A while back I wrote a post titled “Tablet computers: How young is too young?” after deciding, reluctantly, to buy my oldest daughter (then 6) a tablet computer. The thing I like about writing these posts, is I often begin the post, with a certain view, but the debate it encourages amongst parents, often brings about some viewpoints I hadn’t looked at and even sways me to change my views. I think as parents we are always concerned with whether or not we are doing the right thing for our child, and of course all children are different, but it’s great to hear other people’s opinions, especially when you are worried. This time I want to question what age you should start giving your children freedom to do things unsupervised.

 House of Fraser

During a recent trip to Drayton Manor theme park, Bunny (7) and I, queued up for the log flume. We hadn’t anticipated quite how long the queue was, but an hour later, we neared the front. When a member of staff asked the family in front of us, how many of them there were, they said four, which suddenly made it glaringly obvious that the little girl in front of us, was completely alone. The look of shock on my face must have been evident, as the attendant then asked the little girl if she was alone. She replied, “yes” in a small and shaky voice. I felt awful. Had I known this little girl was all alone, I’d have encouraged my own daughter to keep her company. She can’t have been any older than Bunny, where were her parents? I could understand a 7 year old going on a small ride, like a merry-go-round or something alone, where there’s a short queue and she’s always in direct sight of a parent. But this ride had long weaving queues and you couldn’t see people who weren’t in the queue at all. We’d been in the queue for over an hour and nobody had been to check on her. I ran through all the safety issues in my mind, as well as the fact this little girl must have been really lonely queueing all that time.

Was I right to question the welfare of this child? Should I have called someone? Or am I just an overprotective parent?

The moment I found out, I discreetly told Bunny that the little girl was alone. Bunny asked her if she would like to sit with her on the log flume and I honestly don’t think I have ever seen a child’s face light up so much. The little girl burst into a huge beaming smile, she said “yes please” and took Bunny by the hand. I let the two of them sit in the front seats and I sat with a friendly chap from a different family, in the seats behind. The two little girls giggled and chatted animatedly throughout the ride, whilst I sat there worrying about the whole situation. I wanted to check if the little girl had someone waiting for her outside, but after the ride, she ran off, whilst I was giving a borrowed poncho back. I can’t help but wonder if she spent the whole day alone?

That day aside, but still on the subject of giving children freedom…

Bunny is still adjusting to village life, as opposed to town life, since we moved house last August. She keeps asking if she can walk home from school alone. School is only a 7 minute walk away, but I am firmly saying no. We might be in a village now, but it’s still very much an urban village, linking two towns, not a sleepy rural village. She has only just learnt how to cross a road safely and you hear so many horror stories of child abduction nowadays. I let her go on ahead a little bit sometimes, as long as she is still in clear sight, but I really don’t feel comfortable letting her go alone. I spoke to her friends mum at school and she felt the same as me, despite knowing a lot of people in the village and having lived there longer.

The same goes for the park… At what age do you let them go to the park alone? Again, I feel Bunny is far too young. What if she falls off of something and hurts herself? What if she gets into a fight with another child or peer pressured into leaving the park with another child? What if a stranger approaches her. She’s still very little in many ways and not very streetwise. I am shocked by how many children I have seen in the park unsupervised too.

A mum on Twitter was telling me that you need to allow your children freedom and that you should allow them to go to the park alone, somewhere between the ages of 4-7, depending on what kind of area you live in. She said if you don’t allow them that freedom to form their own relationships and judgements, then they might seek freedom in riskier ways. Now I can see how that would apply to a teenager or a child in secondary school, but I’m not sure I agree it’s true of Primary age children.

I base a lot of my parenting rules on my own childhood. I set quite strict boundaries, but for good reason. I like my children to maximise family time and I like to know they are safe. I was not allowed to the park alone until year 6 of Primary school, when I was 11 years old and then I had to be home within an hour. Bunny can’t even tell the time, so I couldn’t give her a curfew if I tried!

Am I being an over-cautious parent? Should I stick to my guns or allow my daughter more freedom?

Where is the boundary line on how much freedom to give children? When is it freedom and when is it neglect?

  1. Kelly says:

    I think you are a wonderful nurturing mother. I would never let my 7 year old do any of that alone yet as you said they’re still so young in so many ways. It’s not them we can’t trust sadly it’s the world we live in. No matter how perfect a town one grows up in there’s always the one idiot that ruins it. I hated how strict my mom was with me until I grew up and realized that she loved us more than most parents comprehend. You need to follow your instincts and if it says she’s too little and it’s not time then no one should debate you on that. It’s not overprotective it’s simply protective of the world of pedophiles and child abductors etc.

  2. Sarah MumofThree World says:

    I think you’re getting it right and I’m shocked that a 7yo child would be left on her own in a queue at somewhere so busy for so long.
    Our school has a rule that kids can only walk to and from school unaccompanied in years 5 and 6 – and you have to sign a form to say it’s OK. My eldest was out and about around the village with friends from year 4, but the younger two don’t have kids their own age to play with, so they don’t go places on their own.
    Sarah MumofThree World recently posted..I broke my daughterMy Profile

  3. Kim Carberry says:

    My girl is 7 and I wouldn’t let her do anything you mentioned…In September my 12 year old started walking home from school herself. The only reason she is, is because I can’t be in two places at once. I worry still. Some children are more streetwise than others and the areas we live are different….
    I would call the girl being left in the queue at the theme park neglect though!
    Kim Carberry recently posted..They made me play Minecraft….My Profile

  4. Jules says:

    I completely agree with you. My daughter is also 7 and I can’t imagine letting her out of my sight. Even when she goes to call for her (next door but one neighbour) friend I linger outside the front door and watch her until their door has been opened. We live in Somerset, not a big city – but still, I just don’t feel that she’s old enough to be out on her own yet. If that makes me a smothering parent so be it! Surely better that we are protective over our children than not?

  5. Karen says:

    I’m a bit opposite. I was flying alone, from Bangkok to London and back, aged 8, getting trains and buses to various places and pretty much also allowed to roam with my cousins of the same age, younger and older. I was “an unaccompanied minor” on flights, but in those days it meant you were met off the plane, sent to collect your baggage then taken to a lounge where basically you were left to your own devices in strange airports with no supervision. My gran used to send me into town on the bus aged 9 to get shopping for her, and I was allowed to go to the cinema and stuff alone too. We had no phones, or social media or easy ways to keep tabs on people like we do now. So I am very laid back and telexed because Of my upbringing. My daughter will be walking with her friends to school next year, aged almost 9, and is allowed to go to the park and to her friends alone, but she knows the rules about not talking to anyone she doesn’t know, stranger danger, and time limits. It’s hard to decide where boundaries lie, though and we all have to do what we think is best and are comfortable with. My daughter is very sensible and careful, and grown up for her age, other kids her age may not be up for looser boundaries.

  6. Mummy's little blog says:

    When I was a child me and my younger cousin queued up for the big wheel on our own. We had no idea of risk or fear our parents frantically looking for us and we were none the wiser. I give my 8 year old freedom he’s the type that it really benefits but I give clear boundaries, we don’t live near parks and most our neighbours are elderly so he doesn’t get the chance to play outside as much.ifear more that he will not get social skills by playing on iPadsand stuff like that!

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