Agitating for Independence

My daughter Hannah turned six years old in February. She is getting bigger all the time. Her judgment is improving, along with her dexterity and her ability to take on responsibility. She sets the table for dinner, now, and helps her little brother put on his coat. She is becoming increasingly helpful and reliable, and I appreciate it.

While Hannah is growing up in front of my eyes, she is still only six. Just a kindergartner. Before Hannah leaves school every day she has to point to me, so that the teacher knows someone is there to take her home. It’s true that everyone walked home by themselves from kindergarten when I was a kid, but that was almost 30 years ago. Practices have changed. And so Hannah is allowed to play in the fenced back yard by herself, but that is the limit of her domain unless she’s under adult supervision.

On the merry go round
Hannah helps her brother ride the merry-go-round

Recently, though, Hannah has started to chafe at the constraints. She’s been asking to walk to school by herself, and she wants to take her brother to the park on her own, too. She tells me that she is ready. I point out that no one else in her class walks to school on their own, but she is undeterred. She wants independence, and she’ll promise anything to get it.

Children and swings
Hannah pushes Jacob on the swings

I am simply not comfortable with the idea of sending my kid off without adult supervision. I’m sure that 120 years ago I wouldn’t have thought twice about letting my 6-year-old run free, but I don’t live 120 years ago. Modern traffic alone is enough to deter me for several years, at least. But even beyond the traffic, I’m well aware that in our society it’s just not cool to allow little kids out unsupervised.

Hannah pushes Jacob
If Hannah had her way, I wouldn’t be there to snap this photo

I have mixed feelings about the current state of affairs, to be honest. On the one hand, I like the idea of allowing my kids to be free-range kids, playing without constant adult intervention. I’m sure that young people are capable of far more than we give them credit for, and I know that the risk of abduction is virtually nil. On the other hand, I know that little kids don’t always have the best judgment. On the way home from school the other day, Hannah nearly walked in front of a car while holding her little brother’s hand. I just feel safer knowing that there’s a responsible adult with her at all times. Plus, I know that if I let my kid wander the neighbourhood alone, someone could call the police. I would really just prefer not to run that risk.

For now, I think my answer is clear. Hannah is too young to go to the park, or walk to school, by herself. But what about in two years, or three, or four? When and how do I make the decision that it’s OK to let her head outside of the relative safety of our yard on her own? I’m not sure I know the answer. I’m not sure, in fact, that there is an easy answer that applies to all kids. What do you think? I’d love to hear!

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    1. I think I have a blog post brewing about this issue as well. I agree that six is just too young to be out on their own (especially with a younger sib in tow), but eight, nine, ten … I’m not sure about. My oldest is about to turn five and it *seems* like in another three or four years he should be allowed to ride his bike around the neighbourhood and walk home from the school bus stop alone. (We live on a busy street, so traffic is my main concern too.) But the other parents at the bus stop are picking up 10 and 11 year olds and I think it might even be school policy that someone needs to be there until the kids turn 12. When I suggest that perhaps someone’s 10-year-old daughter could walk the two blocks home by herself at 3:15 pm the parents are aghast. They’re not afraid of the traffic or their kid doing anything stupid — they’re afraid of predators. And I think that’s a shame.
      Rebecca’s last post … 12 Week Check UpMy Profile

    2. Victoria is pushing for more “responsibility” yet when we ask her to do something for us more often than not she will refuse. It’s kind of funny.

      The other day at the store she got made because I wouldn’t buy her a toy and she said she was going to walk home on her own. So far I don’t get requests to go places on her own, I get DEMANDS or angry announcements.
      Carrie’s last post … Guest Post at Makes Fun of StuffMy Profile

    3. My biggest concern about letting my children out of my sight are because of predators. When I was growing up in the country, we were on our own from day to night, only coming in to warm up or for meals. We were told to stay away from the lake but otherwise we were on our own playing outside and out of sight for hours around the age of 8 and 6. That is just not going to happen where we live now because there is traffic and strangers everywhere. We lived in Toronto for grade one and I remember walking to school and going to the park, by myself (or with my brother) a the age of 6-7 (mid November birthday) but I also remember being scared at times. My 7.5 year old just started walking to school with a girl who is 12 and her little sister who is 10. I’m comfortable with this because the walk is only 10 mins, they are walking in a group and you can see them walking 3/4 of the way when standing on the end of our drive. If she were walking by herself or going to the park, I’d like her to be at least 9. It makes me anxious just thinking about it but I know eventually she’ll want to go off on her own as well.

    4. I hear you Amber. Thankfully we live across the street from school and we can see the playground from our front window. Last spring Steve built a large deck off our front porch. There are large adorondack chairs and a little table. I can sit out there with my book and the cordless phone. I can hear and see my children all the time as they play across the street at the playground. If I need them, they can hear me when I holler. It is perfect. My children have the freedom to be independant they so desperately want, and I still feel comfortable from my distance.

      In the mornings though Emma would prefer to stay home some days and NOT come on the bus with us. When I remind her that the police would come and take her away if I left her home alone she quickly puts on her coat and boots though.

      I remember having the freedom to go, do and be. I want that for my children. I know living in a small place doesn’t mean that there aren’t bad people. BUT, there is way less traffic and noise. And, we all know each other here. I know that if adults show up in the playground with other children, they are people we know. This is just one of the many reasons we continue to live in such a small rural community.
      Heather’s last post … 592 Days Too LongMy Profile

    5. When my oldest son was her age, he was allowed to play in the backyard by himself whenever he wanted. He could play in the front yard without me there only if I was in the room with windows looking out into that yard, usually I was inside nursing his brother and would just watch him while he played. That stayed the status quo until he turned 9 and he started bucking at the boundaries. He had friends in the neighborhood from his school and of course he wanted to play with them. We first met the friends’ parents, then we allowed him to walk, bike or scooter to their houses while we stood on the corner and watched him arrive. At 10 we started letting him go with those friends to the local park about 6 blocks away, taking one of our cell phones with us so he could call when he arrived and when he was leaving. For his recent 11th birthday, we got him a cell phone and he has an 8 block radius of our house that he roams, under the condition that he calls or texts us every half hour to let us know where he is. You’re absolutely right that this is not the same world as when we were kids and we have to be very careful about the freedoms we allow our kids.

      • I’m honestly not so sure that the world is different, other than the fact that my kids live in a place with far more traffic than, say, Laura Ingalls Wilder ever saw. I think mostly our parenting is just different. The standards have changed, but I don’t think that people really have. You know?

        • I agree with you Amber. I believe that the world today is as safe as it was when I was little and played in the woods across from our subdivision. I remember having a blast collecting tad poles and making ramps to run our bikes down. I was in grade 3 and 4. My parents let me and my friends walk down the mountain to the swimming pool in the summer time. I was 8. I think they were more concered that I wouldn’t get the right change back than they were afraid of someone snatching me.

          I am not too sure what the stats are…..but I seem to remember hearing over and over again that children are harmed more often by people they know than by strangers. Not saying that we shouldn’t teach our children about stranger danger. I really just want my kids to be and do on their own so that when the time comes, they can and I can trust them with confidence.
          Heather’s last post … 592 Days Too LongMy Profile

    6. Great question! I was allowed to walk to and from school by myself at age 9. I think that’s an appropriate age to have independence because you’re aware of the potential dangers out there. You know about not talking to strangers etc. I think when Hannah is cognizant of that sort of stuff, then she can have more independence. But I don’t think it’s so much an age thing as it is about her emotional readiness. She could be ready at 8 or 9 or 10 or 11. It’s up to you and how ready you think she is.
      Old School/New School Mom’s last post … How Does He Do ItMy Profile

    7. You’re right, I think, that people judging you would probably be more of an issue than any actual danger to your kids. It’s so freaking hard, though. My son is ten and for the last two years he’s been allowed to ride his bike to the park (which is just around the corner) with his friend, with a time limit on when they have to come home. He walks to my Mom and Dad’s house after school. Eve is eight now, which means this summer if things were absolutely equal I would be letting her to go to the park with our neighbour. And yet…I kind of don’t want to. Not for any defensible reason — she’s careful crossing the street, and our neighbourhood doesn’t get a whole lot of traffic. I know they need to develop independence — I just wish it didn’t have to spike my blood pressure so much.
      allison’s last post … Knowing Me Knowing You – MarchMy Profile

    8. I think you will know in your heart when the time is right. Somehow you know even when it means having to open yourself up to something you are nervous about. Right now it sounds like you are sure it is not the right time, which I completely understand because I would not be ready yet either. Happy Monday! :)
      Wendy Irene’s last post … Line of Credit- Is it the Right Choice for YouMy Profile

    9. In Grade 2 I tried to let my oldest walk home alone, but the school yard duty wouldn’t let him. I was seriously annoyed that they thought my judgement about my own son’s reliability was too lax… I knew without a doubt he was ready. He walked with apack of friends (and their parent’s trailing behind them).

      I think that could be your answer. Tell Hannah that she can walk by herself, as long as you follow a few steps behind. (Close enough to monitor her, but far enough to not interfere with her independent pace). Tell her that she’s on her own unless she calls you, or if you have to intervene for safety’s sake. On the way home, you will still have to release her from class, but maybe she can again walk ahead. She can be proving how responsible she is and you’ll love seeing her succeed — or at least clear up for sure whether she’s ready or not!

      It reminds me of the “gum wars” we had. The boys would insist they were ready to chew gum indoors or in the car. Up to that point it was exclusively an outdoor activity. I would agree to give it a trial run, and eventually gum would end up accidentally on the car floor, in the folds of thir jacket, or– my favourite– on a sibling. Then I would say “Alright, I guess you aren’t ready yet. No more asking for 6 months (and the date)”. End of discussion. Eventually they proved they could be trusted with gum (it took a surprising number of years).
      *pol’s last post … Holding OnMy Profile

    10. I just wanted to chime in a second Amber’s idea to read Protecting the Gift by Gavin de Becker… totally changed my view on this subject and was just a great book that every parent should read!
      Alissa’s last post … I got a dog named Mercedes for Valentines DayMy Profile

    11. I figure when they are old enough to be home alone without a sitter, they may be old enough to walk home from school. It just depends on the kid, and the kid of traffic, streets and neighborhoods they have to pass through.

      35 yrs ago my mom let my 7 yr old self walk 15 min ‘downtown’ (small town) across RR tracks to shop at the newsstand with my allowance money. But I know I couldn’t let my kid walk 5 minutes to the local grocery store, even by the time she’s 7 I don’t think she’ll be ready to cross that busy street.

      I do let her cross our street to go visit her friend, however. It’s right across the street and I can watch from the window to make sure she gets there.

    12. Yep, I’m also wondering – what age is old enough? Now that we have some playmates quite close in the neighborhood, when can they walk over to play together?
      Lady M’s last post … OctopodesMy Profile

    13. Marcy G. says:

      Such an interesting topic. Of course it’s loaded. Our children are so precious to us and need to learn safety and traffic awareness under our supervision. Some children are responsible from an early age and some seem oblivious even when teen-agers. And , yes, we are judged by the school and other parents. And some times rightly so. I get the jitters every time I see a toddler not held by the hand as I am coming and going slowly in parking lots, terrified that one will bolt right into my car.(Even with four grandchildren under 5, I had them clinging to my jacket, holding my hands and that of the oldest. We were a safe little crocodile.)

      We have an additional responsibility here at the lake: water safety. My husband has been far more lenient than I over the years. He spent every summer here and taught our kids water safety from the time they were little. We have hard and fast rules and then the children are taught by increments to go out in boats on their own…a practice that has terrified me at times but which has been enormously satisfying to the young ones. And , of course, they all swim and are required to learn to row. Are there risks? Always. But we watch from the dock as they go farther and farther out.

      And then they return to the city and back to restrictions. Interesting, isn’t it?

    14. Hi Amber, I am not a parent myself, so I know it’s difficult for me to judge, but 2 years ago, in fact, it will be the 2 year anniversary on April 8th, my coworkers granddaughter was abducted and murdered when she was inadvertantly left on her own after school one day. This happened in a relatively small city in Ontario. Woodstock, Ontario. You may have heard of the case of Victoria (Tori) Stafford, as it made national news and is still going through the court system. She was 8 years old. It took 6 agonizing weeks before anyone knew if she was alive or dead. I didn’t know the child personally, had only heard stories of her and her brother and cousins from her grandmother who I worked with, and yet, my heart broke when I learned that she would not return home to her family. Please, don’t take the chance that this could be the fate of your family. Please.

      http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/story/2011/02/07/tori-stafford-accused-court-rafferty.html

      • I have heard of the case, and my heart goes out to Victoria Stafford’s family. I cannot imagine the pain they must be going through, and I cannot imagine that any parent would want to be in their shoes. They were often in my thoughts and prayers at the time that these events unfolded, and I imagine that they will be again, now that you’ve raised this case.

        As parents, we need to balance the risks of a tragedy such as this one against the risks of not allowing our children to have a full childhood. The truth is that we can’t protect our children against every possible evil, try as we may. It is the most painful reality of parenting. Elizabeth Smart, for example, was abducted from her own bedroom. My own children have come to harm under my supervision, by falling or choking on things. It is very tempting, indeed, to lock my kids away so that they will be safe, but I cannot do that, and even if I did they may still come to harm.

        At some point, every child moves out of their parents’ protection. It’s not a question of IF you can allow this, it’s only a question of WHEN. Whether my daughter is 8 or 18, she could be taken and harmed. And if it did happen, I would have to live with that for the rest of my life. But all that I can do is try my best to use my judgment, take reasonable safety precautions, and then trust. Otherwise I would never sleep, ever, and that wouldn’t be good for my kids, either.

        I appreciate your warning, and I understand that tragedy does strike. Sadly, though, there is no way to inoculate ourselves against it.

    15. My concerns with letting my kids (my son is 8 and my daughter will be 6 soon) play outside on their own sound like they’re the same as yours. I don’t worry about abduction or predators…I worry about traffic and drivers that speed through residential areas and my kids not being careful crossing the road. In November we moved across from a small park and I’ve started letting them cross the street to play there, but only if I’m outside to see them cross. Baby steps for sure, but I guess we have to start somewhere. We live less than 5 minutes walking distance to school and of course my kids want to walk on their own, but they’d have to cross a pretty busy street that doesn’t have a crosswalk. I’ve been telling them that they have to be a little older and at this point I’m not sure when I’ll be comfortable letting them. I definitely like the idea of having Free Range kids, but it’s something we’ll have to build up to as they get older.
      Fran’s last post … Book Review- InconceivableMy Profile

    16. I have a confession: I did not read your post but wanted to comment because I am just loving your photos! I remember you mentioned that you are using an iphone camera and the quality is fantastic. You really do have an eye for good photos.
      Jessica’s last post … A Portrait Session With My KidsMy Profile

    17. MaileySmith says:

      Parents wants their kids to be independent but it varies on their age. When I was reading a blog, I read of a service called SafeKidZone that would help you protect your family. Check out: http://tidbitsfromamom.blogspot.com/2011/08/safekidzone-review-protecting-your.html

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