As your children get into the double digit age range it’s natural that they’ll want to do more things on their own, such as walking to the bus stop, sending emails, staying at home by themselves or playing games online. For parents, it’s natural to worry and be hesitant to give their children too much freedom too quickly. And no wonder – with stories of abduction, cyber-stalking and cyber-bullying in the news, it sometimes feels safer — and even more responsible — to keep your kids sheltered from the world.
But holding on to your children too tight may harm them as well. Independence is the one of the primary goals of childhood. A sense of independence creates a sense of competence and resilience. Otherwise children will be reliant on others in some ways for the rest of their lives.
Follow your child’s lead – a child can get resentful and rebellious if you don’t respect that they have some need for space. If your child shows responsibility in other areas — doing homework and chores when they are supposed to, for example — they may be ready for more. If you’re not hearing from the school that there are behavioural issues, if there are no red flags to tell you otherwise, then it could be the right time.
If you find it hard to say yes when your child wants to do something new, ask yourself whom you’re serving by saying no or hovering over their every move. Is texting really too much for your child to handle, or are you just quieting your own anxiety for his safety? It’s a tough question for parents to ask themselves, and if you can answer it honestly and accurately, then you can make really good decisions.
Granting independence doesn’t have to mean that anything goes — think of it as expanding your child’s boundaries safely. Here are some tips:
Do Your Research
If your child is asking for more privileges, find out if these requests are on target with their age-range by reading parenting books, researching on the internet, talking to school officials and comparing notes with other parents. If you find out that that kids around your child’s age group do tend to be a little more independent, it can help. It’s important for a child to be somewhat in sync with what his age group is doing.
As you give your kids more freedom, you still need to be able to monitor what they’re doing, especially with technology. If they want to play online games or start a Facebook page, you need to become an expert in those things yourself so you can guide them through how you’d like them to use it. The more you know and the more you’re involved in it, the less likely you are to be anxious about it, and you’ll be willing to let the line out a bit.
Ease Into It
Doling out privileges in small doses will help allow you to test how well you child can deal with his newfound independence. If your daughter wants to bike by herself, start by giving her a one-block radius. You can broaden your circle as time goes on. Your son wants to text? Give him a daily limit and see if he can stick to it. Then reward him with more for following the rules.
This is especially important for kids who are reluctant to take on new challenges. If they’re going to walk to school alone, walk with them a few times to make sure they know the route and can cross the street safely. Talk through what they should do if they get lost or a stranger approaches them. Help build their confidence by arranging for them to walk with friends and letting them know that you believe they’re capable of doing it.
It’s important have ways to check in on your child’s new activities, whether it’s having access to his Facebook account or asking him to text you at certain points in the day. If he violates a rule, make sure there is a consequence. Part of how your show your kids that you value them and their safety — and teach them to value their own safety — is by imposing limits. If kids have no structure underneath them, there’s this anxiety that often results in behavioural problems.
Look for Warning Signs
If you do notice a dramatic change in behaviour – they are sullen, quiet, less communicative or hanging out with different kids — it could be a sign that you need to rein things in. But don’t let these mood changes go un-discussed.
Explicitly tell their kids that they will always be available for them to consult with. This gives parents a lot of comfort and kids often take parents up on that.