Kids and Independence: When to Send Them Out into the World

When Utah’s governor signed the “free-range parenting” bill into law, it became what experts say is the first of its kind in the country. It allows children to engage in independent activities like walking to and from school, playing outside, and staying home alone if they’re “of sufficient age and maturity to avoid harm.” Under this law, kids can’t be taken away from their parents if they’re found doing one of these activities, as long as they’re being fed, clothed, and cared for.

Giving kids a little independence is a wise move—it teaches them important lifelong skills and instills confidence.

You might want to try giving your child a taste of independence while instilling the knowledge he or she needs to stay safe. Here are some tips to offer for common situations your child may embark upon.

Walking/Biking to School

Young children often aren’t careful around traffic and are more likely to dart into the street without thinking about what could happen. For those reasons, most kids aren’t ready to walk to school alone until they’re generally around age 10. When considering having a child pedal to school, make sure he or she is comfortable on a bike and always wears a helmet. Kids should understand the following:

  • What traffic signals and signs mean

  • How to pay attention to cars with drivers who might not be able to see them

  • How to say no if a stranger offers them a ride

  • Why it’s a bad idea to use a cellphone while walking/biking

  • The best and safest route to take

  • Why it’s smart to wear clothing or accessories that can be easily seen

Taking Public Transportation

Public transportation can be a handy way to get around, but there are some differences between riding a school bus and a public bus. For starters, school buses are filled with other kids, while public buses have people of all ages. A school bus will wait to make sure all children cross the road before leaving a bus stop; a public bus will not. To take a subway or train, children need to know which side of the platform to stand on, and that they shouldn’t play on the platform. All of this requires being alert, being aware of the surroundings, and being comfortable around strangers. Kids should know how to contact the police and train operators/bus drivers in case they need help.

Ready for More Responsibility

In general, assess your child’s readiness for other independent activities by considering his or her ability to pay attention, follow rules, make good decisions, and feel comfortable alone. Also take into account the surroundings.

Just remember that what’s right for a peer may not be right for your son or daughter. You know your child best. Together, you can figure out when it’s time to venture out into the world with added responsibilities.

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