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When is it Safe for Kids to Walk Alone?

Berkeley Parents Network > Advice > Worries Big & Little > When is it Safe for Kids to Walk Alone?


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Son attending ''Open Campus'' high school in SF

August 2010

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


So much depends on where the school is. Basic rules -- avoid eye contact on the streets, avoid conversations with strangers, sit near the front of a bus, stay with friends -- and he'll quickly learn when to feel comfortable and when to be on guard. But in general, try to put aside your anxieties and think of this as great practice for when he's living on his own! City mom

Teen Girls Walking around Berkeley Alone

August 2010

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 get your concern. No matter what you do, there is a risk. If you let your daughter walk at night a few blocks there is a risk of a problem. If you don't let her walk there is a risk of over-dependence and an unnecessary delay in her ability to act for herself. We also have a 16 yr old girl, and do let her walk home in the evening in our neighborhood, which is in the Richmond Hills. Weighing on this decision was our awareness that children need to find out about the world and learn to operate more independently as they reach their mid to later teens. Letting the bird fly
My husband and I have strict family rules about our daughter, 15 1/2, going out with friends. A young girl walking around without a responsible adult is at real risk of being hassled or attacked, especially at night. Before we gave her that freedom, we had our daughter complete a teen self-defense course through Kidpower and highly recommend them. We allow her to go to the Cal Campus/Telegraph Avenue area or Emeryville's Bay Street Mall during the day if she is with a responsible friend. We do not allow her to be out after dark, unless she is with a responsible adult. At first, we told her to be home by dark, but that led to too many arguments about when dark is. Now, we tell her what time she must be on BART, which changes with the seasons. If she is not home on time, we ground her. Nancy

9-year-old girl walking alone

August 2005

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


We live in Elmwood. I let my 6-year-old daughter walk around our neighborhood, crossing one not-busy street. Soon, when I feel confident in her street-crossing, I will let her walk anywhere in a several block area. By the time I was 6 I was walking to school and shops, just like you describe your daughter doing (and this was in Los Angeles in the 70s, an equally urban area), with no problems. I want my daughter to have the same freedom/responsibility. Karen
I am the mom of a nine year old and would not let her walk alone now and not even at 11 - and the reason has nothing to do with her level of responsibility. It has to do with there being a lot of crazy people out there - the number of sex offenders is growing extensively that are being placed in our communities and that's just a sign of the times. Explain to her that your not letting her walk alone has nothing to do with your confidence in her and her independene. I would find other ways, maybe indoors, that she can exercise independence. I don't even let my daughter play outside without adult supervision. Yes, it's harder on me but ask any parent that has had their child abducted or nearly abducted and they would say the same thing. Cautious Mom to 9 year old girl
We let our daughter walk home from school by herself starting in 1st grade, and as she grew older, we allowed her more and more freedom walking around town, going to the store on simple errands, etc. Like you, we believe that the risks were quite small, and deplore what feels like a paranoid attitude about girls' safety in the world. I worry about how our generation's children are being raised in such a culture of fear. All along, we heard both amazement from our aquaintances that we would allow our daughter so much freedom, and we heard about how impressively confident and self-sufficient she was in equal amounts. Of course, if anything had ever happened to her, I'd be singing a different tune today, but as it is, I feel so glad that we raised her to feel that it's ok to be out in the world instead of fearful and dependent. Be prepared, though for others' judgement... raised a strong one
Hello, I was in Munich about 6 years ago on business, and spent a few days outside of the city with a colleague and his young family. I was surprised to observe his young children--4 and 6--making their way into the village on their own without an adult supervising. They also played outside the festival we were attending, independently, and when I commented on this the parents assured me this is normal protocol and was very safe.

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 am a mother of a now 11-year-old girl (and a 16-year-old boy), and we live near Shattuck at the southern end of Berkeley, near Reel. The truth is, I find myself holding 2 sets of feelings pretty simultaneously--that she's very capable of getting around the local area on her own (and especially with a friend) and has been for a couple of years, and second, concern for her safety when I am not with her. However I tend to think the concern for her safety feeling is basically manufactured/socially created by the current climate of fear, along with a big dose of my own slow adjustment to the fact that after years and years of watching and protecting my kids and only leaving them in the care of a trusted caregiver, it's hard to put down or lessen that role. I have worked hard to resist the impulse to keep her under watch every minute these last couple of years. I believe in the importance of kids using their capabilities and learning how to have some responsibility for themselves. I think they have a different kind of experience getting themselves around than they do being sheparded by a parent, and it's important preparation for being a responsible teenager (they are careful as younger adolescents, and this habit of carefulness is a good one to cultivate; they are also willing to check in often with a parent, another good habit for them to be comfortable with later).

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


I'm 35 now. When I was four, I lived with my parents at the UC family housing in Albany. At that time I taught myself to walk to the local store by myself (even crossing streets). All through my childhood I walked to the store, school, friend's house, etc. Granted life in the 70s and 80s was much safer than today, however I do believe that this independence helped me in life. I've noticed that I don't fear travel, being away from home, or tackling new things as much as others. Basically, you live in a safe neighborhood where there is plenty of foot traffic. Allow your child to continue walking. However, teach her how to respond to precarious situations and how to alert other adults if she feels she is in danger or distress. Perhaps she could carry a whistle around her neck? I know we live in crazy times, but sheltering kids from life may hamper their ability to take risks or be independent later in life. Good Luck. Jude
My 9 year old son walks alone a couple of days a week in an Oakland setting. He walks from school to a local shop. He turns 10 in a couple of weeks and has been doing it for about 6 months now. It is not the Rockridge area. What I do is have him carry my cell phone and when he arrives at his destination he calls me immediately to let me know he has arrived safely. He stays put under supervison from that point forward. It's a shame we live in an age where we can't do this without question, but good luck doing what you think is right. anon
OK, no disrespect, but...are you for real? A nine year old GIRL or boy walking alone anywhere more than about 100 yards away from an adult that he/she knows is a BAD idea. This is NOT Berlin. I cannot speak to their crime statistcs there, but our problems here are why you never see any other 9 year olds walking alone. Have you checked the news lately? I have an 11 year old daughter AND I live in the Oakland Hills. I would NEVER let her walk anywhere without supervision. This has nothing to do with my confidence in her ability to cross the street or look out for herself. It is strictly rooted in my lack of trust for the unknown elements waiting out there to do her harm. It is your responsibility as your daughter's protector to shield her form any situation where you know there could be trouble. A 9 year old can be manipulated into doing things and going places even after being coached NOT to. Don't do it. ANON
I just had to write in about the well-meaning posts that I just read on this topic. I was surprised to see people writing with such authority that the world today is more dangerous for children than it was in the 1970s and 1980s. This is, in fact, not true. As it turns out, children are safer now than they have been at any time since the 1950s. The difference between now and when we were kids is not actual danger, but parents' perception of danger. According to the FBI, there were only 93 kidnappings (that is, abductions by a stranger) nationwide in 2001 -- out of more than 59 million children. That means there is only a microscopic chance that a child will get abducted. Despite this, our news media has created a culture of fear by giving intense coverage to the few cases that do happen. It's quite sad, really, because it means that our children are now limited in ways that they weren't before -- and not because of real risk, but because of the few sensationalized stories that make the 24-hour news circuit. And keeping our children close comes with a price. Some studies have linked the rise in childhood obesity to the fact that children are kept in their homes instead of being allowed to run free and explore their surroundings. And other studies have linked increased tensions between parents and children to the fact that children aren't allowed the same freedom to be apart from their parents and other authority figures as they once were. Of course, there is always a risk -- and I'm not saying you should let your daughter walk alone -- only you can make that decision based on your neighborhood and your daughter's maturity. But do yourself a favor and do some research on the actual risks. Find out the statistics for stranger abductions in the East Bay. Maybe talk to the police about your particular area. Base your decision on what is real. Anon
When I was nine years old (I am now in my forties) I walked by myself to to school in the Berkeley Hills everyday. One morning on my way to school I was abducted and sexually assalted by a man who told me he was a police officer (he had a gun but was not in uniform). And I suspect that there at least as many sexual criminals out there now as there were 30+ years ago. PLEASE, please, do not let your children walk alone! anon
There's a risk to letting the child walk alone. There's a risk to not letting the child walk alone -- but this risk is both more subtle and more certain to happen. It has to do with independence, exploration, spatial awareness, a sense of place and neighborhood, obesity, health, and ultimately... character. Do we want to raise children in a world of fear? Or do we want to take reasonable precautions, but still live in a community?

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


If you are going to let your nine year old child walk alone, you might think about doing it after enrolling your child in a self-defense course. There is an organization called Kidpower, I think their website is Kidpower.org (but you can Google it), and their classes are very effective for parent and child. Good luck. Anon

Worried about my 11-year-old daughter walking alone

September 1998

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?)

Becky


This is in response to the parent who asked about ages and walking alone in their neighborhood.

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!

Laurie


I have three boys so I don't know what the thinking is about letting girls walk alone. However, even with my boys, I did not let them walk alone until they were teenagers, maybe 14 with the oldest, 13 with the second. When my oldest was going to Harding elementary school in El Cerrito we still dropped him off at school and picked him up, even though we lived maybe 4 blocks away (I think that had more to do with him being my first). I started letting my second son deal with the bus and stuff when he started middle school.

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).

Margo


My oldest daughter is also 11 in the sixth grade, and we also live in a family-oriented neighborhood in southwest Berkeley. She is very responsible and trustworthy, although headstrong.

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.

Beverly


I let my seven yr old son walk to his friend's house alone, which doesn't involve crossing any streets, but is about 2 blocks away (around a circle!). He has to call when he gets there. I live in Walnut Creek. Aside from the fear of abduction, I would like to let people know that according to AAA, kids under 10 should not cross streets by themselves. They did a study of kids whose parents thought they knew how to cross streets, but in watching the kids actually cross the streets, the researchers saw that they really weren't looking.

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.

Deborah


In response to your question posed about when do you let your child start walking places alone, I have been asking myself the same question.

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.

Miyoko


My 12 year old daughter now walks to Longfellow school which is located about 3 blocks away from our house. She does not have to cross any big streets. We just started letting her walk places by herself about 1 year ago, but it's just now that she's doing it regularly. It scares me, but my sensible self tells me that it will be fine and I'm sure it will be. I worry about kidnapping, but I'm sure that she has more of a chance of being hit by a car than being kidnapped.

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.

Toby


I've been pondering this question also, in regard to my 12 (almost 13) year-old daughter, ever since our pediatrician asked her at a checkup if she is ever alone in public. Our daughter used to walk in the neighborhood around the block, home from Hercules, or to the pool with her older brother (he's 15 now). But since he started high school we've felt reluctant for her to walk alone. Even though we live in a safe area, we feel that she is vulnerable. (Her father actually insisted that I follow (at a distance) when she went two blocks up the hill to free a mouse that the cats had found in our garden!) And this comes just at a time when she wants more freedom!

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!

Bonnie


My daughter will be eleven in January and is in fifth grade. She has always been quite mature and responsible. When she was about 9, we let her walk short distances in North Berkeley with a friend and only if any substantial street crossing was done with a stop light. About 6 months later, we let her walk alone from the house of one friend who lives three blocks away -- only if she called as she was leaving and came straight home. (We'd give her 5-10 minutes to do it.) Several times this summer we let her walk three blocks to the North Shattuck area to buy books at Black Oak or whatever, again with a strict time limit that did not allow for dawdling. So far, she has always come home before the allotted time limit and seems to take it very seriously. At the beginning of the school year, she rebelled against her after-school program, which she found extremely boring last year and we agreed to let her walk home and be home alone in the afternoon -- something a number of her girlfriends are also allowed to do. She walks about 6 blocks, crosses big streets on a light, is required to call us at work as soon as she gets home, and must do her homework and one chore per day before she can turn on the TV or stereo. This all seems to be going fine -- she needs the privacy and down time (away from her manic 7-year old brother) and I want her to develop the habit of doing these tasks without us breathing down her neck or nagging. She understands clearly that as long as she does what she's supposed to, the privilege will be continued; if she doesn't, it's back to after-school care. I feel somewhat nervous about the walk because it's predictable and I fear that someone could observe her patterns and then prey upon her in some way. For that reason, I am working to find people for her to walk at least part of the way with every day. She is resisting this, but I will win the tussle.

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.

A Parent


This is in response to the inquiry about walking home alone. I too have an 11 year old daughter, and have been attempting to work through my fears related to this issue for the better part of a year. Last year, she rode a bus to within about half a mile of our home, then walked most of the rest of the way with a friend. That left 2-3 blocks for her to negotiate alone. The rules: 1) she would call as soon as she got inside the house 2) doors were to remain locked once inside and 3) no friends over, and no going outside (except to our enclosed, gated back yard) until I got home (usually about 2 hours later). We eventually added a few more rules: no outgoing phone calls to friends and no TV. This worked pretty well overall.

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.

Marji


I've followed with interest this "thread," even though my daughter is still only 3. I am reminded of a child I knew years ago when I was teaching preschool ... she was 5 and in the kindergarden class ... a calmer, more self-assured, gentle, grounded child I'd never seen. Turns out she was in a family-based self-defense type martial arts class with her older brother. Martial arts classes, if they are selected carefully, can be a good place for kids to learn strategies (e.g. even though they might learn how to punch or block a punch, they should *primarily* be taught to *avoid* ever using those skills by thinking, avoid dangerous situations, asking for help, or if in real danger running and yelling for help.) Sometimes a good martial arts teacher will say all the same things Mom would say ("always walk with a friend, walk like you have purpose, look around you, be aware, don't accept rides from strangers") but it's easier to hear and remember in a setting that, by it's very existence, is emphasizing the child's autonomy from Mom and Dad. And such classes can increase self-confidence and physical poise as well. -- Mary Carol
Re: Independence for children. Two thoughts keep troubling me from the recent discussion. One person said there is strength in numbers among children. While on the surface, surely this is true, for most situations, I can never get ou;of my head the fact that Polly Klass was with two other girls who naturally were too terrified to speak up before, during, or perhaps even immediately after her kidnap at knifepoint. I always wonder if some martial arts training would have helped them, or if they had screamed and woken the mother, who was always characterized as a heavy sleeper, something would have been different. In any case, there is an example where strength in numbers did not apply, I am in no way criticizing the girls, just pondering a long- held thought.

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?


My boys, 13 & 15, have grown up in the Elmwood district of Berkeley. They started walking the 5 blocks to school in 3rd grade, often alone. I'd walk with them to College Av., where they crossed College with a crossing guard, and then they'd go alone the 2 blocks to school (Emerson). The College Av. area is busy enough that I always felt safe about letting them do this. When they got to 4th grade I started letting them walk with friends down College to the Elmwood shopping district, and they began to visit friends on their own who lived nearby. Once they were in Jr. High, at Willard, I'd let them walk with a friend after school to the comic book store on Telegraph. At 12, they began using BART and the bus to get to movies in downtown Berkeley, and by 14 my older son had taken BART into SF with a friend, and now takes BART to visit a friend in San Leandro.

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. Martial Arts: My only experience is with Taekwondo, which my kids took for several years. I am not so sure this is a useful way for kids to protect themselves from physical danger. When my kids reached jr. high the most common danger among their friends was "getting jumped" by other jr. high kids in the "nice" upper-middle class neighborhoods of the Elmwood. This happened to some of my son's friends - two brothers 13 & 15 who had taken several years of taekwondo with my kids, who were walking down Stuart just off College, en route to the library on Benvenue. A gang of girls (!) suddenly appeared and pushed them down and took their money. Another time, a friend was pushed off his bike in the same area by a young teenager, who quickly made off with the bike. This kid was a veteran of martial arts too. I asked them why they didn't use self defense - they said they were just taken completely by surprise and didn't have time to even think about how to respond. This really worried me, and I talked to my kids about what I watch out for when I'm walking, and what I think is safe - sticking to the main streets, being alert, and we discussed various "what if" scenarios. But I still worry too.

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.

Ginger


Each parent has to find a level of independence he/she is comfortable with. Given the many child abductions that have plagued our area over the last 10 years or so, this is a very difficult issue to come to terms with. The kinds of independence that many of us may have enjoyed as children are simply out of the question in many urban (and even suburban) environments today.

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.

Linnea


When we moved my then 10-year-old stepdaughter into our apartment in West Berkeley a few years ago, one of the first things we did was take a Model Mugging class together. For those who don't know, Bay Area Model Mugging (BAMM) offers self defense classes. These are very different from the usual "self-defense" or "martial art" type classes. These are full-speed, full-body, yell-as-loud-as-you-can classes. The "model mugger" is a fellow dressed up in what looks like the Michelin Man suit: He's padded everywhere, and you *cannot* hurt him. Additionally, all the men doing this are specially trained in appropriate behavior and psychology. So the students in the class will rehearse real-life scenarios, and real-life responses. The idea is that you get your *body* to learn the responses, which can be done in much less time than training your mind (and is far more reliable under stress). There are reports of women surviving attacks using these techniques some 10 years after they had had a one-afternoon introductory class. It really works.

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.

Dawn


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