This is an article the I read in the National Post Wednesday, April 20, 2014. I like this writer, Barbara Kay. In the article she recalls walking to school with her sister and for her own children they walked to school from the age of seven. It was a short distance to school in a safe neighbourhood.

She then goes on to talk about today with her grandchildren who the eldest being 10 and lives close to school in safe neighbourhood, a parent takes her and her younger sister to school every day. An adult retrieves them for lunch, walks them back afterward and then picks them up after school, even if it means disturbing the baby’s nap.

It’s been dubbed, “Helicopter parenting”, “duct-tape parenting” and simply “over-protecting parenting”, but whatever you call it it’s the new normal in raising kids (Kay writes).

There are parents that admit that their own child has never spent more than 10 minutes of their life unsupervised by an adult.

For me as a single parent I have had no choice at times but to leave one child home while I quickly squirt the other child over to a friend’s house around the corner. Now my children are 11 (nearly 12 and 14+) but at around age 9 as long as my sons were ok with it I would leave them for short periods. Both sons have taken the baby-sitting course, they both have a phone and they both know how to call 911 in case of emergency. I too recall walking to and from school from a young age with my siblings. I believe giving children a reasonable amount of independence is so crucial. What we are seeing today are kids in their 20s who have no life skills or survival skills.

One childhood educator, Ellen Sandseter, has made a speciality of children at risk. Her research led to conclude that children have an inherent need to test themselves by experiencing risk and – though not danger itself- a feeling of confronting danger (not real, perceived). She says there are six basic kinds of risk children must learn to manage:
1. Heights
2. Handling dangerous tools (scissors, hammers)
3. Playing near water and fire
4. Mock fighting (learn to handle aggression)
5. Speed
6. Exploring on one’s own

Number six, exploring on one’s own, is a parents’ greatest fear however it’s the most important of the children according to Sandseter who said,”When [children] are left alone and can take full responsibility for their actions, and the consequences of their decisions, it’s a thrilling experience.”

I can attest to that. My siblings and friends and I would spend countless hours outside playing. The fear today is that it is not as safe however stranger abductions happened then and happen now. I recall walking by myself to piano and as I was rounding the corner a car pulled up and a man stuck his head out and said “Come here little girl”. I was so scared, I began to cry and ran to the nearest person. I think I was 9 years old. I have never forgotten that experience. It sits with me to remind me and to teach my children how to handle situations like that. Thank goodness I had enough street smarts to run for help. The car took off thank goodness.

Most parents today know their fears are irrational but none want to appear negligent. I think the negligence is not giving our children the life skills and tools for them to survive in this world.

A UK study said that 80% of third-graders walked to schools alone in 1971 but by 1990 only 9% did and today that percentage is still lower.

As a society we have to know that conforming to practices that run counter children’s psychological needs will likely have consequences.

Kay says, “There is a natural temporal window in which children learn to manager their inner fears by making decisions that combine the pleasure in taking small risks with prudent self-protection. Call it a form of literacy: Just as hand-eye co-ordination, a form of physical literacy must be learned by a specific age or it never comes naturally, taking age-appropriate risks in childhood confers a greater adult confidence than a no-risk childhood.”

There are so many stories that our children read, fantasy, that offer this kind of independence which brings learning that can be applied. Look at Harry Potter – features an orphan or children far from their natural protectors, children who negotiate the world with courage and resourcefulness. There are lessons for our children to learn as Kay says, “If only adults would get out of their way for an hour here and there.”

For me personally I take this serious. I am no different from many of you who want to shield our children from life’s harsh realities but I know I am doing my sons no favour if I do so. It takes everything in me to give my children those moments of independence: walking to a friend’s house (call or text when you get there), going to a movie alone on a Saturday night with friends, and so on. These seem like simple things but I can tell you there are parents who hover over their children.

Next year my son will be taking the bus to his new school for grade 9. Big deal… we did that at his age. Today many kids do not. I will be taking the bus with him a few times so he knows the route, the bus # to take and the great thing about having a cell phone is if he feels uncomfortable or in a ‘scary’ situation he can always call me and I can meet him and pick him up.

I am determined to give my kids the life skills to survive life on their own. I believe it will be part of their success both personal and professional.

There is no judgement …. you must do what you feel comfortable with. I encourage you to take baby steps and give your child those moments of independence when they can make life decisions … even if you are hanging in the background to watch.

I want to wish everyone a wonderful weekend.

All my love,

Sandra

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