A number of people sent me a recent NPR blog post by Emily Lodish about Global Parenting Habits That Haven’t Caught on Yet in the U.S. describing how Danish parents leave kids on the curb sleeping in their strollers while they go shopping, children in Japan as young as 7 take the subway on their own, children take care of children in the Polynesian Islands, and other ways that children are raised differently in different cultures.
Several asked, “Why are these children safe when this lack of adult supervision would be considered unacceptable here?” What is not addressed in this article are the countless stories from people in all countries and cultures, including these, about the lifelong anguish caused by bullying, abuse, and preventable accidents due to inadequate adult protection.
I am far less concerned about children sleeping outside the store in a society where people would notice and take action immediately if someone might bother them – or where children can ride public transit and have the skills to do so safely, including with traffic, than I would be here.
Older children supervising younger children in an enclosed environment where adults are close by to uphold cultural norms that are emotionally and physically safe is one thing. Bullying, abuse, and accidents caused resulting from older children being inadequately prepared and supported in caring for younger children is quite another.
The sad reality is the we live in a society where an unattended, unprepared child could and has quickly become a target of a person with bad intentions without anyone realizing it. And, even in the US, abduction by strangers is far less likely than many other ways in which children are harmed.
We do not put a specific age limit on independence because it depends on the situation and on the skills and life experience in using those skills by the child. Preparing Children for More Independence describes five steps parents and caregivers can take to prepare a child to navigate their world with safety and confidence.
Addressing Cultural Differences in Teaching ‘People Safety’ Skills provides insights into how to honor cultural differences while still promoting and protecting child safety. And an article about preparing children to supervise younger kids will be coming soon. A great deal of misery, trauma, and tragedy can be prevented when adults know how and when to take leadership in keeping their kids safe – and how to empower children and teens with knowledge and skills to take charge of their own well-being.