I have a question for you, dear bloggy friends:
How old do you think a child should be before she's allowed to venture forth into the world (and by the 'world' I mean '2 blocks away to the playground') by herself?
Here's the deal... I believe we are, as a society, over-protective of our children. I also believe we are doing them significant damage by being over-protective. We're taking away their ability to problem-solve and to take age-appropriate risks. We're wrapping them up tight in bubble-wrap because we're afraid of what might happen to them when they're out of our sight. And I'm very concerned about it.
When I was a kid, from about age 7 or so, Saturdays and summers were spent gone, from morning 'til lunch, from lunch 'til dinner, and from dinner 'til bedtime... on my bike or hoofin' it, at the playground or the park, wandering our town with my friends. I walked to school, walked to the movie theater, walked to the library and the store and to my aunt's house. By myself. I lived right across the river from New York City, so it's not like I was in a sleepy little town where nothing ever happened. But, overall, I felt safe. My parents did, too... overall. They worried, naturally, but they understood that we needed freedom to grow and explore and figure out our world, and they let us have it.
I realize that many things are different now, some 35 years later. There are more people on the planet and we seem to know fewer of them, even the people in our own neighborhoods. The Internet has opened up the world to our kids... and brought them danger. Thanks to the sex offender registry, we can see at a glance now how many convicted felons live near us. There seem to be guns everywhere... last week, I think there was a mass shooting in the US nearly every stinkin' day. There is far more violence on television and movies and video games than there has ever been. It can be a scary world.
All that being said, I'm not scared. I never have been. Not really. I've lived and traveled in big cities and never once worried that anything bad would happen to me. I've driven the whole east coast alone and I take my daughter camping regularly, just the two of us. I exercise common sense and am generally aware of my surroundings. I listen to my gut and if a situation doesn't feel right, I get out of it. I'm trying to teach Ryan to live the same way. She went through a phase a while ago, after hearing my brother spout his 'nowhere is safe and everyone needs a gun' crap, when she was afraid bad people were going to come into our house, take our things, and hurt us. After reminding her we have nothing worth stealing, I told her that things seem scarier than they are (or than they have to be) because we live in such a global society. I explained that when I was a kid, we only got the news from our town. Now we hear everything that happens all over the world, as soon as it happens, and because the good news isn't interesting enough, all we hear is the bad stuff. It makes our world seem like a much darker place than it is. And some people, like my brother, choose to focus on and live in that darkness, whereas I prefer to believe there is far more good in the world than bad. I also reminded her that Pigsknuckle is a very safe place, which is part of the reason we live here. All of that calmed her nerves and made her feel better... and she was back to her nearly-fearless self.
Ryan is nearly 10. She's smart. She knows the rules. She abides by most of them. If I have to run out for a quick errand during the day and she doesn't want to come, I let her stay at home by herself. She locks the door, knows not to answer it, and wouldn't even think of going near the stove (neither of us are entirely sure why we even have a stove, truth be told). We have good neighbors and she knows them all and wouldn't hesitate to ask for help if she needed it. I feel safe. She feels safe. She also feels I trust her and she's gaining some independence. It's all good.
So, on to the reason for my question... I let Ryan go to the playground at the park 2 blocks from our house with her friend who lives next door (she just turned 12). They ride their bikes or scooters down there and hang out, sometimes for several hours. The area is very open, surrounded by houses, and usually quite busy with kids (and sometimes their parents). Again, I feel safe. Ryan feels safe... trusted... independent. It's all good.
Yesterday my niece wanted to go with Ryan and their friend to the playground. My sister-in-law said no. My brother wasn't here but she said he would have a fit if my niece went (yes, this is the brother who bought the same little girl a gun when she was 8-years-old; the same brother who keeps loaded weapons in his house and his car...). She said it's not safe. I asked how so? She brought up the sex offender registry and how there are many in our town. I reminded her that she can't tell what their specific offenses actually are... some are for peeing in public (yes, it's true); some are for consensual sex with a (15 or 16-year-old) minor. I said I'm sure some are serious and legitimate and I reminded her that they've always been there... we just didn't know it before. I said I think she has to look at the overall crime statistics for Pigsknuckle and the surrounding area... and to my knowledge, since my family moved to this area 30 years ago, there hasn't been a violent crime against a child (that wasn't committed by a family member) reported by the media... and you know those crimes make the news. Still, my niece wasn't allowed to go until my mother agreed to accompany the girls.
What's funny, really, is that my brother was the most unruly kid on the block. He broke all the rules and was constantly in trouble. But he likes how he turned out. He's raising his daughter, however, to be afraid of her own shadow. She won't make a move unless it's been pre-approved by her parents. She takes no risks whatsoever. When she was 7, she told me she was afraid of dying, either from cancer or being shot by an intruder in her house. I won't take her camping with us because she's afraid of bugs and snakes and water and the dark and... you get the picture. She misses out on a lot because of her fear. I'm sad for her. And I'm worried for her. I wonder how she will handle independence when it's finally allowed... I wonder how she'll be able to make decisions for herself when they've always been made for her. I wonder if she'll ever risk anything and reap the benefits.
So, anyway, what about you? Do you think 10 is old enough to go to the park unescorted?