I heard about a survey done by Parenting.com where 4,000 parents were asked at which age parents felt comfortable allowing their kids certain freedoms and new experiences. I checked out the results of the survey to see whether my husband and I fell in line with other parents on the topics over which I struggled.
One of the most difficult decisions for me was the age at which I would allow my kids to stay home alone. The Parenting.com survey indicated that most parents felt the appropriate age is between ages 10 and 14. We decided when my daughter was around 11 that we would allow her to stay home for short periods (for instance if one of us was out and the other had to run our son to basketball); but before doing so, she was given a list of rules, including staying in a locked-up house and not answering the door - she was also given instructions on what to do in an emergency. The Parenting.com experts suggested that "testing the waters" was appropriate at age 10, but ultimately the decision should be based upon the child's levels of maturity and responsibility.
Another question asked of parents was at what age they felt it was OK for kids to sit in the front passenger seat of a car. This issue has been a contentious one for my husband and me. New Jersey law requires that kids under age 8 or 80 pounds must ride in the rear of the car in a booster or child safety seat. I only recently started allowing my 11-year-old son to ride shotgun after he finally reached 80 pounds. My husband has been letting him do so for at least a year now, despite my protests. The Parenting.com survey indicated that the majority of parents thought age 13 was appropriate (I should note, however, that the only choices provided in the survey were age 6, age 13, and "anytime" if in a car seat).
The Parenting experts suggested that children younger than 13 should be seated in a rear seat which is generally safer and avoids the safety-hazard posed to kids when front seat airbags are deployed. Of course, no matter where your child sits in a vehicle, they should always be properly restrained.
Since we live in a school district that has no busing, we have been throwing around this next question for a few years: At what age is it okay to let your children walk to school alone? I was surprised by the survey results that indicated 47 percent of parents thought it was OK for an 11-year-old to walk to school alone.
We decided last school year when my oldest was 12 and my youngest was 10 that they could walk to and from school. But they were not permitted to walk alone, and they were encouraged to walk with the neighbors to form a bigger group. I am not at all comfortable with either of my kids walking to or from school alone (including my daughter who will turn 14 soon). My husband, once again, thinks I'm paranoid. I remind him of the bad people in the world that look for opportunities like kids walking alone. My husband reminds me that we live in a safe neighborhood. I remind him that bad things can happen no matter where you live. I believe in the buddy system and safety in numbers.
Two other issues that have been raised in our house over the last few years were whether to permit our kids to have cell phones and Facebook accounts - both were touched upon in the survey. It seems we are in the minority on the cell phone issue and near the majority on the Facebook one.
As to cell phones, most parents surveyed thought the appropriate age is 14, while only 26 percent thought the appropriate age for kids to get a cell phone is 11. In my case, both of my kids got phones when they were 11. But in both instances, safety was the consideration. It was at age 11 that my kids started getting more freedoms, such as car-pooling with other parents to sport's practice, or going over friends' houses. I wanted both my kids to be able to call me if they needed me, and I wanted to be able to call them to check on them. Granted, this luxury was not available when I was a kid, but I am happy to take advantage of the modern technology.
As to Facebook and other social networking sites, the survey indicated that most parents (73 percent) believed 14 is the appropriate age for kids to be connected. I allowed my daughter to open a Facebook account this year at age 13. But as I've mentioned in prior blogs, I made myself in charge of security settings and I monitor her pages regularly. My 11-year-old son has asked to open an account, but I am not comfortable with that yet as I believe there is a level of maturity that is required to navigate in online communities.
It seems that I am generally in the middle of strict and permissive when it comes to my kids. And for the most part, deciding on when they will be allowed to try new things or enjoy certain new freedoms will come with careful consideration as to their level of maturity and how responsible they are. No matter what new milestones approach, it is hard to allow your kids to progress-to set them free. But, alas, progress they must in order to be prepared for the years to come.