It was a great combination of a play date for my son and a catch up with a friend for me as both our sons played with each other at McDonald’s. After an hour or so my son reported to me he was thirsty. So I gave him two dollars to buy a bottle of water at the counter. My friend looked at me in amazement. “You let him do that all by himself?”
To be honest, I never even thought about it. He’s seven by the way (my friend’s son is eight) and he didn’t hesitate going to the counter and buying that water. He brought back the change and all was well. Afterwards, my friend and I talked about this and she confessed she would not have let her son do that. I pointed out that we were in the same space (though divided by a glass wall) and that I trained my son to raise hell if someone would try to take him. She reluctantly agreed that she was maybe a bit overprotective.
In that same week, parents from Maryland made the news. They are facing child neglect charges for letting their two kids play by themselves on a playground a mile from their home, and letting them walk home from that playground by themselves. Their kids are 6 and 10 years old by the way.
Then there was a Facebook post that got shared by some friends about when kids were old enough to be home alone and what laws different states had about this. The article suggested 8 was the age kids could be alone for a little while (an hour and a half max, during the day)—but many commenters responded that they would never leave their kid alone at that age.
It all got me thinking about raising independent kids. My parents made their fair share of mistakes in parenting—as all parents do—but they did successfully raise us as responsible, independent kids. I rode my bike to school by myself when I was 7. When I was 13, I was allowed to travel through the country by myself by train, as long as they knew where I was going and with whom I was staying. My parents left my older sister and me by ourselves for three weeks in the summer when we were 14 and 17, while they went on vacation to Norway. We did just fine.
I recognize that it was a different time and age (and in my case also a different country as I grew up in The Netherlands) but I valued that trust they placed in me. I try to give my son that same trust, because independence and responsibility will get him far in life.
There’s a lot of talk about overprotective helicopter-parents, to the extreme where they write their kids’ college admission essay or even show up at job interviews (awkward!). As youth leaders, we come across parents like that a lot. We know it’s not in students’ best interest when they don’t learn independence. We know helicopter parents are annoying at least, and destructive at worst—ruining their kids’ chances of building their own lives. Personally, I do not want to be that parent, on the contrary. I can be a mama bear for sure when someone harms my son, but a lot of the times I let him handle his own problems as much as possible.
So how do we deal with this? What is our vision for raising independent students and how can we help the parents of our students to grow in this area? Where’s the balance between teaching independence and being irresponsible ourselves? That’s what we’ll be talking about in the next few posts. Stay tuned!
In the meantime: what is your vision on independence and how to raise kids to be responsible? Do you think those parents from Maryland got it right or not?