Summer brings up so many interesting parenting questions. Most families have a different routine than usual, and many will spend time in a different location. Children have loads of time to fill, and parents also want a chance to relax. All of this brings up the question of how much freedom the kids should have.
Take just one example that has come up during our summer holiday. Should we let our kids and their friend (ages 8, 7, and 5) walk a couple of blocks to the playground by themselves? At home in New York City, the answer would be simple: no way. But in a very quiet, mostly pedestrian beach community, the answer is maybe… OK… let’s give it a try.
Whatever the ages of your children, whatever the place you happen to be, questions like this one come up. And as the kids grow toward the “tween” years, such questions start coming at us fast and furious, day after day. It gets a bit bewildering.
When is it okay for the kids to stay at home by themselves? When can they go somewhere by themselves? Do cell phones change the equation?
There are no firm guidelines on these questions, and if you asked a roomful parents, you’d get dozens of different answers. (See this recent forum for the kind of debate that can erupt.)
The New York State Office of Child and Family Services, for example, advises that “some children are responsible, intelligent, and independent enough to be left alone at 12 or 13 years of age.” The National SafeKids Campaign also cites age 12. Many parents, however, find this approach to be not only impractical but also stifling to children’s development and confidence. (See the blog Free Range Kids for this perspective.)
The truth is that the circumstances of family life, not to mention individual children, vary so widely that a hard and fast rule to be applied across the board makes little sense.
Rather, parents need to consider their own particular situation. The New York OCFS offers these helpful questions for us to ask ourselves:
Consider the child: How mature is the child? How comfortable is the child with the circumstances? What has the child done in the past to show you he/she is able to take on this kind of responsibility?
Consider the child’s knowledge and ability: Does the child know how and when to contact emergency help? Is the child able to prepare food for him/herself? Are there hazards to the child in the environment such as accessible knives, power tools, a stove or oven?
Consider the circumstances: Where will the child be when left alone? How long is the child to be alone?
And that is just the beginning. I’m sure we can all think of other questions to raise.
Wherever you fall on the spectrum between promoting independence and erring on the side of caution, one thing we can probably all agree on is that taking small steps makes the best sense. In our case, our kids and their friends will walk alone to the playground in the beach community this summer. They are very pleased about this, and we can see their confidence blooming as they head off down the street, pulling a Radio Flyer wagon full of toys behind them. And what will their next step toward independence be? I frankly don’t know! But I’m sure it will present itself soon enough.
My husband and I recently decided it was time for our seven year-old daughter to start bathing herself, including drawing the bath water, washing her hair, and so on. When I popped into the bathroom one night to check on her progress, I noticed there... read more
Summer is here and for many families that means the children will be at home more, and at school or in other structured activities less. Consequently, for many parents this also means added pressure to plan and organize your child's day. For most of... read more