Like any parent, you’ll have to deal with the day your child asks if he or she can go out with their friends or on their own. After all, it’s a very natural part of junior wanting to assert their independence as they grow.
Yet, just like deciding when your offspring is responsible enough to be left home on their own, you’ll have to figure out when it’s safe for them to venture out without adult supervision.
Jennifer Lim, 19, was not allowed to go out without an adult until the end of Secondary One. Although she had asked her mother multiple times if she could celebrate the end of PSLE with her friends, her parent had always turned down her request. “I remember feeling so frustrated about the lack of freedom that I cried ― everyone was having fun and uploading cute pictures onto Facebook, except me. As I was good in school and at home, I could not understand why my mum was so against letting me go out with my friends.”
Jennifer isn’t alone. Although Singapore is relatively safe, many parents are still reluctant to allow their kids to go out without parental supervision. Yet, much as you would like to protect your kids from dangers outside, sooner or later, you will have to let your children leave the nest and spread their wings.
“Restricting a child from going out by herself when she is ready to do so may impact her confidence, independence, problem-solving skills, ability to assess risks, and ability to be street-smart.”
Clinical psychologist Dr Vaani Gunaseelan notes that most parents start to allow their typically developing kids to go out on their own when they are between 11 and 13 years old. She cautioned, however, that parents should also consider their kid’s maturity and independence level, and whether they are confident about going out by themselves, before making their decision.
She adds, “Restricting a child from going out by herself when she is ready to do so may impact her confidence, independence, problem-solving skills, ability to assess risks, and the ability to be street-smart. Socially, she may feel uninvolved in her peer group if they hang out together often in bonding activities.”
Of course, you should also make sure that your kid is ready to venture into the public unsupervised before letting her do so. “Introducing freedom and preparing a child to go out independently should be done in gradual steps, so that both parent and child can adjust to it,” Dr Vaani advises.
Here are several things your child should be clear about before you allow her to go out by herself for the first time:
* Mature and responsible She should be able to take care of herself when she is outside. Dr Lim Boon Leng, a psychiatrist, states that your child must be able to evaluate and act responsibly and maturely to risks.
* The rules you set for her She should know the rules that she has to follow, such as things she can and cannot do, places she should avoid and the curfew timing.
* Be mindful of her surroundings She should be observant and know what is happening around her ― this will help her figure her way around. “Ensure that your child knows her routes and travel procedure to and from the destination,” stresses Dr Vaani.
* Knows how to get help She should know who she can call to ask for help. Get her to memorise either yours or your spouse’s number, so that if she loses her phone, she can still contact you.
* Understand the dangers she can encounter in public Tell her about child predators and unsafe motorists, so that she can be wary when she is outside.
You can also start training your little one from young, instead of doing so only when they become a tween. “Start by educating your young one about possible risks when you are out with them,” says Dr Lim. Other things they should know from a young age include:
* Making sure they know their full name, address and contact number of at least two close family members.
* Letting your child take the lead when you are out together. Correct them only if they do something that puts them at risk.
* Letting them travel short distances to a nearby store by themselves for a limited period of time.
* Explaining that there are “safe strangers”, such as police officers. You can point who these people are to junior when you are out with them.
“Children will have to leave the safety of the home eventually. Helping them to do so in a gradual and safe manner will help to improve children’s confidence and their ability to deal with risks in a responsible way.”
It’s also important to set rules for your kid before she steps out of the house. She must understand that going out independently does not mean that she can do whatevers he wants. Rules that you can implement include:
1. Set a curfew.
2. Ensure that your child keeps you updated on who they will be with, where they are going and their travel routes.
3. Be clear on any places that you do not want your child to go to.
4. Be firm that certain behaviours are not allowed, such as drinking and smoking.
5. Remind them that they must take charge of their own belongings and mustn’t leave their valuables unguarded.
If you still feel anxious about letting your child go out alone and think that she isn’t ready yet, explain why you feel this way, and accompany her to the places she wants to go to. Meanwhile, you can start taking steps to prepare her to go out independently, states Dr Vaani.
“If it is just the anxiety of the parents, then the parents will have to learn to let go and tolerate their own anxiety,” adds Dr Lim. “Children will have to leave the safety of the home eventually. Helping them to do so in a gradual and safe manner will help to improve children’s confidence and their ability to deal with risks in a responsible way.”
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