Daisy Chaining. It’s all our fault, apparently.

“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? 



Sally is a full-time blogger and founder of the Tots100, Trips100, Foodies100 and HIBS100 communities, along with the MAD Blog Awards. She spends a bit too much time on the Internet. She’s also a very happy Mum to Flea, the world’s coolest ten year old.

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  1. Mummypinkwellies
    24th January 2013 / 10:02 am

    This is a really hard one isn’t it and not one I have to deal with quite yet as Littlebit is only 2. I really don’t know how I’ll handle it when the time comes though.

    I’d like to think I’ll let her walk down the road to our local shop alone before she’s 30, but who knows!

    Great, if disturbing, read as always (always great, NOT always disturbing!!!)

    Mummypinkwellies x

    • 24th January 2013 / 10:18 am

      HA! I hope I’m not always disturbing. Just sometimes, eh?

  2. 24th January 2013 / 10:03 am

    an excellent post Sal. terrifying, but glad someone is saying it.

    • 24th January 2013 / 10:17 am

      Thanks Mat

  3. Nikki
    24th January 2013 / 10:06 am

    Hi Sally,

    V interesting blog post. Whilst I shudder at the thought of “Daisy chaining” (I’d never heard of this until reading your blog) I think as parents we do need to allow our children some freedom but it is really hard to let go. Being brutally honest I was surprised when you said about sending Flea into a shop to buy eggs, but how ridiculous is that? I’m darn sure I did things like that when I was a kid, in fact my mum probably made me!

    Like you I stand by the gate and let my 7 yr old walk across the playground and into school and also give her the freedom to go to the bathroom whilst we’re in a restaurant, but I think I’m going to take a little leaf out of your book about little shopping bits – I KNOW daughter would love to do that, and maybe a few other jobs/tasks.

    Thanks for the push I needed! 🙂 God forbid they turn out so dependent on us that I need to accompany them to work one day :-)) – or worse still, to daisy-chaining PMSL.

    • 24th January 2013 / 10:16 am

      Honestly, the smile on her face the first time she came out of the Co-Op with a box of eggs, holding the change – TOTALLY worth my anxiety. She loves it now, and she’s a regular little popper-into-the-shopper.

  4. 24th January 2013 / 10:17 am

    Agree 100% – it’s hard to take that advice when you’re the only one in a peer group taking it – and being judged (or at least feeling judged)

    • 24th January 2013 / 6:49 pm

      It was news to me, too!

  5. 24th January 2013 / 11:46 am

    We said – I struggle with the whole having to be tied to your child all the time, we let ours play in the garden on their own, in earsight if not eyesight because yes, they need to learn their limits and to push at boundaries whilst we can still provide a safe place to do it but whilst giving them that independence

    There is so much craziness in the world – we are told we cannot leave a child sleeping in a locked car whilst going to pay for petrol or that we cannot let a child go to the toilet on their own whilst we wait outside for them in a safe place where we no there is no other exit or people in there


    • 24th January 2013 / 6:49 pm

      I leave my child in the car when I pay for petrol. So there.

  6. 24th January 2013 / 11:49 am

    I had heard of daisy chaining and that this, and other similar group sex practices, is supposed to be a lot more common these days. And then I believe I pretended I hadn’t heard about it, because it’s surely far too early to think about.

    I have to say, though, that I was sexually active at a young age (14) and I had a good deal of freedom as a child (I used to go and buy my parents’ tobacco from the newsagent up the road when I was 7). No daisy chaining, mind you! I also always knew what sex was and about being safe and keeping it within a loving relationship and so on. Didn’t stop me getting pregnant at the age of 15.

    I do believe that we need to allow our children to take more risks and have more independence. I don’t believe that there is a paedophile on every corner – just in every TV studio, apparently. I do know that children are statistically far, far, far more at risk from close family and friends than from strangers. And cars scare the crap out of me. We’re gearing up to letting Rosemary go to the post office round the corner on her own (one and a half small roads to cross). And I’m almost at the point where I’d be happy for her to walk round to my sister’s (same small roads to cross) or her friend who lives very close (no roads at all to cross) and back on her own. But I’d require a phone call saying she’s on her way and I would be counting the seconds.

    I hear the theory about the daisy chaining, and can see something in it. But I’m not too sure there isn’t more to it than that. I’ve been very concerned to hear, recently, about teenagers learning about sex from the internet and from porn, rather than from parents, teachers or peers. The prevalence of stories, pictures and videos of group sex, non-consensual sex and various other out of the ordinary (?) sexual activities and practices means that what they are learning is not about sex being a beautiful act to be undertaken within a happy and consensual relationship, but about it being a group activity to be shared and videoed and so written about.

    It’s worrying and I’m not sure where it’s going to go or how to deal with it as a parent, especially as a parent who feels computers and the internet are empowering and not to be denied.
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    • 24th January 2013 / 6:51 pm

      I think Internet porn is a HUGE problem for kids – look at the prevalence of sexting and so on, girls being persuaded to write their names on their breasts and send photos. Seriously?

      And the hating on natural bodies – I saw a post on Perez last year where a nude photo of some actress had emerged and these teenage girls were hurling the most awful abuse because she had public hair – that’s what happens when girls’ only experience of nudity comes from porn, I guess.

  7. Jean
    24th January 2013 / 2:06 pm

    Good grief, I’d never heard of daisy chaining either. Well, not that type anyway. It’s very difficult to let children take safe risks these days, as well as knowing when to say no. I’ve got two teenaged daughters and I’d be horrified if I thought they were exposed to this sort of thing. But hopefully they have enough self respect not to get involved with anything like that.

    There is a real problem with the easy access to porn though, and it’s changing the way teenagers think about sex and that really worries me.

    • 24th January 2013 / 6:52 pm

      I agree with the porn issue, I WISH the government and ISPs could get their act together on this – viewing such extremes of sexual behaviour is warping the way kids have sex, and it’s really quite worrying, especially for girls, who are being treated appallingly in many cases.

  8. 24th January 2013 / 2:13 pm

    Interesting post and I agree. I often wonder about how much freedom I should be giving my children, especially as my eldest is 7 too and loves being independent. I have to say I view roads as the most dangerous thing in his environment. We have a shop 200 yards from us but it’s across a busy road which I know I can’t let him cross because I know his traffic judgement isn’t there yet. I let both my boys use toilets in shops and restaurants on their own because I don’t think they need mummying all the time. And when we walk to school, once we’re across the roads I let 7yo walk into school by himself which he loves. It makes sense that if you closet your children they’ll go a bit mad the moment they get a bit of freedom and access to alcohol. I think there are opportunities to give children freedom but the days of free roaming which we had seem to be over both culturally and practically when you have to consider roads. I grew up on a car-free estate, it was perfect.
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    • 24th January 2013 / 6:53 pm

      Yes, it’s a really hard balance to get right, isn’t it? I’m not sure what the perfect answer is – there aren’t enough opportunities for kids to be kids, I don’t think.

  9. 24th January 2013 / 3:09 pm

    By the time I was ten I’d:

    climbed trees 50ft tall that swayed two meters off centre in each direction when it was windy;
    crawled dozens of meters underground through storm drains;
    flattened pennies on the railway tracks whilst hiding under the railway bridge;
    made a den out abandoned doors in the woods;
    made the local school roof my playground in the evenings;
    cycled to Harlow (12 mile return trip) to spend my pocket money without telling my mum.

    I think I took too many liberties at times (seeing who could jump the furtherest off our flat roof on the ground floor extension has just told me I should have respected my knees more when I was little) but I was free to hurt myself in order to know my limitations.

    When we we’re growing up, child abduction/murder etc was pretty roundly ignored as a risk and guess what, the number of instances of both haven’t increased in the last 30 years.
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    • 24th January 2013 / 6:54 pm

      I agree 100% – sounds like our childhoods were very similar! I once blew up our shed experimenting with matches and aerosols. My Dad was not impressed. But with hindsight, I should have told him I was making vital neural connections.

  10. 24th January 2013 / 3:31 pm

    I volunteered at a crisis pregnancy center. Twelve-year-olds were calling, crying, wanting to know the bus route and schedule to come in and get a pregnancy test.
    What about the color coded skinny rubber bracelets? (Each stands for a sex act the girl is willing to do.) If a boy “breaks” the bracelet, you have to folow through.
    The pregnancy hours are between 3pm – 5pm. It only takes three minutes to change the course of their lives.

  11. 24th January 2013 / 7:58 pm

    Oh Sally great post. I wonder though, how much is also down to the fact that parents don’t (because they are too busy) just sit down and BE with their kids…chew the fat… Discuss stuff… ?

    • 24th January 2013 / 8:10 pm

      Perhaps, but I think the bigger issue is never NOT being with our kids. Yes, talking and open communication is REALLY important in building self-esteem and ensuring kids come to us when there is a problem, but we absolutely need to tackle this issue of stifling children and robbing them of their independence, I think.

  12. Sophie
    24th January 2013 / 8:03 pm

    Very thought provoking! My eldest is 6 in two weeks & we’ve just started discussing whether we should start trying to build independence but I agree I’d worry about being judged if we sent him into the shop alone or similar.

    • 24th January 2013 / 8:11 pm

      I sort of don’t worry so much now, but it’s hard when I get sideways looks and snarky comments sometimes – I was mortified when a waiter in a restaurant had a go at me, for letting Flea go to the loo unsupervised. At the same age, I was allowed to go down the street to my friend’s house on my own, and this guy thought I was neglecting my child by letting her walk 20 feet away from me, inside the same building!

      • 25th January 2013 / 10:33 am

        And if Flea was a boy, would he have expected you to take your 7 year old son into the ladies with you? That waiter needs a good talking to.

  13. 24th January 2013 / 8:20 pm

    I lived in London, I sat around the house reading books dreaming of being an archaeologist. I’m trying to instil that sense of sensibleness into my kids, the husband has other ideas. I still think that with all these things its not so much what you do or don’t do in terms of parenting but what the child is naturally like, how easily influenced they are, how up for it they are (whatever it is) and so on. I think children generally are very much like their parents ultimately! As parents we can only try to do our best; give them the ability and morals to understand right from wrong and the confidence to be secure in their own decisions. If you can gift this to your children you’ve done your best by them.
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  14. Made With Pink
    24th January 2013 / 8:22 pm

    What an eye opening post. I have a 16 month old and I shudder at the thought of him growing up. Perhaps I’ll be the feature story of a BBC documentary in 20 years about how I kept my child locked in the basement for the last 15 years of his life!

  15. Emma T
    24th January 2013 / 8:25 pm

    Good god, it’s a horrible thought that some teens (children) think these activities are something they should be taking part in. In a way, I’m relieved I’ve got a boy and hopefully because we’re in the middle of nowhere, he’ll be able to have plenty of freedom on the farm to do outdoor activities. Although I think he’s going to be hoping to tag along with his older cousins when he’s older – dread to think what they’ll get up to given some of the escapades his dad and uncle got up to once they were in Young Farmers…nothing like these sexual things though.

    I think it’ s a lot more straightforward deciding on how to give independence when you’re in a non-urban environment, although even in our rural secondary school in a ‘middle class’ area, our eldest nephew has come across peers who take drugs. In comparison (same school) I hadn’t come across them til I was at 6th form.

    I hope he learns that there are consequences, and that he’s focused on achieving whatever his dreams are, so he’ll avoid getting involved with all these things…maybe things will come full circle and teens will start hating these absurd actions.

  16. 24th January 2013 / 8:26 pm

    My god this is frightening. My girls are only 3 and are both showing signs that they’re adventurous types; waving at strangers, climbing on EVERYTHING, wanting to explore the world. It’s such a natural impulse and I agree that we don’t do enough to enable that impulse. I also agree that good judgement comes from being given the opportunity to make ‘safe mistakes’. I think where sex is concerned, particularly *shudders* group sex, it’s imperative that kids are encouraged to develop self respect. They need to value themselves enough not to be manipulated, and they need to know that they can talk to you about ANYTHING, no matter how dark or scary. I hope and pray that my daughters never feel insecure enough to compromise themselves to please some horrible little oik. I will do my level best to teach them that they are worth so much more than that. I also think we may have to move to Outer Mongolia.
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  17. 24th January 2013 / 10:47 pm

    I had heard of daisy chaining – in a documentary about the author of the Joys of Sex and an experience he had in the (i think) 60s at a free love party.

    So it isn’t a new think but it’s interesting* (*terrifying) that its the latest teen fad. I thought sexting was scary enough…
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  18. 24th January 2013 / 11:09 pm

    I am well and truly gobsmacked! Shit – more reasons why I need to go to school with my headstrong rebellious 8 year old and sit at her desk all day long!
    I have a massive massive and totally irrational fear of stranger danger, but I am in a complete dilemma because I also have a girl who likes to break rules, just to see if she can. I know I need to let her get away with some stuff, just to feel like she has some control, but honestly how the hell do I let her take chances out of my sight when there is stuff like this going on?? But if I don’t, then I’m risking her safety even more? Aaaargh!
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  19. Jane Lee
    25th January 2013 / 9:43 am

    Have to admit I’ve not heard of that daisy chaining & can’t actually work out how it works! I’ll have to Google it now.
    I’ve never had/wanted kids, so am an outsider here, but I do remember the freedom I had as a youngster. wandering the reed marshes to make ‘dens’ at c. 10-12, babysitting for holidaymakers’ kids at 14, cycling 2 miles to school on a main road, & at 16 my aunt gave me a key to stay alone in her holiday cottage (a few miles from my home which I cycled) & no-one worried. But it was working (alone) with horses to get rides as a teenager was what really helped build the core of confidence that enabled me to overcome my shyness & be independent. Horses don’t respond well to timid people!

    So I’m right behind your style of parenting. Thanks for the post Sally

  20. The Towel and the Pussycat
    26th January 2013 / 3:41 pm

    Does it matter if they try daisy chaining even just to find out that it’s a tad disappointing?
    Don’t listen if other people criticise your child rearing, only you know what is best for your child. I have a friend who has twins and she could let one walk to school and not the other ( they would probably just not turn up). I let my 6 yr old and a friend go to the park and he was knocked down by a car, luckily, it was a very slow car on a slow road next to the park. He was shaken but physically unharmed. He’s learnt a huge lesson!