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Appropriate Ages for Children’s Independence Milestones

June 21, 2013

Giant height rulerWhile volunteering at my kids’ school yesterday, an interesting topic came up.  One parent mentioned when his children were permitted to walk home from school alone.  Then another mom chimed in with what age they could stay at home alone.  The conversation mushroomed and now all I can think about are these milestones to which my kids are inching closer every day.

How old should a child be before gaining this kind of independence and responsibility?

In an effort to find the answers, I’m posing the questions to all of you.   I’ve included my own estimates and guesses from conversations in the school yard, but really still need more info. Please scroll down and use the comments box to let me know your take on when you have granted or plan to grant these freedoms to your kids.  I promise no spam comes from this blog EVER.  I’d love the input!

At What Age Should Children…

1.  Be allowed to play in the yard unsupervised?

My oldest wasn’t allowed without me until about age 6, but my other two went out while I was inside at younger ages. I think they were 4 or even 3 for my youngest with her brothers looking out for her.

2.  crosswalk signBe allowed to cross the street by themselves?

We carpool with neighbors, so my boys have crossed the street to their house without me since about age 6 or 7.

 3.  Be allowed to walk home from school alone?

Mine aren’t there yet, but I hear when the oldest is in 4th grade, s/he can walk younger siblings home.

 4.  Be allowed to walk to the park/playground with friends without parents?

Does this come with walking home from school alone?  Fourth grade? Fifth?

5.  Be allowed to stay at home alone?

For short trips to the grocery store and around town, we’ve discussed age 10 or 11 as a possibility. Definitely older, like 11 or 12 for longer trips out.  (Times have changed since I was a latch-key kid in first grade walking home alone, letting myself in the house, and watching TV until my mom got home!)

6.  kids on bikesRide bikes through town with friends without parents?

I have no idea on this one! Eleven years old? Fifth grade? There are traffic safety rules that go along with this one, too. What do you think?

 7.  Get a cell phone (for emergencies)?

I think this one may be subjective based on what your kids’ activities are. With more and more sports and activities happening simultaneously at different locations, I’m considering this one much earlier than I ever thought I would. Fifth or sixth grade seems the norm in our town with strict rules and only certain numbers allowed.

 8.  Be allowed to set their own bedtimes?

During the summer, we do this pretty often just to see when they hit the wall and either put themselves to bed or fall asleep on the couch.  But for during the school year, when should this choice be up to them?

9.  Be allowed to babysit?

I started babysitting for family friends when I was 10 years old.  I know this is young now, considering most kids can’t stay in their own houses alone until age 11 or older.  So when is the right babysitting age? 12? 13?

 10.  Be given a cell phone with texting plan?

I’m stumped here.  Texting is a huge new world among teens and I’m not sure how comfortable I am with texting, facebook, instagram, and unlimited internet access.  Technology in the hands of adolescents is a scary thing. What age (and accompanying rules) are appropriate here?late digital clock

11.  Have a curfew?

Oy vey, thinking of my kids out at night on their own gives me the cold sweats. Is this one for fifteen and up? Or am I too overprotective? Or too lenient?

12.  Get their first job?

Babysitting and paper routes don’t count here.  When do they go to work on the books for someone else?  They need to learn a good work ethic and how to manage money before they hit the real world, but how young? Does the law still say age fifteen?

 13.  Be allowed to date?

I hate to say it, but I so want to impose a double standard here.  Age 13 for my boys.  I think 21 sounds about right for my daughter.  When is the right age? Are there different levels here?

 14.  Be a passenger in a car with a teen driver?

I know most kids hang out with friends their own age, but what about when teens drive younger friends or siblings? How old to be a passenger in these cases? I’d almost trust siblings over younger friends, but I don’t know how much sense that makes.

Student Driver Caution Sign

What other independence milestones are you encountering with your kids?  I’d love to hear your experiences and reasons here.  I know there are no hard, fast rules that apply to every kid across the board.  But some basic guidelines are great as a jumping off point.  Let’s start a discussion!!

8 Comments leave one →
  1. June 21, 2013 6:42 AM

    I’d like to comment on #13. Having grown up in a traditional Asian family/society, I have to say that dating in general was avoided/delayed as long as it possibly could.

    Initially, my parents would forbid it completely, even when I was in high school. My parents would never entertain the fact that a boy can be a “boyfriend”. He is only just a “friend”. They were very strict, every activity outside of school I had, they were somehow very watchful and aware even though they weren’t present (I guess you can call this parental instinct). To me, I remembered it as a gradual process, only when I was living independently away from home for college, and eventually varsity … did they slowly acknowledge I was dating boys.

    Even though I had my fair share of rebellion, arguments, ups and downs with my parents on this issue, I think that those experiences really saved me from making any unwanted mistakes, especially those mistakes that can last a lifetime of regret; those mistakes that can hurt.

    Besides, what is the rush? Of course, boys and girls will have these feelings and emotions naturally when they hit puberty, but I believe it is a parents’ job to control the situation and not let it get out of hand until their child is really mature enough to understand what is dating, what is being in a relationship, what is sex, what it means if someone becomes pregnant … Also, when you are student, especially in high school … the responsibility is to be a student, not experience love and its dating frenzies. This is the Asian parenting that has worked well for many generations. Children grow to understand that at a prime age, there are more important things to learn and experience besides getting carried away with emotions of love. Love will find its way, and while having dating experiences can help one learn more about oneself and what they need from their potential partners, it is only relevant when one has reached a stable adult maturity in life.

    So in my opinion, I will not allow my teenage child to date. When he/she reaches university, I will be more accepting of it.

  2. June 21, 2013 6:52 AM

    My son can be a little irresponsible so besides playing in the yard by himself Which I started to allow him to do on his own last year, (When he turned 6) I am just waiting to see when he shows the responsibility for each milestone. A cell phone however probably won’t be given to him until he gets his first job. That’s not really a responsibility thing its more of me keeping him a little separated from being attached to his phone 24/7 plus he can help pay for this line.

  3. Jennaleigh permalink
    June 21, 2013 7:24 AM

    #5 I think there is a recommended state age for this of 12? I remember looking this one up in conjunction with some conversation not too long ago. of course that is just a recommendation….
    #9 I would say 13 or 14 to start babysitting… I know a lot of parents around here probably wouldn’t pay for someone younger than that
    and this whole cell phone thing #7…. my brother teaches in North Caldwell and some, if not most, of the elementary school kids have their own cell phones! I think it is ridiculous! Middle school, or just before high school sound more sane to me. Then maybe they will have a job to help pay for it!

  4. June 21, 2013 8:18 AM

    Good questions. I was home alone in first grade and scared to death of it. I’d go to bed to be safe. That was circa 1950. Hope you make a table of your answers. It will be interesting to see how the times have changed.

  5. June 21, 2013 4:07 PM

    Great questions. I think it all depends on the child. Some are just a bit more responsible and mature than others. Every parent knows their kids and what they can handle. Here’s another question: Cooking…use the toaster, the stove, etc unsupervised.

    • Elara permalink
      September 6, 2014 9:40 PM

      By the time I was 8/9 years old, I was cooking full 3-5 course, home made meals (lasagna, stews, pot roast etc) unsupervised. I was basically able to clean and organize an entire household, by the time I was 10. Children are often a lot more capable than parents realize. although I wasn’t given much of a choice in the matter. I would have much rather preferred to play and be a kid.

  6. June 21, 2013 7:55 PM

    I think the main answer for most of these is “it depends”—on the child, on the neighborhood, on the parents’ own experiences growing up. There are neighborhoods in my city, Philadelphia, where parents don’t let their children play outside, ever, because of a realistic fear that they could be innocent victims of random violence.

    Our sons are now 25 and 29. They were raised in a leafy suburb. The younger one definitely was allowed to do things independently at younger ages than his brother. They both had real jobs starting at age 15. We had a few calls at 11:00 p.m. that started with the words, “Officer So and so would like to speak with you.” Amusing in retrospect (now that we know they grew up to be responsible members of society); at the time, not so much. Having raised sons and listened to their chatter, I would recommend locking up your daughters. (Our older soon was married last month to a lovely young woman, so I guess he was raised right, after all.)

    Our 25 year old, a self employed travel blogger and founder of several other on line businesses, is currently somewhere in Romania. I wish I could still give him a curfew. As my 88 year old mother tells me, “You never stop being the mother. “

  7. June 28, 2013 10:43 AM

    Excellent points, and I agree that rules will be different for every child. So let me rephrase the question. How old we’re your children when you granted these prov elegies? Or, if you’re not there yet, what ages are you considering? I would really love some practical comparative data. Please share!!

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