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When is it Safe for Kids to Walk Alone?
Our son is attending a small, high school in SF which has an ''open campus'', meaning that the kids are not required to stay at the school for lunch. The school is in a ''safe'' neighborhood in the city, so I'm told. I'm nervous since our son attended a very sheltered middle school on the Peninsula and he is socially naive. Any advice/guidelines on keeping him safe? I know it'll be a great experience for him and I don't want to convey that he won't be able to handle himself. Thanks Mom
Hi, We have a 16-year-old daughter who feels comfortable walking around Berkeley with friends and alone. She has a fair amount of independence during the day and we feel comfortable with that. In the evening her Dad or I walk or drive to pick her up when she is coming home alone after dark.
She wants to be able to walk home from a friend's house -- just a few blocks away -- by herself after dark. We want to encourage independence but we're also concerned about safety. She does have the local Berkeley 911 number programmed into her phone and we talk with her about being aware of her surroundings, not using her ipod, etc.
We are in North Berkeley, which is pretty safe but certainly not crime-free.
I'm wondering how much independence other parents allow their teen daughters, specifically walking around town in the evening/after dark. concerned mom
I checked the archive about this question, and there are quite a few posts that are relevant, but for reasons that will appear below, I'm asking again. We just got back from spending a year in Berlin, where it is quite common for children 6 and older to walk to school on their own, even when this requires crossing quite busy streets. We went along with this, and my daughter, then 8, now 9, enjoyed doing this and also enjoyed walking on her own to the grocery store, to meet her friends at nearby playgrounds etc. We were planning to give her more independence on our return to Oakland and thinking that we would let her walk a few blocks to the public library and to nearby shops (we live a few blocks west of College Avenue in Rockridge). But I checked the postings about this question on the archive and was surprised to see that many posters were still unwilling to let their daughters walk around their neighbourhood on their own even at 11 or older, and some not even then. Now, even though I am confident that my daughter will be careful about crossing roads (she has had lots of practice by now) and will not go off with strangers, I am having second thoughts after reading the posts. I also have not noticed any other children my daughter's age walking on their own in our neighborhood. Yet objectively I think that the dangers are minimal, and I think it would be good for her to continue being independent in that way. Are there any other parents living in urban neighbourhoods who feel the same way and would allow their 9-year-old to walk to the local shops or library on her own? anon
I am originally from a small town in the Midwest, where we could have our run of the neighborhood, only showing up for evening meals and bedtime activities. I would never do this now with my 4 1/2 year old son here in Oakland. We live on a safe street in the Hills, but I would still not permit him to be out of my sight without an adult around, and can't imagine him even at age 9 strolling down to Lakeshore. Frankly, after 5 year old Samantha Runion of San Diego was stolen out of her front yard several years ago, while playing with a friend, I have not regarded even our front yard as a safety-free zone.
I don't believe you can live your life in fear, but I think a healthy dose of urban reality does not go amiss. All I know is that I would NEVER forgive myself if I allowed something to happen to my son due to my own inability to supervise or parent appropriately. We can all only picture ourselves in those circumstances and draw whatever conclusions are appropriate to our individual scenarios. I am sure you will make good decisions whatever you conclude. J. Roberts
I'm also aware of the responsibilities and independence that many children in other parts of the world have. Interestingly, I also vividly remember coming back from a trip to see my mother a couple of years ago (when my daughter was 9) with a new perspective on this. My mother--now an often somewhat fearful person, though she's very big city savvy--was remembering taking trips alone from Harrisburg PA to NYC on the train to see her much older sister who was working there. She also remembered going on the subway by herself from Greenwich Village, where her sister lived, to Times Square to go to the theater, while her sister was at work--this was in the 1920's. She wasn't promoting this--just remembering it. But she didn't think it was anything unusual either. It was challenging for me to take in and at the same time enlightening to reflect on how capable a child/girl of 9 often is.
When our daughter was 9 we started letting her go to school on her own or with a friend or around the block on a bike ride (though at first I would watch her, and I still remember the way I would wait apprehensively with that clutch-y feeling in my stomach until she came back into view--it takes a long time to go around our block!), or to Walgreens and back. We also began to let her go downtown to the library, and last year to walk with a friend downtown to get a slice of pizza or browse in the bookstores. She sometimes goes over to a friend's house by herself, and calls when she gets there, also calls when she's getting ready to walk or bike home. We like to know where she is, and if she goes out after school while we're at work, she has to call me and let me know what she's doing. If she goes out on the weekend and doesn't arrange it with me (like I'm running an errand), she has to leave me a note about where she's going and when she'll be back. I didn't let her bike alone until I'd ridden with her a lot and was certain of her competence, but even so, probably the thing I am still the most worried about in the way of possible harm is actually a bike accident (I'm glad that when she rides, on a number of streets she still rides on the sidewalk, even though this is illegal)! Finally, I did take her to a self-defense class, and we've talked about what she should do if she gets hassled by someone or feels threatened in any way. So far it hasn't happened.
I will also say that I think children vary a lot in their capabilities, and that there's no definite age that every child is ready for a specific new level of freedom or responsibility. But you are probably a good judge of what your daughter can handle. I really support your allowing her some independence at this age. And I think College Ave is a pretty great area for it. sign me: biased toward experience
When the time comes, my child will be allowed to walk. But maybe a cell phone (with emergency button) might come as part of the package. A Parent
I have a question for those of you with older kids: At what age did you permit your child to walk several blocks by himself or herself? Please distinguish whether your child is a boy or a girl, and also where the child was permitted to walk. Was there any factor that came into play so it became clear that your child was ready to do this and you felt relatively certain it would be o.k.?
We live in a family-oriented neighborhood in southwest Berkeley. Sometimes we let our daughter (age 11, 6th grade) walk around the block with our dog or visit a friend around the corner by herself, but even something as simple as that scares me when there are incidents like that poor girl who disappeared in Monterey while walking her dog. . .
So, what have you done or what are you doing now? (I noticed that one parent wrote that she needed to find a dentist that her son could walk to from Harding Elementary in El Cerrito. I can't imagine my daughter walking to a dentist appointment from her school in Berkeley, but I wonder if that's a boy/girl issue, or is it more the perceived safety of the area?)
We have 2 sons, ages 11 and 8. I can definately tell you that I went more by maturity level and personality. My oldest was always very street wise and we actually let him ride his bike and go to friends houses in the neighborhood at around 5 or 6 years old.
However, my younger son, now 8 years old has just been allowed in the last year to go on his own, mainly because he is more immature, less street wise and doesn't care for example if someone offered him candy, he'd go up to the car probably. When asked the question, he would say sure he'd talk to the person in the car if they had candy!
Anyway, they are both independent now and I think the area in which you live also is a factor. I still believe that kidnappings or murders and such can happen ANYWHERE! No place is 100% SAFE.
Anyway, that's my 2 cents!!! Good luck! I think girls would be a different story to some degree!
We now live in the hills of El Cerrito and I feel pretty safe up there but I still get nervous when my current 7 year old plays even in front of our house while I am inside.
I think there is a difference between letting a girl walk alone vs. a boy and at what age they are allowed. I would wait until maybe age 14 with a girl, just precisely because of the scary things that have happened(e.g., the girl in Monterey).
I have been letting her walk occasionally to a friends' house or on an errand to the grocery store for about a year, first rarely, now once in a while. Both are about four blocks away and do not require crossing major streets. This week, I let her walk home in a group from King middle school, about 30 minutes walk, crossing two major streets. (She would like to ride her bicycle, but I am extremely worried about hazards from automobile traffic.)
While danger from strangers is a factor, automobile traffic is a bigger factor for me. The other major factors for me are her own attitude about responsibility and confirming that she has reached her destination safely, which sometimes involves phone calls. She reached a point in age and determination where it was very hard to hold her back, and when it seemed unfair to hold her back. For me, it will be more a more difficult decision with my second daughter, who is a little spacey, so that I worry about her in traffic.
While children do need to be aware of danger from strangers, they also need to learn to get out and deal with the world. I have had serious talks with her about strangers, with tips on maintaining some physical distance from strangers and being ready to scream or run away. I personally think it's important to be clear about danger from strangers, but not to overemphasize it. There is a great Bernstein Bears book about "Trouble with Strangers". Of course, it's too young for 11-year-olds, but it's a good example to parents of the genuine issues to emphasize, of how to discuss the dangers matter-of-factly, and of the emotional effect on kids of worrying about strangers.
Whatever you decide about walking alone for your daughter, I would think 11 would be a good age for a self-defense class. And a related question, at what age are folks letting their kids stay home alone? My son asks to stay home when I go out for brief errands (15 min to pick up at BART). I'm leaning towards saying yes, but not quite comfortable.
My daughter is the same age as yours and has started 6th grade at King. From the beginning of 5th grade she was asking when she would be able to ride her bicycle (with two girlfriends) to school and back, which was at Shattuck and Virginia. At that time, neither her friends mothers nor I felt it was quite the right time, and they never did ride their bikes or walk to school alone. I rode with my kids to school on bikes, to get them used to it, and I did start letting her go across the street to the store alone which seemed to satisfy her need for independance at the time.
Now my daughter and her two friends (who live nearby) have started King, and before summer even ended they were asking to walk and bicycle to school and back ALONE.
These are the criteria I took into consideration for her to be able to do this:
1. She's NOT walking or riding alone. She is going to and from school with friends. I think their route to school is relatively "safe", and I do believe that there is safety in numbers.
2. She has demonstrated her reponsibility so far, I can only hope this continues.
3. She has been instructed over and over again the stranger danger rules and what to do.
4. She's taking kung-fu, and spent 2 1/2 weeks over the summer in Manhattan where she was allowed to walk to nearby stores with her 13 yr old cousin (I think that made her even more street-wise).
5. We rode the route I would like her to take to school on bikes together, instructing her on every possible hazard I could think of.
6. I am at home before my kids get home from school. She knows she has to come straight home from school or I will be out there looking for her.
It is definitely not an easy decision to make.
About crossing the street, I didn't think that either of my girls were ready to cross the street until they were about 11 years old. It wasn't until then that they seemed to be aware of how dangerous this can be. I can't believe that I crossed the street in Kindergarten. Young children do not have a clue about crossing the street and I think that parents should be sure that their children know how to do it safely before they let them.
Our doctor said that girls who are too protected do not learn early how to be watchful, be attentive to their instincts, be good at evaluating the risks of a situation, and be confidant in a strange place. They are actually more vulnerable as they grow older, instead of less, she said.
So we have made some small compromises with our daughter. She rode her bike down to the pool (some 10 blocks) but called home to grandfather when she got there so he knew she had arrived safely. She goes from the car (with me in it!) into the grocery store to shop while I wait. She and a girlfriend will ride bikes 'alone together' if a parent or one of the older boys knows where they are and when they intend to return. In fact, we insist on knowing where she is at all times.
I must say that with my son we were more lenient. He rode around town and to quite a distance with his older sister and her boyfriend several years ago. Then he rode on his own to another town to work last summer. And now he takes public transport home from the city and walks alone wherever he pleases. When he was accosted for money by someone at the BART station (who revealed a gun tucked into his waistband), my son quietly gave up his pocket money and melted into the crowd, but he did not say anything to anyone until he got home, whereas we wished he had spoken to someone at the station at the time. But he had his own safety uppermost in his mind, not the minor loss of funds.
I will be interested to read how other parents have dealt with this issue!
As for boys, I guess they're safer in some ways, but ours is so spaced out and unfocused, I can not yet imagine the day when he'll be able to walk alone. I do leave him home alone for short periods (less than an hour) and he's fine -- especially if I let him watch TV. I actually feel more comfortable about leaving either of them home alone than I do leaving them together because they tend to fight. So if I do leave them together, I try to make sure that each is engaged in an activity likely to keep them separated (e.g., one reading a book she's really into, one watching TV). Of course for both kids, the doors are locked, they are instructed to tell anyone who calls or comes to the door that Mom is in the shower and can't come to the door, and they have the phone number of a neighbor they can call.
One post script to all this: a few weeks ago we were on vacation with friends whose kids are the same age. The four of them were sitting at the kitchen table engrossed in conversation which one of the adults overheard. Turned out they were seriously discussing what they would do if someone tried to "grab them" or "hurt them" -- the 7-year old boys focused on fighting back (I'd kick him, I'd punch him) and the girls on strategies (I'd tell him my Dad was just around the corner, I'd tell him my parents would pay to get me back). They critiqued each other's strategies, posed possible scenarios, related scary things they'd heard, etc. It was so different from any conversation we ever had as children that the grown-ups were seriously depressed. But the truth is, I'm glad they're thinking and talking about it and I was surprised at how resourceful especially the girls could be. The fact is they live in a different world than we had to or probably could cope with, but they're figuring out how to take care of themselves.
But here's the rub. An 11 year old, no matter how mature (and I consider my kid to be p retty grown up with a good head on her shoulders), still lacks judgment. I learned that my daughter occasionally took the "long way" home with a gaggle of pals, and stopped f or sodas and candy at Andronicos. She also handed out money to the homeless. Sometimes she would forget to call. Or, I'd call her but she'd be in her room with the radio on a nd wouldn't hear the phone.
This year, we've worked through these issues, and added a few more rules:
1) Walk with a friendalways.
2) "Hanging out" limited to the school site. It's fine to stay there for 15 minutes at the end of the day, but then get home. No long interludes at the North Berkeley library or Solano Ave.(The social aspects of walking home can get pretty complex!)
3) Limit walking home to no more than 3 days a week. This partially addresses my greatest fear, namely, that someone will identify her "pattern" and stalk her.
4) Identify a route and stick to it. No changes in route without discussion and parental consent.
5) Do not enter the house if you suspect you're being followed, but walk quickly back to the populated commercial area two blocks from our home. Enter a store and ask to use the phone to call me from there.
6) In an emergency, know who to call.I've identified a few neighbors who tend to be home in the afternoons as emergency contacts. And I've made sure my daughter knows where their phone numbers are.(I tend to be her first point of contact because I'm only 7 minutes from our home by car.)
On the plus side, I've found that letting her walk home has increased her sense of responsibility. She usually uses this her time alone to complete homework or read. She even asked me once if I wanted her to start dinner. And she's still young enough that she shares her experiences of walking home pretty openly, so I have opportunities to suggest changes (like not becoming friendly with every homeless person on Solano Ave.)
Good luck as you work through this. Overall, I think it's a necessary and healthy transition to adolescence. And very scary for parents.
Secondly, I gather from the last post that homeless people on Solano Avenue solicit money from young children walking without adults. That makes me feel uncomfortable, even though I want to teach my younger child charity and let him give of his own money to charitable causes. It may be more an intermediate charity than direct giving. Does anyone have thoughts on the appropriateness of homeless people talking to what I perceive as overly vulnerable pre-teens?
I grew up in a medium-sized city, Birmingham Ala, and I began going downtown on the bus by myself when I was 12. Sometimes I was going to the library, or to take an art class, or to visit my dad at work, but sometimes I'd just go to see the sights and wander around by myself. Almost none of my friends were allowed to do this. I now really value the experiences I had, and the lessons in independence I got. I was never in any physical danger, but I did learn how to look out for myself. I acknowledge that Berkeley in 1998 is pretty different from Birmingham in 1965 (Berkeley is much better, in most ways!), but there are certainly ways for me to give my kids the same level of independence and adventure that I had without feeling they are in grave danger. I think this is very important as they get into their early teens.
Kidnappers & Molesters: it happens, yes, but it is extremely rare. I think that it is most often someone who is known to the family, and not a stranger, although we do hear more about the stranger cases, and they are scary. There are some things we should warn our kids about, but really, how often is a child under 8 or so out of the supervision of adults? Is it worth risking making them fearful and suspicious of anyone they don't know in order to protect them from a very very remote risk? An extreme example is a little girl in the coop preschool my sons went to who would scream "Don't touch me!" when any of the other parents helped her down from the climbing structure, or touched her in some other way.
Panhandlers: my kids tell me that they are often asked for money on Telegraph. I have actually walked down Telegraph a few paces behind them (so as not to embarrass them) and have noted that they get hit up for money a LOT more often than I do. These guys know from experience who will give them money. We've talked about this - I'm more stingy and cynical than they are, and it bugs me they are being taken advantage of, but I'm really proud that they have such a charitable spirit. So we talk about it and then I let them decide what to do.
Sometimes things like this just happen, even though we take precautions. But I don't want to raise my kids to be fearful of others, or to expect danger at every bend of the road. I want them to be sensible, and resourceful, and to learn to identify a potentially dangerous situation to be avoided. But also to feel confident about getting around on their own. I think we do have to acknowledge that bad things sometimes can happen, and we should be aware and watchful and not take unnecessary risks, but it's also necessary for us to prepare our children to think for themselves and to learn how to get around in the world, which they will need to do pretty soon.
On the issue of teaching our children to give to those less fortunate: Many of us want to pass on to our children the importance of charitable giving and actions. There are a number of organizations through which we can teach this value. I believe that children should not be interacting with needy homeless people on the street because children are vulnerable to exploitation. (This is not to say that all homeless people are exploiters. But even adults do not always have the insight to determine who in life is an exploiter and who is not, so we shouldn't expect a child to have this skill.) Adults should not approach children for assistance in public and if they do children should be taught not to respond.
They offer a lot of different classes, including a one-afternoon introductory class. While my daughter took the same intro class for adults with me, we subsequently found that they do have classes for pre-teens. I don't know if they have them for children, but I wouldn't be surprised. (Men are welcome to take the classes as well). My phone book lists their phone number as 650-366-3631. They have classes all over the Bay Area. I would highly recommend it for some extra peace of mind.
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