Illustration credit: Rebekka Dunlap.
I saw this article in The New York Times online, and I thought it was an interesting opinion piece. Recently, I drove through a part of San Jose near Willow Glen, and I saw many children outside riding their bikes. One family had a jump house set up in the front yard, and many kids were running around, seemingly enjoying a birthday party. I rarely see any younger people walking down the street in my neighborhood. Often parents bar kids from spending time in the front without adult supervision, even children as old as thirteen or fourteen, and sometimes, kids choose to avoid the outdoors in order to spend time with their electronics. I wonder if this is nurtured by our over-protective culture. I realize that safety is the key concern. Sure, we have some new dangers that didn’t exist twenty years ago, but we have two choices: foster ignorance or foster experience. If we spend the rest of our adult lives guarding our children from every possibility, we never give them the training they will need to know if they encounter an unsafe or confusing situation. If we start around age twelve or thirteen, they will be far more capable when we send them off in the family car at age eighteen or the day they leave for college.
I’m not sure what made that San Jose street so active and easy-going the other day, but I certainly advocate for children spending time with loose supervision. In my opinion, children of ages twelve and older who travel in groups can probably walk a few blocks or ride their bikes to pick visit the store or local Starbucks. These experiences help them to build life skills and decision-making abilities that will set them on a path of confidence and success. Of course, this opinion relates to children who generally make positive choices. If you are struggling with a teen who doesn’t always make the best choices, then I can understand if you would keep them under closer supervision until he/she prove himself/herself.
I was lucky that my mother allowed me to ride my bike to the store on errands. I was thirteen, and she entrusted me with the money and the experience to know how to stay safe. I can still remember the skills I learned, like how to lock up my bike safely, how to speak politely to the clerk even when my parent wasn’t around, and how to bring home the milk (or whatever) without dropping it. I felt like a provider and supporter to the family, and the confidence from my mother and the practice responsibility made me a better person. If you haven’t tried it yet, think of some small ways that you can give your teen a little more room to grow. It might make more difference than you think.