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.
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?