Loosening the Apron Strings

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By: Deb Moberly, Ph.D.

When is it time to let your child do things alone?

We face a dichotomy. We want our children safe, healthy and secure; but we also want them independent and self-reliant. You may be trying to make these decisions:

  1. When is it safe to let Jon stay home alone?
  2. When can he walk or ride his bike to school alone?
  3. When can he take care of his younger sister?

All of these questions and many others are part of us letting go and our children assuming more independence. There are no easy answers and, of course, each child and situation is different.

The Meitivs believe their two children, Rafi (10 years) and Divora (6 years) are perfectly capable and safe walking a mile home from the park in Silver Springs, Montgomery County. The children also walk around the block and to the library (3/4 a mile away from home). The Meitivs believe they are raising their children the ‘old fashioned’ way and have a ‘free-range’ parenting style. In fact, the children usually carry a card with them that says, “I am not lost. I am a free-range kid”.

On December 20th, the children had walked half way from the park to home, when police stopped the children, checking on them. While the children did not have the card with them, Rafi explained what they were doing. The police took the children home and talked with the dad, Alexander. A few hours later, a case worker from the Child Protective Services came to the home to investigate an issue of child neglect—failure to provide supervision and care.

Actually, the ‘free-range’ parenting was termed in 2008 when Lenore Skenazy let her 9 year old son take the Metro in New York City from Bloomingdales to home. She had prepared him with a map, Metro card, quarters, and $20.00. Skenazy created quite a media controversy which resulted in forming the Free-Range Kids organization and writing a book describing ‘a common sense approach to parenting in these overprotective times’.(www.freeranngekids.com)

Perhaps the free-range parenting is at the extreme end of the continuum, but so is never letting your child increase his independence and self-reliance. What are the questions we need to ask ourselves in considering such child activities?

  1. Where do you live? What are the risks involved?
  2. How does your child react to sudden changes and making quick decisions?
  3. How have you prepared your child to be successful?
  4. What support systems have you arranged to enable your child’s success in being alone, riding a bike from school, etc.?
  5. What is the length of time your child will need to handle the situation?
  6. Even though you are not ready, is your child?

The last question may strike a ‘cord’ with you. Think back to your childhood, how proud you felt when you were trusted and were left alone at home, or rode your bike to school. Times are different, but technology-cell phones/computers can be major tools in supporting your child in this endeavor. Some of us are more conservative in our parenting style than Skenazy and the Meitivs. We may have custody issues with an ex-spouse, or live in an area that presents too many issues to enable our child’s success in this type of independence. At some point, children are more than ready to be independent; parents need to be prepared to let go and to enable their success.

Deb Moberly, Ph.D

Deb Moberly, Ph.D

Early Childhood Development Expert at Children F1rst
Children 1st was founded by Deb Moberly, Ph. D., a former Associate Professor and Early Childhood Coordinator in the Division of Teaching and Learning at the University of Missouri-St. Louis (UMSL). She has served more than 40 years in a range of roles in the early childhood arena—as a public school kindergarten teacher in Indianapolis, teacher/administrator of a nursery school coop, director of a private childcare center, director of the Child Development Laboratories at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale (SIU-C), and supervisor of pre-kindergarten teachers. She has also coordinated research projects and professional development centers at SIU-C and the University of Memphis.
Deb Moberly, Ph.D

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