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?

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About Julie Rudner

With great excitement for the adventure we were about to go on, my mother would shout out, "We're off to see the Wizard"! It didn't matter if we were going to the shops for milk, the museum or a holiday. My mum focused on the joy of the everyday, knowing that if we engaged with life, we would always find something new and positive. With great animation my dad would explain the workings of things and how to pull things apart, put them back together, and if the situation called for it, make something new. My sister and I were taught to evaluate situations, make our decisions, and reap the consequences (both good and bad). We were encouraged to push our boundaries and not let fear prevent us from pursuing our dreams. Importantly, we learned to pick ourselves up, learn from our 'failures', and use our valuable lessons to build our confidence, independence and strength in ourselves.
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2 Responses to

  1. Kath says:

    I guess the age criteria is part of the beaurocratic approach to dealing with a large population of strangers. In smaller communities it would be known what stage of maturity a child was at and what they could be trusted with. When you have a large population of people who are unknown to you, but yet may sue you for any action/inaction on your part in this sort of situation, then the temptation is to get “expert” advice and put it into law to cover your a*se. Perhaps its also there to protect kids who are really neglected and put some bench marks in to permit authorities to pick them up for their own safety. Perhaps that’s naiive thinking…

  2. Julie Rudner says:

    The conundrum protecting some kids while encouraging others….

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