I’ll admit it. I started out as a helicopter mother — hovering over my oldest, swooping in to scoop him out of danger at a moment’s notice. As he has gotten older, and I’ve had more kids, my style has relaxed quite a bit.
Yes, I let my 3 and 4-year olds play alone in the yard. I let my 8-year old roam the neighborhood on his bike. I let my 12-year old walk about a mile to the downtown area near our house and get a Slurpee. I want my kids to develop confidence and good judgement about being out in the world. I’ve watched them make good decisions and I dole out the freedoms accordingly.
Of course something bad could happen. Bad things happen right in people’s very own homes. But one of the consequences of the 24-hour news cycle is that we are led to believe that the world is less safe than it was when we were kids. That predators are lurking around every corner. In fact, statistically, our kids are just as safe from stranger abduction as my generation was in the 1970s. In my opinion, the only reason our kids may be any more at risk is because we haven’t allowed them to develop independence and confidence skills to be on their own.
In 2008, Lenore Skenazy received a tidal wave of outrage when she wrote about her decision to allow her 9-year old son to ride the New York City subway alone. Everyone has her own comfort zone. And every kid has his own timeline for independence. You have to make decisions based on the maturity of your child.
My oldest, that poor little guy who was never allowed to run fast enough on the sidewalk to fall and skin his knees, will be going to high school next year. We’re considering our options and visiting high schools from the urban jungle to the open fields of the outer suburbs.
My preference? The urban jungle. One of the primary reasons is because I want him to learn to use public transportation and develop some street smarts. There is a huge boost of confidence that comes from being able to get yourself around the city and feel safe and comfortable walking its streets. In my mind, 13 or 14 is the perfect time to start learning these skills.
Some of my mom friends strongly disagree. In the city, there are homeless people on the street, housing projects in adjacent neighborhoods, and… the subway?! No! Not my baby! They prefer the campuses surrounded by horse farms and estate homes.
We all have our own comfort level. And yes, I too can work myself up into a good ole anxious frenzy when I want, but I remind myself that one day, not very far off, these little chicks are going to leave this nest. And when they do, I want them to walk out into the world with confidence.