at what age should kids…

so, we youth workers know that there are parenting styles at both extremes these days: those who give their kids way too much freedom, and those who are paranoid and smother their kids (and, of course, those who live in the tension and aren’t at either extreme). we read articles about smothering parents, we see legislation forcing all kinds of helmets and harnasses, we deal with parents who don’t want their kids to play a game, or are terrified of what might happen on a mission trip. but we also encounter parents who don’t give their kids any boundaries at all, or, at least, not enough. even some parents who might protect their child’s physical safety in ways that seem overboard, will let their kids freely roam the internet at all hours of the night, or play extremely violent video games.

even the success of “the dangerous book for boys” (and its girl counterpart) seem to challenge the current cultural trend toward over-protecting kids.

so, this story of a manhattan mom who started a nationwide discussion (with lots of passion on both sides) because she let her then 9 year-old son ride the subway (only on a “straight shot” and only with an adult on each end), is very interesting to me. the mom started a website, and has a book coming out, pushing for safety that makes sense (seatbelts, skateboard helmets), but reasonable freedoms as well. her blog/website and book are called “free range kids” (which is a great title, by the way!).

new york times columnist lisa belkin tells the story, and raises interesting questions about what age is appropriate for different freedoms. in fact, belkin took a poll of parents some months back, and she discusses this in the article.

anyhow – i find it all fascinating. we’ve started letting our 14 year-old daughter ride the san diego trolley (and started letting her when she was 13). even last weekend, liesl and a friend rode it downtown san diego, and walked around for a couple hours.

of course, this isn’t just about riding mass transit. this particular case brings up the tension of parenting kids to independence. what are your thoughts?

9 thoughts on “at what age should kids…”

  1. Ah…the tension in my own house between my wife an I over these issues is astounding.

    Growing up in Detroit to a single mom I was required to “fend” for myself at a very young age. Walking to school by myself, 7 blocks and crossing 2 major roads, at age nine; Coming home to an empty house starting at age 8. While today most people would say that it was poor parenting (and it was) I feel like I’m better for it. So with my children I try to challenge them to do stuff on their own. Of course with me “setting it up” to ensure that they are safe but giving them the sense that they are capable and trusted to make the right decision.

  2. similar to chris above, i grew up in a single parent household. I was 9, my sister 7, my brother 6. We were basically home alone from 7 in the morning until 5 or 6 at night. We took care of one another. sure, neighbors helped to look out for us and make sure we weren’t in trouble or danger. but with a single parent, you do the best you can.

    it seems to me that families with two parents or lots of extended family have the luxury of this conversation.

    i also think it depends on the kid. some kids are naturally more independent or responsible. such kids can have those types of freedoms…

  3. As a middle school teacher, I see the stress of parents beginning to “let their kids go” on a daily basis. Mostly for me, it revolves around their children taking responsibility for homework and grades, deciding to play sports or be in clubs, and even taking on part time jobs. I also teach in the most rural school on this side of the galaxy. What I fear, though, is most parents that I see (and I should insert here, I am not a parent myself) give their kids unlimited freedom all at once. “OK, you’re in 7th grade, now you take care of your homework; You’re an 8th grader now, here’s a cell phone, call me if you get in trouble.” It’s like they wake up one day as Spider-man with these incredible super powers they never had before.

    I spoke with a single dad last night, whose 2 of 3 kids are in our youth group. He’s concerned about his 15 year old son and 16 year old daughter’s performance in school (although the both get straight A’s) because they don’t always ask for help. I think teaching our kids to be independent MUST INCLUDE teaching them how, when, and that it’s OK, to ask for help.

    As a Christian, I ask my Father for help every single morning. I hope I never grow independent enough to not need that.

  4. Love this site. I posted it on it here back in April. It’s so key for kids AND parents to learn this free range principle. It helps me as a parent trust God as I help my kids make good, just, and right choices. It helps kids develop a healthy sense of self and independence which is critical to life outside the nest. Every kid is different. Timing will differ. Methods will differ. Results will differ. But here’s to more and more parents/kids working together to figure this thing out.

  5. OOO…one more thing. Funny the timing of these things. I posted this video on my blog a year ago yesterday: 5 Dangerous things you should let you kids do. I found it on TED. Same ideas we are talking about here, but with a different angle. Here is the video

  6. I probably operate on the over-protective side of the spectrum while trying to teach them accountability, consequences, and responsibility. I want them to be prepared for the real world which is a very different world than when I was a teen (we even live on the same street where I grew up). I went everywhere by the age of 12 – we rode the bus from home to the beach carrying nothing but lunch money and a towel and didn’t come home until dusk. This past summer was the initial “letting go” of our 14-yr-old son and letting him take off on his bicycle to ride around and meet up with friends. At 6’3″ I’m less afraid that he’ll be nabbed by some weirdos out there, but I used to have a real fear of that.

    I do have a real problem with the violent game thing – airsoft guns, Mortal Kombat video games, etc., and I struggle with my son on this because his closest buddy is full-on into it and his parents support it. It’s really unnerving to see the kids running around the backyard with holsters and guns that look real. He recently informed me that his friend’s birthday party will be held at an airsoft gun range and each person has to bring their own gun. I said, “Well, I guess you’re going to miss it then, because I’m not letting you own a gun!”

    And we definitely keep a close eye when they’re using the computers – they don’t have computers in their rooms so it’s easy to monitor them. No MySpace, Facebook, or whatever. I have hard enough time with them texting on their cell phones!

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