Jennifer Senior‘s book “All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood” touches upon the many stressors that present day parenting evoke. The fear about giving our children more freedom to be outside of the home is high on the list of parental conundrums. She writes,“. . . .by the time children get big enough to venture out on their own – to the grocery store, to a friend’s house down the street – their parents feel strange about letting them go, believing the world to be a dangerous place.”
She also puts forth the notion that anxiety about child safety may be reflective of our culture’s ambivalence toward women in the workplace. She says “Freedom to be “outside” of our homes is the trend that began in the 80’s when women entered the workforce in record numbers, leaving the safety of the community in jeopardy as mothers’ watchful eyes were no longer keeping the children safe.”
Isn’t it ironic that this indecisiveness around giving children more freedom coincides with heavy doses of criticisms about helicopter parenting? The news story about the Maryland couple whose children were temporarily placed in police custody because they espouse “free –range” parenting caused tremendous controversy. The police charged these parents with child neglect and child endangerment because they permitted their then ten-year-old and six –year-old children to walk home alone for a mile in late afternoon in December.
Due to media excesses and a new transparency in criminal records, there seems to be an increased paranoia about child abduction even though crime statistics reveal that crimes against children have been steadily declining. I walked to and from school with my sister and friends until it was time to begin high school. The public high school was too far away to reach by foot. However, in stark contrast to my experience, none of my children ever walked to school at all. From preschool through high school, they were driven back and forth until they started to drive themselves. Parents are relentlessly criticized these days for doing too much for their children – for interfering with their ability to become responsible and independent. So, if we are in a position whereby our children are able to walk to school by themselves, how do we begin to assess their readiness to undertake such a leap of freedom and a leap of faith on our part?
Child development and behavior specialist, parent educator, and best selling author Betsy Brown Braun is my colleague and the expert extraordinaire when it comes to providing direct and concrete parenting advice on a plethora of subjects. She is the author of two wonderful books “Tell Me What to Say” and “You’re Not the Boss of Me”. Her website is also a treasure trove of excellent tips and advice for all sorts of issues. Check it out here www.betsybrownbraun.com
Betsy reiterates that there is no one universal age when a child is ready to have a sleepover, get a cell phone, or walk to school. She prefaces her advice with the words ‘it depends’. Parents must assess each of their children in terms of their maturity, readiness, and temperament to determine if she/he is capable of taking on new emotional and physical responsibilities. She discusses at great length how parents, not peers, must evaluate when it is time to allow more freedom. She also notes that parenting that first child is a very different experience the second time around. Having parenting practice under your belt helps to diminish your fears and trust your intuitive feelings.
Having two children of the same age makes it even more imperative to assess each one individually. If one twin has more readiness than the other, perhaps it is wise to wait until both are ready to take this step together. Having one twin parenting the other and keeping the other on task can exacerbate aggression and resentment in a situation already fraught with unwelcome comparisons.
How Do You Decide If Your Children Are Ready?
Certainly children under the age of eight are not developmentally ready to walk to school alone. Appraising your child’s readiness to do so can depend upon how you judge your child’s ability to execute the criteria listed below:
•Does he follow basic safely rules without being told?
•Does she remember to buckle her seat belt without being reminded?
•Does he look both ways before crossing the street?
•Does she pay attention to traffic signs?
•Does he stop at the curb before crossing?
•Does she follow through by calling you when she arrives at a friend’s house?
•Is he/she responsible at home following through with household responsibilities and requests?
How Can You Begin?
One must introduce this foray into freedom with baby steps and careful scrutiny. Parents need to be alert to the community around them to make sure the streets and neighborhoods are safe. Begin by walking behind your children to see how they are doing so that you can point out difficulties or issues that need to be corrected. Tell your children that every once and a while you will be following him just to make sure that the plan is going well. Betsy advises to arrange “safe houses” along the route – making arrangements with neighbors that their home will be a place the children can go to if they sense any danger. If you want more detailed information read the chapter entitled “Cultivating Independence” in You’re Not the Boss of Me.
We never stop worrying about our children’s safety, especially when we send them off to college. The best we can do is prepare them to take good care of themselves by modeling safety precautions when they are young so that they have the capacity to make healthy adult decisions.
Dr. Joan A. Friedman is a psychotherapist who has devoted many years of her professional career to educating twins and their families about twins’ emotional needs. Having worked through her own twinship challenges and parented her fraternal twin sons, she is a definitive expert about twin development. She is the author of “Emotionally Healthy Twins: A New Philosophy for Parenting Two Unique Children”. Her second book, “The Same but Different”, addresses the intricacies of adult twin relationships and is in stores now.
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Other Articles by Dr. Joan Friedman
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