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How much independence for a child.

Updated on July 17, 2011

On my recent visit to Europe I had again a chance to reminisce about my childhood. My childhood that was so vastly different from that of my own daughters'. The most striking difference is that I practically grew up having a fabulous autonomy from a very early age. My parents and any parents at that time and in that place were perfectly comfortable with sending their offspring to play outside in a neighborhood park without any supervision. I spent hours on end playing outside with my friends, going back home for a meal and returning to our park again. As I recall, I was only 4 years old when I was allowed to go there all by myself. It didn't matter whether it was during wintertime or summer, I and my friends would gang up and frolic together throughout the most of the day. I particularly remember one snowy day when the darkness fell early at 5PM and I was still outside making snow forts and gazing in the sky, admiring its enchanting beauty. It was dark and I was completely alone in the park, my friends had already left.

Image: Michal Marcol /
Image: Michal Marcol /

This may sound as a complete heresy to claim that it was safe for us, kids, to be unsurpervised for hours at such an early age, however, it was a long time ago, in a country far away. We didn't have high crime rates and people knew each other. This was the way it was then. However, we, kids were taught how to behave in certain situations. Our parents were maybe allowing us an exorbitant amount of freedom but they also took care to educate us about dangers that might had been there. We were coached how to go to a nearest store and buy food staples. We were advised how to cross the street and be safe. We were capable of doing all these things and nobody ever got lost, had an accident or was kidnapped. As I mentioned earlier, it was a different era but... I still believe we were given a huge credit by our parents and they trusted in our ability to remain safe and sound.

As a teenager, I remember traveling from one end of my city to the downtown. To get there I had to take a tram or a bus after the school and I would spent several hours strolling through the streets, eating a snack and attending some extracurricular classes. I was returning home quite late sometimes and my parents were fine with that. There were no cellphones yet.

Upon my recent visit I was able to observe that not much has changed in that respect. Children still are walking all by themselves to their school and older ones use public transportation. Younger children are escorted by their moms to a playground but school age kids go there on their own.

Shelter house was a perfect place for me and my friends to take rest after hiking all day long

Image: Michal Marcol /
Image: Michal Marcol /

Now, that I think of this, it is amazing as it is in direct clash with American lifestyle. Our middle class life is as far as can be from my European upbringing. There is crime and violence and to let young children be free like that is simply dangerous. But...

But, I am wondering, in an effort to protect them from a harm, aren't we protecting them too much? Aren't teenagers supposed to be thinking for themselves? Discovering what is safe or not and using their own brains? I certainly did. My parents provided me with general outlines and explained what was safe and what was not but the rest was up to me to figure out. I was a teenager who ventured with a group of friends to visit mountains and hiked there for two weeks. We were given backpacks, tents and some money and there we went. I could travel by train from my town to another one without my mom. Surely, it was a different time without drug dealers, addicts, and all the modern world demoralization. But there were dangers. I remember seeing a psycho man in the middle of my path to school. I went back and waited for a group of other students to walk together in a big group. Another time I was being followed by strange looking man, I managed to hide myself in a cafe shop. There were moments when I wasn't safe. So now, being a mom, it is hard for me to imagine my daughters being in a harms's way and not protected by me.

It is different time and different culture. While I would love to give them the freedom I was given as a child and a teenager, this doesn't seem feasible in America. Since my daughters are still very young such questions will remain unanswered for a long time. At least until they are teenagers and the issue of independence does come up. Then, I will have to embrace their flight for independence and remember how advantegous my situation was when I was younger myself.


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    • Monisajda profile image

      Monisajda 5 years ago from my heart

      Yes, different culture, different child rearing. I was also pretty much allowed to do a lot since I was probably 5. I was able to spend hours in a nearby park and was coming home only when I was hungry. Parents knew where I was and didn't worry about me, different times, too.

      Thanks Hally for your comment!

    • Hally Z. profile image

      Hally Z. 5 years ago from Madison, Wisconsin

      My parents gave me rather free reign of the house from age 6 on, leaving me on my own while they went clubbing, something that is unheard of in the USA (in fact, a child can't be left alone until it is 13 years of age). I'm still here, intact, and probably more mature because of it.

    • ImChemist profile image

      ImChemist 6 years ago

      Yes you right in every word you say , thanks for that information.

    • Monisajda profile image

      Monisajda 6 years ago from my heart

      Yes, it is difficult for parents to let go. I am glad I was able to give you food for thoughts. I was born and spent my first 28 years in Poland.

      Good luck with your choices and thank you for reading.

    • Jazzie53 profile image

      Jazzie53 6 years ago

      Your timing on this could not have been any better, in terms of something my family is looking at. My geeky smart teen will be graduating high school this June. He has been accepted at a university (with scholarship!) on the east coast. We live on the west coast. He really wants to go to the college fair at this university come April. Realistically, we can afford to send him, but not go with him to that fair. So I am faced with sending my almost 18 year old cross country on his own. I know he can handle it, but inside I want to protect him. Thank you for giving me some things to consider when we make this final decision! Where in Europe (if I may ask) did you call home?

    • Beverly Stevens profile image

      Beverly Stevens 6 years ago from College Station

      You are right about teenagers. They need to learn independence. They certainly can't be completely protected and then, allowed to strike out on their own. It does depend on where you live. On my daughter's street parents take turns being outside to look after the children who have the feeling they are free to roam.