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Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Can Your Child Go Alone?

At the ripe old age of 9, I traveled our small southern town alone. I first learned how to ride our city bus to the public library on Saturdays to read and check out books. It was the 1960s, and while most of us like to think of those times as less perilous for our young, there were dangers then too. Later, I learned how to ride the bus across town to my weekly piano lessons that were held on a college campus. With that ride, I even had to transfer buses and walk about three blocks to the music hall where my lessons were held. As a child, I had no idea of what potential dangers there might have been, but my mother had instilled a respectful fear of dangers and trouble that helped protect me. My greatest fear of traveling alone as a child was of dogs. I had seen on television how dogs had been used to scare children of color in the Civil Rights Movement, and I wanted no part of such an encounter. I had been properly warned about talking to strangers, especially those who might offer me a ride. And, I had been shown how to watch for cars when crossing the street. This was the knowledge base from home that I carried with me on these “free-range” jaunts in our town.

There is much discussion today about whether or not children should be allowed to take trips unaccompanied by adults.

Some even want to charge with neglect the parents who allow their children to move independently in their communities, but our children have to be taught how to live in their communities outside of their homes and outside of the family automobile. They have to be taught how to live and to think for themselves both in and outside of their home communities and other familiar territories. This teaching must come from parents and other capable adults who care for our children, and the teaching must be filled with warnings and an inner sense of awareness that alerts a child to situations that may cause them harm.

How to Let them Go

Simply teaching our children is not enough. They have to have the appropriate experiences to independently put into practice what they have learned. That is where short trips alone can help. Short trips can start with parents tailing behind to watch the child and later advancing to a gradual release whereby the child can go alone. Yes, there are still individuals who are looking to harm children, but there are those like that throughout our communities and on the internet. What is most important is what parents teach their children about listening to the danger signals in their guts that alert them to trouble. We all have to do our part in teaching and preparing our children to move independently in the world. My trips alone as a child were uneventful, but by traveling alone, I developed a sense of independence and confidence in my ability to go anywhere. I learned to pay attention to my surroundings and to read signs and people. I also learned how to block out activities that might serve as a distraction to reaching my destination. And I learned how to listen to my gut. That alone was worth the risk.

Contributed by Veda Pendleton McClain, Ph.D.Learning Consultant and Parent Educator 
Check out her new book, Your Presence is Requested.


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