Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Would you let your 5 year old bike around the block alone?

My daughter is 5 years old and I let her ride around the block by herself. My heart raced the first time she sped out of sight on 2-wheels. How long should it take before she reappeared at the other end of the block? I'm not sure exactly how long it took her--probably no more than 2 or 3 minutes--but they were among the longest 3 minutes of my life.

Now there are parents that probably think I'm crazy. Moms and dads who would never dream of letting their 5 year old out of sight. Heck, there are parents out there who don't let their 10 year olds go the playground unsupervised and hire babysitters for their 13 year olds. But I always knew I wouldn't be the overprotective sort. I admire Lenore Skenazy, the mother who famously let her 9 year old ride the NYC subway alone and founded the Free-Range Kids movement to promote giving kids developmentally appropriate freedoms. I was a free-range kid myself; my mom gave me a house key and let me navigate the Berlin public transit system as a 10 year old.

But it's one thing to talk up freedom and another to let your 5 year old round the corner alone for the first time. After all, just last year an attempted child abduction took place in our neighborhood. Attempted because the 7 year old boy who was approached knew better than to take a ride in a stranger's car.

So I decided to arm my smart, responsible daughter with a little extra wisdom. I borrowed Stranger Safety
from our local library and watched it with her. It's a little low-budget, but its a charming DVD from John Walsh's organization that divides adults into Don't Knows, Kinda Knows and Safe Side Adults. Aside from the title, the video avoids using the word "stranger" to describe anyone. After all, plenty of kids are taken advantage of by coaches, neighbors and other familiar faces. I also appreciated that the video wasn't scary. I don't want my daughter to be fearful--I just want her to know the some basic ground rules about who to talk to when I'm not around, how to maintain a safe zone around herself, and what to do if someone does try to hurt her (hint, it's yell "Stop! You're not my Mom/Dad!"). We had a good discussion afterwards and my daughter asked me to quiz her. "You name people and I'll say if they're Safe Side, Kinda Knows or Don't Knows!" She didn't miss an answer. I rewarded her with a few more trips around the block, and I relaxed. Mostly.

Originally published to the Chicago Moms Blog.