How old should a child be before they are allowed to make their own way to school, the local shops or playground?
This is a good question to consider whilst on holidays and as we are coming into a new school year.
Siobhan Hegarty writes about this topic in ABC Life today. The article says that parents generally consider three things: the physical environment (footpaths, road crossings, traffic lights), road rules and other sanctions, and culture (expectations of what parents and children should and shouldn’t do).
According to Dr Garrard and Dr O’Brien, there are benefits including improved self-esteem, confidence and problem solving skills as well as health benefits. Dr Garrard does say that children mature at different rates and so parents know them best to decide. Dr O’Brien suggests children should be aged between seven and eight when parents should begin to introduce independent travel.
Interestingly, the cognitive and social development of children was not really explored in the article.
When I talk with parents about this issue, safety concerns are paramount - i.e., the perceived risk of children being injured or harmed. From a developmental perspective, being able to recognise and navigate ‘risks’ such as awareness of traffic when crossing roads and the concept of “stranger danger” are very important. The child’s ability to problem solve and deal with difficulties when something doesn’t go to plan is also relevant. And the circumstances of the family such as work commitments also factor in - sometimes it is necessary for kids to make their own way to school and that’s not always a bad thing, even if others might have their own opinion about it.
Overall, there is no hard and fast rule as to how old a child ‘should’ be when they can venture out on their own. I agree that parents are generally the best judge of this and need to feel comfortable with their decision.
Parents do tend to err on the side of caution and so perhaps need to take a chance and slowly give independence - so that the parents can feel confident as well as the child. If the child can access a mobile phone - an old phone or an inexpensive one - to call for help or to check in when they arrive safely.
What’s the phrase here? Sometimes you need to cut the umbilical cord..... Maybe the school holidays is a good opportunity - to gradually allow independence when you’re home to support them.
How old do you think children should be?
When would you let your child/ren walk to school, the local park or shops independently?
Have a read of the article and see what you think.