coursework online?
Well, Dr Byron has some strong words for parents, because she reckons a big chunk of the blame lies with us.
Her argument goes something like this: a generation ago, most kids spent a huge portion of their time playing outdoors, away from direct adult supervision, probably doing things they weren’t supposed to. In contrast, most kids today spend the majority of their time indoors, and if they are outdoors, they are probably being supervised.
While we think this is making children safer, Dr Byron argues we’re “locking them up” because of our irrational fears, and actually putting our children at more risk than we think we’re protecting them from.
Without the opportunity to go out and take risks at the age of 7 or 8, children don’t develop the necessary neural connections to effectively assess risk and manage their behaviour – and that doesn’t bode well for them when they’re 13 and at the mercy of their hormones and peer pressure. Dr Byron’s argument is that these are kids who make poor decisions around alcohol. These are kids who don’t understand that taking part in daisy chaining could have consequences that shape the whole of their lives.
I get where this argument comes from. And I nodded along a LOT while I was listening.
When I was Flea’s age there was a small path behind our house that led to the back of the local holiday park. We’d sneak in there regularly, and use the amusement arcades and swimming pool. We raided the bins at the local factories, we climbed over walls and played in the local park after it was closed. We climbed on the roof of the school to check out the view. We nabbed bricks from construction sites and tried to build a house in our back garden (I lost my thumbnail thanks to that stupid idea).
Compared to that, my struggle over when’s the right time to let Flea walk to the bus stop unsupervised seems a bit lame, doesn’t it?
But on the other hand – why is it always the parents who are to blame? Can it really be all our fault?
Sometimes I’m tempted to stand up at one of these conferences and ask the expert whether they think everyone had a meeting around 1990 and we all agreed to become crappy parents…because I’m fairly sure I missed that one. Maybe there’s a bit more to the story than just well-intended bad parenting. Maybe schools and their ridiculous health and safety policies, and a mass media that seems determined to present paedophilia as an ever-present menace, and traffic laws that make too many roads around play areas unsafe for children might also have a part to play. Maybe the inability to control access to Internet porn, and a culture that tells young girls being pleasing to boys is basically their purpose in life has a role to play…
It’s hard to be a parent and let your child take risks. Not just because my over-riding instinct is to staple Flea to the front of my sweater and leave her there, kangaroo-style, until she’s 25.
But because other people don’t like to see parents letting kids take risks. I’ve been in restaurants where owners have come and chastised me for letting my 7-year-old go to the bathroom on her own. If I send Flea into the local supermarket for a box of eggs while I wait outside, the staff question why she’s on her own. I’ve listened to people debate whether they should involve social services when they see a primary school child walking to school on their own.
I’m trying to allow Flea space to become more independent and confident without an adult by her side, but it’s so hard – where am I supposed to allow Flea to take those risks? And if I do, sometimes, I still end up feeling like the crappy parent who’s neglecting her kid.
What do you think? Are we too risk-averse with our children? What would you like to see change?