Ah… the school holidays. What will your kids be doing? Will you leave them home alone? A recent article in The Age addressed this very issue.
I read it with interest due to some conversations I have been having my 10 year old friend. We’ve been discussing trust, independence, and staying home over the holidays. This particular 10 year old is most affronted that his mum won’t let him stay home alone during holidays. He believes she doesn’t trust him to be responsible. He is craving the opportunity to spend time on his own and prove his growth and maturity. On the other hand, his mum is concerned about leaving him on his own, or with his 8 year old brother for a full day – a couple of hours at a time are enough for her.
One idea we had was to allow the boys to take the train to come visit me for a few days. The ride to my town from the city is 1.5 hours. About 2 months ago, my friend would never have considered this option. However, having taken the train with her boys a couple of times, she believes they are competent and responsible enough to do it. The biggest issue is V-Line, the train service running between the city and my town. Supposedly, V-Line does not allow children under 14 travel by themselves.
This raises a real issue for me. The message is strong that children’s competence is being measured by age and not experience and maturity. That is, children should not be allowed to do basic things until they are teenagers regardless of their skills. I find this repugnant because I have been helping the boys learn how to negotiate their urban environment and my town environment. For example, the kids took the tram in Melbourne by themselves in an area they knew well, and I met them at a designated location (I was on my bike). Another time, the kids cycled to my house from the train station at night with bright flashing lights, and instructions to stay on the pathway and double check for cars since drivers don’t expect to see cyclists in the dark. These lessons help the boys learn about the potential hazards they may encounter, how to problem-solve different settlement and traffic conditions, and most importantly, enjoy basic mobility such as walking, cycling and taking public transport.
How can we help kids incrementally become independent and responsible when the policies and other structures around us demand that children are either incompetent or already able?