I was five years old and walking to the corner market to buy milk, bread and eggs. It was roughly two blocks and I’d cut behind an apartment complex, through my grandparent’s lawn and be at the store. This little store doesn’t exist in my hometown anymore but the building does and when I drive by it, I remember fondly my walks to the store. The sense of independence and how proud I felt! I always bartered to go to the store if I could buy gummy worms. They had a big container at the checkout counter and for a quarter I could get a scoop of them. Mike, the cashier, always gave me extra.
As I grew older, I would bike ride into our sleepy little town with one stop light. I was only in 2nd grade and buying slush puppies and saving my nickels for jelly bracelets. I’d bike to the baseball field and watch my cousins play baseball or softball. I’d swing on the swing set and never once worried about checking my pocket and calling my mom or texting her. That didn’t exist back then. Yet, nobody was worried.
Maybe it was different when I was a kid but thankfully, nobody called the police on my mom. Why? Because I was perfectly fine and only a few blocks from my home. I wasn’t lost. I knew exactly where I was going. I knew my neighbors and could go to any door for help if I needed it. Everyone knew who I was because unlike today, kids were outside playing and interacting, not just watching television and playing iPods. I was confident and independent. I grew up feeling like it was okay to explore, to go into the woods and build forts. I played tag in corn fields and skipped for blocks, saying hello to neighbors and not seeing them as bad people wanting to take me or get my mom in trouble.
Today, as a mother I don’t feel as though the way I grew up is something I can give my children. I feel weary of trusting others, why should my children trust them? I’ve let the media scare me, I can only image what my children think or feel and we shelter them from hearing the news (it’s bad)! When my son goes out to explore the woods in my own backyard he has a Walkie Talkie, snacks and some say he should have a knife and water. I’m positive I never had any of that, EVER. I was in 5th grade when I started babysitting and I’m fearful of letting my son stay home alone at the same age.
Where have we as a society gone wrong? Was my mother wrong or am I wrong? Is there a right or wrong? All parents want what is best for their child, my mother included. Yet today, we can’t parent without judgement or fear of prosecution. If you give your child time-out you’re told that is bad, spanking is a big no-no, and if you skip preschool and opt for just kindergarten and half-day kindergarten…watch out, there’s a special place in hell for you. I never went to preschool, my mom smoked, I walked home from school alone and I never wore a seatbelt. Okay maybe once.
I am okay. I’m alive.
I think I’m better for all of it. Yes, luckily I’m alive because I should have worn a seat belt and my lungs might be damaged but I’m alive.
My mom never Googled or asked what she could do what with me, she just did it. Today, we Google and seek counsel from friends and family on Facebook and on Twitter. We want to justify our actions and know that it is okay. More than anything else, we do not want to get in trouble. We do not want a friend to get wide eyed and think we’ve lost our mind because we’ve done something that is not acceptable. God forbid we think for ourselves and trust our own intuition.
So if you’re like me and you Google and you’re wondering, when can I let my child stay home alone? Maybe you’re wondering because summer is around the corner or your 5th grader has started to ask you. Let me help you.
First, trust your gut. Then check out this post on Baby Center that shares state guidelines for the legal age you can leave your child home alone and unsupervised (this includes walking to and from school). Each state is different so it’s good to know the law for where you live. MSU extension recommends 12 years of age as the safest age to leave a child home alone but I think you should first check your state law and then use this checklist to decide the readiness of your own child. Each child is very different and it’s important to take that into consideration. I was a very independent child and I was given a lot of freedom, I can’t compare myself to what my children are capable of today.
I can’t tell you what is best for you or your family. Only you can make that decision but whatever you decide, I hope you find comfort in knowing there are lot of well-meaning parents and adults out there who won’t call the police and won’t judge you because we’re still part of the “It takes a village” mentality.