den Besten, O. (2007) Negotiating children’s spatial freedom: three Parisian families. Paper presented to: First International Conference on Geographies of Children, Youth and Families, Reading, 17-18 September 2007.
Numerous studies in Children’s Geographies show that children in Western countries have less and less independent spatial mobility. There is also a growing public concern that not many children walk to school or spend time outside on their own. Using a multi-method approach including interviews, child- and parent- guided walks in the area, photos taken by children and children’s maps, the research takes a closer look at how decisions on children’s spatial freedom are made in three Parisian families. In one family, the “mother hen” has an uncompromising strategy to protect her boys from dangers of the street by all means. Another mother’s way of relating to her urban area is to enjoy it - and let her young daughters enjoy it, too, and make the most use of outdoor space. The third family’s control of their children’s unsupervised access to the street is measured - and consciously progressively diminishing. The paper explores the reasons for such differences in parental strategies. It also elaborates on the means which parents use to make sure they do not worry when their children are outside, including teaming up with a sibling or a friend, sight and voice accessibility, regular checks, and children’s self-control.