Nobody batted an eye back in 1990 when my friend and I started our business. Besides taking care of other people’s kids, I used to stay home from the age of 9 when my parents worked out at a local health club. I also remember sitting in the car while my mom ran errands from about the age of 6. I used to spend long summer days wandering my suburban neighborhood with the directive to “be home before dinner.” I was a responsible and confident kid—I had common sense and wasn’t afraid to ask for directions or to talk to adults. I felt like I was a part of my community and my parents trusted me to make smart decisions. But in the last decade or so, the concept of “no child left alone” (check out this book by the same title) has become not only the social norm, but a legal one in the United States. There are many reasons for this, but a recent study is shedding light on why these attitudes have changed in recent years.
An alarmist media may be one likely cause.
While a child abduction by a stranger occurs just .00007 per cent of the time (or one in a 1.4 million chance annually) news coverage of these highly improbable and unlikely situations is shown on a massive loop and given a disproportionate amount of air time, amping up parents’ and children’s fears alike. Even if you are not influenced by media coverage, the completely sound choice to leave your 11, 12, or 13-year old child alone at a local park or even in a well-ventilated car on a mild day, can still get you arrested. In fact, the fears the media purports spreads to judges, police officers, and juries as well. I absolutely do not feel comfortable letting my kids play alone outside in a public place, even for short periods of time. This has nothing to do with a fear of abduction or with the fact that I don’t trust them to make sound decisions—it has everything to do with a fear of legal ramifications.
There are major repercussions for never letting our children out of our sight.
Childhood obesity rates are soaring because kids must remain indoors unless they are closely supervised by adults. Screentime has replaced sending your kids out to play and an overall “failure to launch” can be seen in college students (see the book How to Raise an Adult for shocking examples of college freshmen behaving like babies). Meanwhile, the number of young adults living at home beyond age 30 is growing every year.
One simple way to remedy this is to start raising your children to be more self-reliant. Simply allowing them to figure out issues for themselves and not intervening is a great way to put them on the road to being more reliant on themselves. This gives them time to know what their capabilities are. In addition, explaining to children at an early age that they have responsibilities and chores teaches them they need to participate in keeping the family unit functioning. As well, talking to them about the importance of being prepared for situations when parents cannot be present (i.e., emergencies at schools, field trips or overnight camping) helps them feel more secure in their environment. Along those lines, teaching children basic survival skills, could save their life if they find themselves lost.
Experts agree that alone-time helps kids navigate the world and make more responsible decisions later in life, but what are we to make of these recent trends? Have you noticed a change in the way you raise your children vs. how you were raised?