I used to go off on enormously long bike rides as a child. The only rules were that one had to give an estimated time of return and one was not permitted to go on one stretch of very busy road with very blind corners. No bike helmets, no molbile phones (they were the size and weight of bricks in those days, anyway, if they'd even been invented)
By the age of 14, I was travelling 100 miles to London every Saturday for the professional training of my choice. Train, 2 tubes and a walk, or train and bus, or train and bus and walk - I got pretty confident at getting to my destination in different ways. Alone.
That sort of thing happens less and less in the UK. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/6720661.stm
I wonder how parents can now maximise the chances of their children having such freedom? Immediately springing to mind are:
Becoming properly informed about the risks of various activities, the risks of car accidents, bicycle accidents, random abductors etc.
Buying child a mobile phone as soon as they are able to operate one. (maybe - I see problems with parent being a virtual presence there, actually)
Become accustomed to taking their children seriously, so that requests for independent adventures can be rationally approached.
It's all just an extension of parents who don't help their children learn to walk on 6" high walls when they first show an interest aged 1 or 2 because it's "dangerous"
This is somewhat half baked but I have other things I want to do now, so I'll use the old "I should edit this but the baby just jumped off the top of the kitchen cabinets" privacy-violating get-out clause...