How do you know when your child is ready for more independence and less adult supervision? Good Morning America Parenting Contributor and author Ann Pleshette Murphy has some excellent advice on how to know when it’s okay to give kids more independence.
DENISE: Hello there, I’m Denise Richardson for howdini.com. This is a really interesting issue for all of us, especially in these days and times: how much independence should your child have and when? There’s no one better to discuss this right now than Ann Pleshette Murphy who is the author of The 7 Stages of Motherhood, as well as a contributing parent authority at Good Morning America. Thank you for being with us. You want to give your child as much independence so that they can grow up and be in the world, yet still these are precarious times.
ANN: A lot of parents will say, well how old, you know, should my child be before I let her walk to school by herself?
ANN: And of course so much depends on where you live and how far she has to go, but it’s very important to consider your kid’s temperament more than their age. There are eleven years olds who are very, let’s just say, even-tempered and they have a lot of street smarts, and they could go out in the world and be fine a lot sooner than a less mature fifteen years old. So assess your child’s temperament and, you know, how well does your child handle other responsibilities and other kinds of freedoms before you’re saying, oh sure, just, you know, go to school by yourself.
DENISE: So you have to have the discussion, because the first issue is safety. You don’t want them to be afraid of everyone.
DENISE: And yet, you don’t want them not to be aware of everyone.
ANN: Right. Well I think that, actually, one of the stupidest things we tell kids is, ‘don’t talk to strangers.’ I mean, I think the, that’s, you know, one of the biggies with parents with young children. You absolutely want to teach your kid what to do if they are lost and confused, and that means they have to learn which strangers they should talk to. The simplest rule is ask a woman. Just pure numbers, it’s safer for them to go to a woman than to a man to ask for help. But I think that the other issue is practice. You know, you need to give them little baby step opportunities to show you that they can handle independence.
DENISE: All of a sudden, I thought of those people who have puppies and say, ‘come see my puppy.’ And so many kids, even though they’ve had the lessons from the parents, gravitate to looking at that little doggy. But that’s part of the independence factor.
ANN: Certainly talking about the fact that grown-ups don’t need help. If somebody says, ‘can you help me out here’ or, you know, ‘would you come over to my car because I’m lost and explain something to me?’ And yes; you could use the puppy example or the candy example or just the simple thing: you never, ever go with somebody who you don’t know.
DENISE: How do you expand the independence and relate it to responsibilities?
ANN: I think it’s very important to relate independence and responsibility. And I think that can be as simple as, ‘you’ve got more chores to do now that you’re being, you’re more independent.’ Or, you know, ‘okay, we’re extending your curfew to eleven o’clock from ten o’clock on weekends, but if you miss your curfew, we’re moving it back.’ I mean look, the great thing about cell phones is that, I mean, you know in my day I could always use the excuse, ‘oh, you know, there was no pay phone for miles, Mom.’ You know with my kids, I have to say, I have much more peace of mind knowing that I can text them or call them if I’m worried, or just remind them that it’s midnight and they were supposed to be home an hour ago.
DENISE: Every child says, ‘but Jamie’s Mom’s letting her do that! Why can’t I do it, too?’ And you say – Because there’s a lot of parents out here who want to compete to be their kid’s friends.
ANN: Right, very good point. I mean I think, you know, the most obvious response is, ‘I’m not Jamie’s Mom, and that might be true in their family but it’s not true in our family.’ I think if you have the sense you are the only parent who’s kid is not walking to school by himself, it’s worth it to call around and just say, you know, I’m nervous about this, tell me what your thinking was. Maybe they can walk together. I think that, you know, there is this fine line between absolutely not wanting to be your kids friend – you have to be their parent – but if your rules do seem to feel much stricter than everybody else’s, it’s time, maybe, to do a little check-in and see where they’re coming friend.
DENISE: And this is what this is about; giving parents some peace of mind.
DENISE: And some help. Thank you, Ann Pleshette Murphy for joining us.
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