My daughter Hannah turned six years old in February. She is getting bigger all the time. Her judgment is improving, along with her dexterity and her ability to take on responsibility. She sets the table for dinner, now, and helps her little brother put on his coat. She is becoming increasingly helpful and reliable, and I appreciate it.
While Hannah is growing up in front of my eyes, she is still only six. Just a kindergartner. Before Hannah leaves school every day she has to point to me, so that the teacher knows someone is there to take her home. It’s true that everyone walked home by themselves from kindergarten when I was a kid, but that was almost 30 years ago. Practices have changed. And so Hannah is allowed to play in the fenced back yard by herself, but that is the limit of her domain unless she’s under adult supervision.
Hannah helps her brother ride the merry-go-round
Recently, though, Hannah has started to chafe at the constraints. She’s been asking to walk to school by herself, and she wants to take her brother to the park on her own, too. She tells me that she is ready. I point out that no one else in her class walks to school on their own, but she is undeterred. She wants independence, and she’ll promise anything to get it.
Hannah pushes Jacob on the swings
I am simply not comfortable with the idea of sending my kid off without adult supervision. I’m sure that 120 years ago I wouldn’t have thought twice about letting my 6-year-old run free, but I don’t live 120 years ago. Modern traffic alone is enough to deter me for several years, at least. But even beyond the traffic, I’m well aware that in our society it’s just not cool to allow little kids out unsupervised.
If Hannah had her way, I wouldn’t be there to snap this photo
I have mixed feelings about the current state of affairs, to be honest. On the one hand, I like the idea of allowing my kids to be free-range kids, playing without constant adult intervention. I’m sure that young people are capable of far more than we give them credit for, and I know that the risk of abduction is virtually nil. On the other hand, I know that little kids don’t always have the best judgment. On the way home from school the other day, Hannah nearly walked in front of a car while holding her little brother’s hand. I just feel safer knowing that there’s a responsible adult with her at all times. Plus, I know that if I let my kid wander the neighbourhood alone, someone could call the police. I would really just prefer not to run that risk.
For now, I think my answer is clear. Hannah is too young to go to the park, or walk to school, by herself. But what about in two years, or three, or four? When and how do I make the decision that it’s OK to let her head outside of the relative safety of our yard on her own? I’m not sure I know the answer. I’m not sure, in fact, that there is an easy answer that applies to all kids. What do you think? I’d love to hear!