When I was young, my sister and I were given an awful lot of freedom to go where we liked and play for hours as long as our mother had a rough idea of where we were. A generation ago, that was typical. In contrast, I was a different type of mother: my children’s lives were more structured with sports and extra-curricular activities. My kids spent a lot more time in the family car being driven to their various activities. They spent a lot less time off on their own with only a vague promise of being home before dinner.
I don’t believe I am in the minority here. We, as a generation of parents are also fearful about our children going various places, unmonitored, until they are much older. Can we tell the real difference between a real concern for their safety and unreasonable fear? Here’s a fact I was shocked to hear: the crime rate is about the same as it was in 1970, a generation ago. Children aren’t more likely to be abducted now than in 1970. BUT, we do have 24 hour news coverage and several different cable channels. The news channels are under much more pressure than they ever have been to fill that time, so abductions get much better media coverage than they ever did.author of Free Range Kids: Giving Our Children the Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts from Worry, points out the the statistics that a child has a 1 in 1.5 million chance that they will be abducted and killed by a stranger. Compare that to the number one cause of death for children: as passengers in car accidents.
There are also occasions where our children are so used to being driven, they will ask for rides to the homes of friends who live less than ½ mile away. Are they lazy or just conditioned to expect cars to drive them everywhere? If the weather is fine, and safety and distance aren’t a concern—ask them: why not walk or ride your bicycle?
I had this epiphany one day when my eleven-year old daughter and her friend walked to a restaurant about 1/2 mile from their houses. The girls asked to be seated, ordered from the menu, paid their bill and tipped the waitress appropriately, and came home. This small little excursion was an eye opener for me. I needed to encourage more independence, let her have fun, and let her transport herself.
Self-confidence is gained when our children are given more autonomy. Pre-teens and young teens love a challenge, they love being together without constant supervision. If they have proven that they have the sufficient maturity, give them more independence and responsibility. If they have the road sense they need to get around by bicycle, they ought to be encouraged to use it to go more places.