Hi Readers — I give you today’s “Ask Amy” column titled, “Kids, Like Chicken, Should Be Free-Range.” THANK YOU, AMY! Read her sage advice and then take the Free-Range Kids Challenge of the Weekend:
Dear Amy:My wife and I think it might be a good idea to let our 10-year-old son explore the city in which we live. What do you think of this? Is it even legal? If it is, how far can he stray? — Daring Dad
Dear Dad:It depends on where you live. When you ask how far your son can stray, the answer is, he can stray very, very far.
Many 10-year-olds and their classmates take public transportation to and from school. They confidently ride the subway; walk home from the bus stop; run out to the corner store to get a loaf of bread.
But should you let your 10-year-old “explore the city”?
No, certainly, if he has no experience navigating short distances on his own.
This is best handled in stages. First you send him on a little errand down the block. Tell him you’ll meet him in an hour at a predetermined place.
Run various scenarios with him as you walk with him through town. Let him take you on an exploratory trip during which he makes all of the choices and handles all of the transactions without your help.
When my daughter was young and we lived in Washington, D.C., we got to know many of the shopkeepers on our block. By the time she was 10, she could go on her own down the block. This is a great way to build confidence and problem-solving skills. By age 12, she was riding public transportation on her own.
Raising an adventurous, confident and savvy child can be nerve-wracking at times, but parents should foster independence. I wish more parents would let their children off the leash earlier in life.
I enjoy the writing on the website freerangekids.com, where parents communicate about this sort of issue.
Bravo! And now it’s time to take her/my advice and show ourselves what our kids can do. Here’s an easy and exhilarating way to start:
THINK BACK ON SOMETHING THAT YOU LOVED DOING AS A KID…that, so far, you have not allowed your kids to do at that same age.
Whether it’s ride a bike, toast a marshmallow, go down the street or go downtown, remember how important that activity was to you. Then give your kids some basic tips and training, and LET THEM DO IT!
As for the laws, most states do not have actual ages for when a child is or isn’t allowed to do this or that, except for waiting in a car. It generally depends on whether the child is left in a dangerous situation – for instance, home alone with no food, no phone, and drugs littering the place.
So don’t do that. And do teach them how to be as safe as you were. Which is to say: as safe as necessary, not as safe as possible, because if you aim for that, they’ll never leave the house. And summer is the time to let them go! – L.
P.S. Report back on how it goes!