formerly Diane's Addled Ramblings... the ramblings are still addled, just like before, and the URL is still the same...
it's just the title at the top of the page that's new

Monday, April 13, 2009

What Do You Think?

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?


Heather, aka Jake's Mommy said...

I really think it's dependent on the maturity of the kid. But, I'd say that 8 (or 3rd grade) seems like a generally safe age for a child to go 2 blocks away. It's not like their parading down main streets. So yeah, if my son was 8 and practiced caution and responsibility in his life, then I'd have no problem with him going.

mo.stoneskin said...

It's pretty scary hearing about the ol' register. I played footy down the park every day after school from the age of 10ish, and looking back there were some pretty nasty kids about in the park.

boneman said...

OK, first the answer bfore I let your writing sway me.
Two answers, actually.
#1 for boys?
Hey, you have no real control on that. they get out when they want to get out, so, best to show them good places to go so that if they're missing, you can go fetch them. Basically, us boys are wild animals that you gals are trying to train.
#2 Girls. Let her out after she's twenty five.
Go with her to all kinds of fun places, but, don't let her venture out alone till she's twenty five.
Read answer #1.
And now, back to the rest of the story....

Amy McMean a.k.a McSunshine said...

I think 10 is a good age to do things without your parents. We always went to the park alone and stayed home alone by that age. Bad things can happen no matter how prepared you. To live in constant fear seems crazy to me. Maybe my mind will change when i have a child.

Rachel Cotterill said...

I live in a tiny British village, so I'm in no way qualified to answer this in relation to a country where normal people own guns! I help out with brownies who are aged 7 to 10 and I'd say that *most* at that age seem to be competent to take care of themselves. On the other hand I'm not always sure that I should be allowed out alone and I'm 26..... :)

boneman said...

OK, after reading the rest of the story.
(and, I must be missing something here) if the niece has a gun, then the fear is what?

Take the girl anywhere she wants to go. Go with her, Be the person who points out the problem with some jerk coaxing kids in closer for candy is not a good person.
Show her how to lead the target when he's running away (first shots generally miss) and how to aim for his feet and legs

OK, That's too far, isn't it?
Twenty five.
Let her out when she's twenty five.

Protege said...

I am so not the right person to answer this, as I have no kids of my own.;)
I only know, that in my own childhood, I was walking alone to and from school (more than 2 blocks) since I was 7.;) I even went on short errands to the local supermarket for my mother since that age.;)

sherri said...

2 blocks with friends? Sure.

I'm also afraid of every bug, snake and rodents and I was aloud to walk/ride everywhere at a young age.

I was also VERY a overptotective parent (due to the death of my young nephew)but ended up with 3 daredevil sons!

I wish we could wrap them up in a protective bubble out "there", but short of that, we have to let them venture beyond our boundaries for all the reasons you mentioned.

*I think she should be allowed to travel to SO. Illinois, then you come here and get her!

Heather said...

I definitely think it depends on the maturity level of the child, and how well he or she has been raised.
Obviously, I think Ryan is old enough to handle these situations herself. And I think it is so sad that your niece has been raised to be so afraid of everything.
I was definitely an independent child, though Mama didn't always allow me to exercise my self-declared freedoms. There needs to be a balance between allowing your child to make some of their own decisions, and never setting any boundaries. I think you have a good handle on that. :)

Jenera said...

Definitely depends on the kid. There is a cousin of my son's that is 10 and he definitely would not be able to go somewhere alone.

But I think as long as your kid is mature enough, knows boundaries, knows what to do in an emergency (including if perverts try to get her), and checks in, there isn't a problem.

We were allowed to venture to playgrounds, friend's houses, and etc but we had to check in by coming home or calling. In this day and age with cell phones it makes it a lot easier to do this.

I hope I won't be overprotective of our kids but it's so hard not to be with all the weirdos out there.

Miz Q said...

I think there's a difference between unescorted by a parent and going someplace 'alone'. She's not alone if she's going with a neighbor/friend. Even the Army uses the 'buddy' system, it's a great idea!

♥ Braja said...

You know I don't have kids and you know i think you're smart and good, and that's it :) xxx

blognut said...

YOU KNOW YOUR KID! 'Nuff said?

Yeah, right. Like I'd ever leave a comment that short. The Boy is sometimes home by himself for short times, too. There are several parks close to our house, and he's allowed to go to two of them without an adult as long as he is with a friend or two. Those two parks are closest to home, do not contain deep bodies of water, and we know some of the families who have houses that back up to those parks. I haven't let him go to the park at the school without an adult yet, but that's not about him, it's about the older kids who gather there to hang out and make out under the jungle gym. I still have to think about the 4th park, but that's because it is a skateboard park and I have visions of my son lying on the ground with certain bones protruding through the skin and a skateboard permanently embedded somewhere. There is nothing he won't do to show off, and he is constantly coming up with new and creative ways to injure himself.

So, all of this to say that you are "all that and a bag of chips' when it comes to knowing what is right for your child, and you haven't done wrong by her yet. Plus, we've already established that your brother is... well, nuts.

Lee said...

Very little has changed over the years. If there is one increased risk, it is the cars travel faster and, due to cell phones, look less.

The media, esp the tabloid junk (on behalf of Australia, I apologise to the world for setting Mr Murdoch loose upon it.) They create and then prey on people's fears.

On one side it could make parks etc more dangerous as people keep their normal kids home while rough ones roam the parks but on the other hand, what kids do go to the parks are more likely to have parents in tow, increasing safety for other.

Ultimately it depends on the maturity of the kid. But how are they going to develop that maturity if not by stretching a bit?

Lisa said...

depends on the commonsense level of the kid i think- i was such an over the top parent with my two, i am the last one to ask about ages for freedom........a good subject though and some interesting responses xx

Jenners said...

I think a lot of it depends on the surroundings and the kid. I think what you described sounds perfectly fine -- and she wasn't going alone -- she was going with her responsible cousin Ryan. I think this kid is going to be really messed up and needs a little bit of freedom now to realize the world is an OK place. And I'm horrified that she was given a gun at age 8. (Did I read that wrong?) This is scary to me.

Debbie said...

Great question!! I have an almost 12 yo and 91/2 yo (and 7yo)..almost 12 yo..can stay alone and has for about 6 months. 91/2 year old..not yet! BUT she is the one I would trust!! :) the oldest is so on his own world...the 9 yo is dependable..but, I AM not ready! however, letting them go alone is another step!! I have just started letting my almost 12 yo wonder around a book store w/o me.( I am in the store just not actually with him..) Sad, I know. BUT it is not them..its the unknown factor! And while I think we can protect too much, would we feel that way if something happened?? so, I agree with all know your child and you know you!! in my case, its me that needs the shove to let them go a little..not really them lacking the maturity!

hebba said...

First, let me say that I am not allowed to have an opinion on this, because I don't have any kids of my own. Having said that, let me share the opinion that I do have! I agree with many of the above that it depends on the kid. When I was 9, I regularly walked to my best friend's house 3/4 mile away by myself. We would ride our bikes all over and only come home when the street light come on. Now, I see friends with kids who will not let an 11 year old play in the backyard alone, not let a 12 year old cross the street, not let a 13 year old hang out at the food court in the mall with friends when they are 2 stores away. I see others who give their kids a bit more leeway, a bit more trust. I'll let you guess which kids have better decision making skills, more maturity, and are better adapted.

Michelle said...

You know your child and your area. I would definatley be restricting it to a group thing though.

With times to be home strictly adhered to etc etc

Mobile phones (curse and blessings) are good for this can ring them every so often to check up.

Some 10 tear olds are pretty clueless and some are more mature.

Mums gut feeling is the way to go.

CJ said...

I don't have children of my own, so I won't comment about what age kids can be more independent, but I will make a few comments, anyway. My mother still lives in the house I grew up in, in a rather quiet suburb---and when i visit her, I never see a ---NOT ONE ---child playing outside after school. on weekends, or in the summer. Nor do I see them walking or biking on the streets or sidewalks. I noticed the beginnings of this trend years ago when I was still teaching school, when parents complained that all they did was take their kids from soccer, to gymnastics, from swimming competitions, to flute lessons, from football camp, to the math tutor... So now, all the kids have supervised "play" which isn't really play at all, it is either work and/or competition. Think of all the things one can learn in unsupervised play --to make one's own fun, to be creative, to get along, to resolve differences, to cooperate, to help each other. Sometimes one even learns what not to do or who cannot be trusted. Yes, there are scary things out there, but don't forget that while some danger comes from strangers, it is more likely to come from someone known, a coach, neighbor, piano teacher, uncle, step-father. The biggest perpetrators of sexual abuse are brothers and step-brothers. And statistics prove that a gun is more likely to hurt/kill a family member than an intruder. I wish I knew how much fear to put into a child to make her safe, but not enough to make her neurotic. I guess you have to use your own good judgment and hope for the best.

dianne said...

I dont know your child, but I am a Mum and I have been through all of this.
It does depend on the maturity of the child, that you know where she is going, with friends is best,if to a park never alone, so long as she knows about stranger danger, that you know the friends and parents (most important) she will be going with and that she has a set time to be home.
You should go to the park with her first and check it out together, there should also be a plan in place that she is to come straight home and check in with you before going any place else and that you would be the only person collecting her from a party or the movies...if there was a change in plans only you would tell her.
I always dropped my children off at parties and social occasions and collected them, in fact I usually took everyone.
These days definitely a cell phone in case she needs help.
I let my daughter venture out alone with friends when she was 12, bike riding, playing with the neighbourhood children earlier than that... as she was very sensible and I trusted her.
Good luck Diane it is very difficult as you want to protect them but also make them independent and let them grow.
And sorry what kind of an idiot would give an 8 year old child a gun?
But in hindsight I agree with Boneman :-) 25. :-)

Michelle said...

I am going to go with 12 years old!!!

CJ said...

I found this in a post on The Big Storm Picture ( today and I thought of your question.
Ryan McGinnis says:
"Perception of risk is often swayed by emotion; we are terrified of being murdered, but the odds that any of us (in the United States) will die from a physical assualt in our lifetime is around 0.47% -- that's zero point four seven percent. One in 210. The odds of biting the big one from heart disease is around 20% -- but when we send our kids out into the world, we spend much more time telling them to avoid dark alleys than we do to avoid too many Big Macs."

The Big Storm Picture is about chasing tornados and other storms, so the blogger knows a bit about risk.

A Woman Of No Importance said...

Diane, this is always really hard - And I think it depends upon the child, the company they are in, and where you live... In my former home, I always knew that I or another mom was looking out of their window into the street where we lived, so my son was allowed out to play, but never really unsupervised, from 5... I let him go to the park for short, timed periods when he was over 7. The park was only about 4 mins walk away, and he was always with an older child (11), who was very responsible - This was always in a large mixed-age, usually mixed-sex group of neighbourhood kids, with this older, hugely responsible boy 'in charge'...

I think we are setting up stores of trouble for our children (this is now evidenced by experts) when we do not allow them to learn to play in a group, or at a park, or even outdoors, and we try to supervise their every waking moment... I pity your niece and her fears... xx

LMN said...

Aah, that is sad. Only 7 and so many worries, big worries about life ... already! Good for you for finding balance - being responsible and teaching your daughter all the important stuff including how to begin to take care of herself.

I, too, believe there is so much more good in this world than bad. Look around, how many BAD people do we really know in our lives. Not that many. But we hear about them on the news, yes we do, which is why I don't listen to the news!!!