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How much independence for a child.
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.
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
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.