Last week the press was outraged by the story of parents who let their two young children cycle to school unsupervised in an attempt to recreate the freedoms that they themselves had had as children.
Every parent has a view on a subject like this and each is as valid as the next because the amount of independence that we allow our children varies on an individual basis. Parents take all kind of factors in to account when making decisions like that.
The nature of the children has to come pretty close to the top of the list. Every mother knows which of her children can be trusted to undertake an independent adventure without mishap and which is likely to run into bother.
Secondly there is the environment in which the children are being brought up. I read an article by a mother who said that she couldn’t understand the fuss as she gave her children every freedom to assist them in their path through life. But then they were living on a farm in Glamorgan. This might be seen by many as an environment in which children were less likely to run into danger than in, say, a busy suburb unless, of course, you count being run over by a tractor or trampled to death by a herd of cows.
Thirdly, I think parents are very much influenced by their own upbringing. Either they copy their own parents’ style or they act in a manner diametrically opposed to how they were brought up. Either way, their own childhood is an important factor in deciding what is best for their offspring.
I wouldn’t let my children cycle to school at 5 and 8 but I do believe that now, at 6 and 7, they would be perfectly capable of getting themselves safely to school. It’s an easy run on relatively quiet roads with plenty of other people about to keep an eye on them.
But I feel no need to do that. There are plenty of other, less controversial ways in which I can begin to let them explore their independence. Allowing them to play unsupervised at home for prolonged periods might sound like I am shirking my parental responsibilities but actually I think it’s quite the reverse. They have to fire their own imaginations, solve problems for themselves and sort out their own battles. A teacher recently told us how well our daughter had performed as Chair in a debate at school as she had allowed everyone a chance to speak. I wonder where she learnt that life skill?
When we walk to places I now no longer worry if I can’t see them every second. If they dart behind a tree or run on ahead I don’t chase after them. I know that they will not go far. Their own sense of self preservation prevents them taking too many risks. They just push their freedom to the place where they are comfortable with it and generally they share that place with me.
How much you allow your children to do on their own is very personal and I try hard not to comment when people make decisions that are very different to mine, both liberal or controlling. I was surprised by the story in the press and it isn’t something that I would have chosen to do but if the parents concerned made the decision after careful consideration of all the options, who am I to challenge it? And what right has anyone to challenge my decisions? Some will say that this freedom put the children in danger. The parents clearly thought not. Who is right? Who can say?