I just gave Ashton (he's ten) permission to go with our 9-year-old neighbor to a little pond a five minute walk down the street and hunt for frogs. They know when they're supposed to be back. One of them has a watch on. They know the rules about talking to strangers and not getting in the water or too close to the edge (and the pond is like 2 feet deep). Am I a crazy mom to let him do this without me being right there to watch him every minute? Some moms might say yes.
I often let my kids ride around on their bikes around the neighborhood - without me (they have a time limit and know they can only go around the block and we live in a gated community - very little traffic). And I let all the kids play in the wash (a totally dry river bed) behind our house - wonderful unstructured space. They know they have to stay where they can easily see our back porch and where I can see them from the back porch - and they're pretty good about obeying (sometimes they're in the trees so I can't see them but they can hear me when I call so that's OK I guess). Should I allow them to be out there on their own, just checking on them every 1/2 hour or so? There is a chance they could get hit by a car as they ride their bikes around the neighborhood. There is a chance they could wander too far in the wash and get lost I guess - plus I've heard that there could be snakes out there but we've studied snakes - they know which ones are safe and what to do if you see a rattle snake. But maybe someone could abduct them when they're out of my sight.
Personally, I'd rather err on the side of being what some people might call under-protective than be super over-protective. I think (and this is backed up by lots of good research) that kids NEED unstructured, unsupervised time and space (check out this great post my 10-year-old just put on his blog). I think that too many kids are deprived of the chance to think and learn for themselves when adults are too ever-present in their lives (I'm not talking about babies and toddlers here - they pretty much always need that ever-present adult).
It seems like a whole lot of children in today's work spend the majority of their waking hours either experiencing virtual reality (TV, video games, Wii) in their homes or participating in adult-led, structured activities outside their home. In these environments, kids are mostly "safe." Or are they? Is it safe for them to have so little experience making their own decisions, using their own imaginations, and coming up with their own ideas? Is it safe (health-wise) for so many of them to be so sedentary? I personally feel that it is "safer" to ensure that my kids spend a sizable amount of time in less-controlled, dynamic, real-world situations where there are small and carefully weighed chances that they could be hurt or lost.
Check out this article by a woman who allowed her 9-year-old son to ride the subway home by himself in NYC - much to many other parents' and parenting experts' shock and dismay. She makes some great points in this article. Bear in mind that she and her family have lived in NYC forever and her son had been riding subways his entire life. Having ridden on public transportation throughout the world, I know first hand that it's not a scary thing - especially in the middle of the day and especially if you're used to it. Perhaps someone who's always lived in NYC would think that my kids playing out in the wash where there could be snakes or coyotes is crazy and someone who's always lived in a less urban environment would think that a child on the subway alone is crazy. It's hard to judge others when we haven't experienced what they're experiencing first hand.
Plus I know, having had 5 very different children, that every child's abilities and maturity level is unique, regardless of his or her age. And that parents are the best judges of what their children are ready to do.
Anyway, here's the article - great food for thought:
Would it be possible to keep our kids 100% safe every minute of every day? Would it be right or possible to watch them every second? How do we decide what "risks" are safe and which are not?