I remember I was 9 when my mother let me walk to the shops on my own. It was literally 4 blocks along a main road. I was instructed to be back in half an hour.
My mother ummmed and aarred but I remember nagging her; coming up with all sorts of reasons why she should let me go and in the end she relented.
Independence at last!
After that I was able to walk to school on my own; 20 minutes walking through suburban streets and by the time high school came along the advice was “follow the kids with the same uniform”.
Now my eldest is almost 13 and about to start her second year in high school so she has mastered the art of public transport and walking to a bus stop all without accepting lollies from strangers.
So I have confidence in her.
The next one along is almost 11 and about to complete his final year in primary school. Now this kid does catch the school special in the afternoon with his younger brother who is 8.
The 8 year old has a healthy sense of keeping your wits about you and being aware of what’s going on.
My almost 11 year old does not. He’s been spoken to a couple of times about his behaviour on the school bus. He lacks a little of that awareness of your surroundings. You know, will scream across the bus to get someone’s attention as opposed to walking up to him or her so he doesn’t have to annoy everyone else. Other people’s annoyance levels are sometimes not on my son’s radar.
But aside from the learning how to function as a participating member of society without pissing everyone off, there is the safety issue of letting kids off the leash.
Kids, on their own, can be vulnerable; especially if they haven’t acquired any street smarts.
But how do you acquire any street smarts without in fact going out there to navigate the streets?
It’s a dilemma no doubt. When my daughter was about 10 she often whinged to me to that she wished she could just go for a walk on her own around the block.
Times, however, have changed from when I was a little girl; and not because random abductions or assaults have increased in the last 30 years but because I feel the emphasis of ‘fault’ has shifted from ‘perpetrator’ to ‘neglectful parent’.
Am I wrong? Maybe. But when parents are constantly blamed for everything that happens to and because of their child it’s not much of a stretch to think that I would look like a neglectful parent for letting my kids walk the streets, and then something bad happened to them?
Or am I just paranoid in a whole different way?
But a few of weeks ago, like my mother before me, I relented and let my 2 eldest children walk to the shops by themselves. For my eldest it was no biggie; she walks that route everyday to the bus stop. But for my almost 11 year old it was a chance to be FREEEEEEE!!!!
They came back within their 45-minute allotted time.
A couple of days later my 3 eldest kids went to the park on their own; for 1 hour.
You know how it is, it may be school holidays but I’ve still go things to do and whilst my kids may be bored, I’m tired.
So I let the 3 of them go to the park by themselves. The park is a 5-minute walk away and my eldest had her phone with her. And since there were 3 of them, that’s safety in numbers right?
They came back after 1 hour. Unscathed.
I don’t believe that the only way to gain maturity is by getting older. You have to go out and get wise. Rely on instincts; not parental fear.
Even though my daughter was anxious about having the catch the bus on her own when she started high school, she needed to overcome that fear.
Even for my almost 11 year old who was gagging to catch the school bus, learning that you need to be aware of your surroundings and your behaviour isn’t just going to happen. Well not for every kid. Kinda need to let him go out and have some stranger (bus driver) tell him to pull his head in.
So when did you let your kids walk the streets by themselves? When they are old enough? When they show maturity? When there is safety in numbers? When the sun is up? Are there only specific routes they can walk?