How Much Independence Should Kids Have?

How Much Independence Should Kids Have?

The other day there was an attempted abduction reported in Glen Ellyn. A young girl was approached by a man in a van who tried to lure her into his vehicle. Luckily, the girl refused and the man drove away. This is actually the second incident that I know of in Glen Ellyn in the recent past. Last summer, 2 men tried to get a boy into their van at a park. Again, the boy refused and the men drove away. There seems to be no shortage of depraved individuals in the world today just looking for the right opportunity to snatch someone, no matter how "safe" a town or area may seem. Right now, my son is only 3, so he doesn't really play outside by himself. We recently moved into a  new house, and our neighborhood is your typical suburban mecca where kids run, bike, and play without a care in the world. I'm sure my son will be wanting to join in when he gets a little bigger. But how safe are we, really?

When I was growing up, my siblings and I had free reign over the neighborhood. We walked everywhere, rode our bikes after dark, played "night games" with the neighbor kids, went to the pool unsupervised, and generally lived a happy go lucky existence without a lot of supervision. When I was in second grade my mom started letting me walk to town with a friend. Through all of my grade school years I walked or biked to our downtown area to shop, buy candy, and go to festivals. I'm not so sure I would let my son do some of the things I did.

I can recall 2 situations that give me that bad feeling in the pit of my stomach. One summer day I was playing in the driveway at my neighbor's house. I was really little, maybe 4 or 5. There were probably 7 or 8 of us playing, unsupervised. A van pulled up with 2 guys in it. I remember one guy leaning out the window and telling us they had puppies in the back and that we could hop in and see. All of us kids were completely silent. We knew exactly what was going on and to tell these guys to get lost, which somebody did. I remember being completely freaked out. None of us ever told our parents that I know of, and we never talked about it. When I think about it now, I am so thankful that nothing bad happened. Another time, when I was in 5th grade, a friend and I were at a summer festival taking place in our town. An older guy in sunglasses followed us around for quite a while.  I noticed that everywhere we went, this guy would be there too. Eventually we lost him. We never told our parents or talked about it after that. Of course, we lived in suburban utopia, so all of our parents must have thought nothing bad could ever happen. I have to say I am a much more jaded, safety conscious parent than my parents were. I guess I have seen and read about too many terrible things. I would like to ask our readers this: How much freedom do you give your kids? How old are they? What are your safety concerns? How do you let them have some independence while keeping them safe?

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  • My sister and I were the same way. We went everywhere by ourselves! It would be great if our kids could feel as safe as we did.

  • My girls are now 21 and 23. I may have been an over protective mother but I was very cautious ALWAYS about what I let them do. Before they ever were old enough to even consider being on their own they were taught every possible safety precaution I could find. Secret passwords, etc and all about strangers. They were never allowed to ride their bikes alone, walk anywhere alone or sleep over at kids houses if I did not know the parents well. My opinion is that you can never be too comfortable with your kids being safe. I am a huge advocate for child safety and protection and follow every missing kid case on the news. Many I am sad to say are the fault of the parents lack of proper education to the child or letting their child have too much freedom at an early age. Call me crazy but I'd rather be too safe than suffer the horror of losing a child. A million eyes, that's what we need to keep on all our kids.

  • In reply to Teppi Jacobsen:

    I think I'm going to employ a lot of the same measures with my son. Thanks for your input!

  • I have struggled with how much freedom that my children should have, especially during the last couple of summers. As you accurately mentioned, the creeps have always been around, even when we were kids, and most of my best memories of childhood were when I was given the freedom to ride bikes around the neighborhood with friends, hang out at the park, etc. I don't want to take that experience from my children.

    I also have seen enough Oprah/Dr. Phil episodes to know that statistically, my children are most likely to be abducted or abused by a family member, close friend or neighbor. They shouldn't exclusively be warned about some mysterious strange bad guy, lurking in bushes or lingering in alleys. Personal safety is a constant topic with our children, and it started when they were little with the basics. We expanded the dialog as they grew older. We stress to them that no one can make them feel uncomfortable either with words or touches. We've taught them to trust that innate "gut" feeling that we all have when something doesn't seem right.

    Sometimes I worry that I am creating too much fear or worry, but it is my duty to protect them and educate them. And I've learned to add humor to our discussions as well by giving silly examples of behavior mixed in with the serious. I end every conversation by reminding them that I love them and I'll always believe them and support them and fight for them.

    One advantage our children have over us is modern technology. And modern technology is amazing! So, this last summer my fifth grade son was allowed to go to the neighborhood playground with his friends. This school year, he is now allowed to walk/bike to his friends's houses in other neighborhoods. He brings a cell phone and his i-pod touch whenever he leaves for his voyages. He responsibly calls me when he reaches his destination and calls me when he leaves to come back home. In the beginning, he responsibly called me twice as he was walking because he wanted to hear my voice.

    I've seen my fifth grader become my confident and more independant. I don't regret my decision. As long as he continues to make responsible choices and follow the boundaries we have agreed to, I anticipate years of slowly loosening the reigns. Good luck!

  • Many good points here, Crystal! Thank you.

  • Strange, isn't it, that though many studies demonstrate that children are much more likely to be harmed by a woman who cares for them (either a parent, teacher or sitter), it's the man driving by in a van or wearing sunglasses that people fear.

  • I'm in favor of as much responsibility and freedom as the kids can handle. And that's often more than we think it is, I'm finding.

    Two links as food for collective thought:

    Thanks for the opportunity to have these conversations!

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