Monday, 19 July 2010

When is the right age to let your kids out on their own?

It's the first day of the school holidays for us today. I have had my head down working whilst No1 son and his girlfriend look after the little ones but things are stirring. They have been for a few days and I'm not really sure how I feel about the situation or what the right course of action is. 
You see Sonny (9) and ModelGirl (8) have been asking to go out together on their bikes for a ride around the village...... without me (or their father).

I know that ModelGirl is sensible. Sonny not so but that's primarily because he has an inability to think about anything other than Pokemon for more than five minutes straight.

We live in a quiet village that isn't a through road to anywhere, but the thought of them being out on their own fills me with dread.

When I was their age I got two busses to school and two busses home again on my own, had my own house key, walked the dog and quite often cooked for myself if my parents were late home. I have an older sister who was 'supposed' to take care of me but I think she missed that direction and I was pretty much left to my own devices.

My summer's were spent roaming fields, playing with horses, feeding stale bread to the ducks and stream jumping. It all sounds very idyllic now and it would have been if I'd had someone to share it with. 

My children on the other hand don't get to venture further than the garden gate without full adult supervision.
I tested my own boundries yesterday by allowing them to walk the dog to the conker tree and back but then it dawned on me that they didn't have a watch and I hadn't specified how long they were allowed to be out.

Are we suffocating our children? Should we give them more freedom? What is the right age to let them out alone?



  1. Oh this is definitely ONE of the 'BIG' toughies. I don't think there is a definitive 'right' age. It's different for all of us, and depends on the child/the parent/the area. It sounds like you live in a fairly safe area, traffic & stranger wise. The dog walk to the conker tree, maybe with a watch with alarm on?, sounds like a really good start. Could you do the bike ride with them a few times first? That way you'd have an idea of how long they would/should be gone. When I moved to Brighton, my TD was 8yo and we live on a major road, so that was a no go for me. She was in the last half of year 6 before I started, occasionally, letting her walk to or from school alone or with friends. And the first time she did, I kissed & waved her off from the front door then shot upstairs to the bedroom window where I could see the zebra crossing she needed to use, and watched! But really, it just has to be when you're comfortable with it

  2. I have always let Jake and Emma out and about by themselves - SO LONG as they are with a friend. They know stranger danger, whats right and wrong. I was the same, played in fields, farms, all over the place. "Come home before its dark" was my curfew.

    The biggest worry for me is the road outside our house. Drilling the Green Cross code into Emma.

    I've tried to get her down by the stream, looking for owl pellets and stuff like I used to do at her age. They aren't as interested in that stuff anymore, so its either at ours or her mates.

  3. Your own childhood experiences of taking buses on your own, having a key to the house and cooking for yourself at 8 or 9 years old sound completely foreign to me. I don't know many people who could claim that amount of independence at that age, even a generation or two ago.

    I was allowed to play in the street in the residential neighbourhood of the small city where I lived. I knew everyone as my mother had grown up in the same house, and we went back and forth to friends' houses within a small radius of 150 feet or so. That was it until I was about 11 years old, when we moved to a small town. My 2 younger brothers gained that freedom at the same time, at much younger ages than I did. It was normal there to cycle around the neighbourhood or to a friend's house until dinner time. By 13, I was cycling to meet friends for a Saturday afternoon in the next town, or being dropped off with girlfriends for a few hours at the first indoor shopping mall by a parent. Still, I never returned home to an empty house after school until I was 15 years old.

    My 10 y/o daughter began to ask if she could take her bike out by herself about 6 months ago. It took me a month or so of turning it over in my mind until I felt comfortable to test it out. I gave her my mobile phone and let her ride 5 minutes to the bottom of my street to get a chocolate bar and come immediately back. We did similarly a few times, allowing her to go into the neighbourhood around the corner from us for a maximum of 15 minutes at a time. Once, when she didn't return in 20 minutes, I walked to find her and made her separate herself from a group of children to explain how she lost track of time. After that embarrassment, she and I consider it a shared responsibility. She can stay out for as long as an hour, in a specified area, if she phones me every 20 minutes without fail.

    I hate saying no to my daughter's innocent wish to have a sleepover with a friend in her tree house in our back garden. I want her to have Famous Five and Secret Seven experiences, but we have a public footpath running down one side of our property. It may be a sad commentary on our times that we can't allow our children more freedom, however, I am more dedicated to her safety and wellbeing than to replaying scenes of nostalgia.

    I don't blame myself for suffocating my children; if anything, it's a societal change that has forced our closer supervision of them. I sometimes long for a less busy, less populated location for our family, especially as my children become more exposed to sexualized popstars on TV, heavy-hitting advertising, classmates who own multiple IPods, IPhones and IPads and overly expensive birthday bashes. I want them to stay children and worry-free for as long as possible, but people tell me that rural villages have a problem with teens feeling bored.

    Nothing is perfect. You just have to come to terms with your choices and know that you and your children will continue to dance back and forth until you all find the right rhythm.

  4. Lisa,
    Thank you for your comment - I think that this situation is a hotbed for debate.

  5. I have 3 children age 7, 10, and 12.

    My 12 year old today wanted to go to the park on her own to meet her pals after school. I went with her on this occasion and i took my 7 year old and a neighbour's son much to her dismay! Personally i'm not worried about adults being vile. It's other kids...threats/violence. Summer holidays are approaching and over those long weeks it's going to be a bit stressful trying to keep tabs on her and at the same time letting her have freedom.

  6. You just need to test the waters and do it gradually. Like you I had a free childhood in a safe neighbourhood, staying out with my friends for hours. My husband took buses on his own whilst at primary school in Edinburgh and would let himself in and start preparing the dinner before his parents got in from work. I don't think my 14 year old would be capable of that even now, but he's always had me at home so it's never arisen.
    Trust your own judgement and your own circumstances.

  7. I'd be tempted to give them a watch with an alarm on it and set it for 15 minutes. They have to come straight home at the alarm. Obviously you'll have to have some idea of how long it will take them to get home from wherever they are, but give them a boundary line so they know they can travel between a and b and no further. If they're back on time they can go for another 15 mins and then report back again. Explain to them thay you are trusting them to prove to you that they are old enough to go out alone and come back when you say they have to. If they're not back on time, take the watch off them and tell them (or one child if it's only one that's late) that they have broken your trust today and are obviously not old enough and responsible enough to be allowed out alone. Then try again the next day. Gradually increase the time, 20 mins, half an hour etc, up to an hour. But they must always report back at the requested time. I've seen Jo Frost use this method for younger kids and it seems to work really well. It sounds like you're in the ideal environment to try this out. Just make sure they know that you are trusting them and they have to prove that they are trustworthy and that they have to respect your wishes or they stay home. Don't forget to praise them when they get back on time.

  8. I've just started letting no1 (10.5) out to play in the village for very short periods of time, during which I have a nervous breakdown silently and imagine all kinds of awful things. My childhood was as free as yours - I spent summers in the woods, riding my horse, playing in fields, and hanging round with a big gang of children. We were expected to spend all day outside.

    My four are lucky that we have a big garden, so there's room to ride bikes, make dens, and mess around. But I'd love to send them up to the park for a play. It's the traffic that worries me - tractors hurtle through our village at an amazing speed, and cars don't stick to 30mph all that often.

    I don't know the answer. But it's comforting to know that other people are having the same dilemma, somehow. It's not easy this parenting lark.

  9. I have recently started letting my 10 y/o on go to the park which is about 20 mins walk from the house. I let him go about 4, and I expect him to leave there at 6 to be home before 6:30. I feel he is mature and ready to have some time with his friends. He has his phone on him at all times and always lets me know if he is going to be late or if he wants to call at a friend etc on the way. His responsibility in these actions, confirms that he is ready to have this time. I think it depends on the child and their maturity levels and the area you live in.


Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts. Appreciated as always. xx


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