The recent news article about parents in Maryland, USA who have been charged with unsubstantiated child neglect for letting their 10 and 6 year olds walk a mile home from a local park on their own got me thinking.
How much freedom or supervision should we give our kids?
Like many children of my generation I was allowed to roam the area surrounding my home from an early age with groups of friends, expected to return home in time for dinner and with no means of being contacted in the meantime (this was long before mobile phones).
I had an older brother and sister so apart from the first day of school, I walked with my siblings to and from school, crossing roads on the way. With two working parents we had our own key (my sister still winces when she remembers being made to wear it on a string around her neck to ensure it didn’t get lost) and were expected to let ourselves in and entertain ourselves until they returned from work, we had their work number on speed-dial and several neighbours we could go to in case of emergency (only used once when my elder brother somehow managed to trap his hand in the hydraulic mechanism of a swivel chair).
At the age my daughter is now (10) I regularly went into town with my friends on a Saturday and spent the day wandering around the shops admiring jewellery and spending our pocket money on cream filled meringues which caused an inordinate amount of hilarity as we ate them getting cream smeared across our faces. By the age of 12 I was allowed to take a train with friends into Edinburgh (a huge, bustling city) to spent the day shopping.
My parents were (and are) responsible, intelligent people, we spent quality time together and were well cared for, so why (and when) did the way they brought us up become so wrong?
There is more traffic these days which makes roads more dangerous and of course we are far more aware of the terrible cases where children are snatched or attacked, though I am not sure these are more common just more publicised, so perhaps these influence our actions? We also live in an age where we are used to having constant contact with others, via email, texts, calls, whats app etc and where our kids are encouraged to be far more involved in our conversations and our attention (no more children should be seen and not heard) so perhaps we find the change when they are not in contact or in eyesight harder to adjust to.
Of course I want my children to be safe but I also want them to have some independence. My children are now 10 and 8 and walk to and from school themselves (just over a third of a mile), this was a gradual process when I realised despite greeting them everyday from school, I would then be left carrying schoolbags while they disappeared to walk with friends, so I gave up my bag carrying days, instructed them to make sure they stuck together, lectured them on road safety (they have 2 roads to cross, one can get a little busy) and let them go for it. They also love the thrill of being allowed to go to our local corner shop themselves (probably because they usually return with sweets).
A few of their friends do the same but a lot are still accompanied to and from school, am I a bad parent or just trying to give my kids a little responsibility and freedom?
The other big question that comes up is should they be left alone in the house? Now this is a biggie. I recently saw a post on facebook for people campaigning to make it illegal to leave a child alone in a house under the age of 13? I personally don’t think such a law is necessary but many would disagree.
I have left my daughter (the older and more responsible of my children) in the house herself, for about 20 minutes while I collected her brother from a club or event, should that make me a criminal? I know a friend who finishes work half an hour after school finishes so allows her children (similar ages to mine) to go home and get a snack until she comes in, should she be made to pay for an afternoons childcare instead?
I tend to believe parents know their own children and should be allowed to judge if that child is responsible to be left safely in a house alone.
I do however feel there should be laws or guidelines to prevent neglect or even tragic accidents, I don’t think children should ever be left alone overnight, or that children too young to use a phone or contact someone in an emergency should be left alone and perhaps time limits could be put in place, though how these would be monitored is hard to see.
I dislike labels such as free range parenting or helicopter parenting, we all do what we feel comfortable with and what we believe is the best for our children and whatever I think I know plenty others will have different opinions, I’d love to hear them.