At Let Grow, we believe in kids. We believe they can be taught to be safe when they're out and about, even from a young age. That means you can (and should!) teach even young children to cross the street safely.
There is no such thing as zero-risk.
In the Boston suburb of Belmont, a police blotter carried a story a few years ago about two women who reported a young boy walking alone down the street. He was about 8 years old, and he told the police he was walking to his grandma's house. His dad often dropped him off a couple of miles away so he could walk the rest of the way on his own. According to the story, "Officers spoke to the parents about the dangers of letting a young child walk alone by themselves for such a long distance."
Can we please stop assuming this generation of kids can't do anything earlier generations did without a second thought? We keep telling parents about "dangers" of letting kids exercise (literally) some independence by walking and crossing the street alone. Meanwhile, we don't lecture them about the dangers of driving them around in cars. Yet the Number One way kids die is as passengers in a car crash.
So there is some risk in crossing the street, and in driving your kids. But neither of these activities is particularly risky, or so dangerous it shouldn’t be done. And crossing the street is a basic skill everyone needs to learn, and the younger the better.
Don't wait until they're ready to drive.
One of the most hysteria-inducing stories about letting kids cross the street appeared in Parents magazine awhile back. The screaming headline read, "Science Says Kids Shouldn't Cross a Busy Street Solo Until They're 14." Never mind that in some states, you can get a driving learner's permit by that age!
The article was inspired by this bizarre University of Iowa study. Using a virtual reality test (in other words, not taking kids outside to a real intersection), it concluded that younger kids have a harder time gauging exactly when it’s safe to cross the street. This is not surprising, is it? That's why our job is to teach kids how to cross the street, and practice with them. Not to say, “That’s why we have to drive them.”
Let parents make the choices that seem right for their children.
How does it feel when you have taught your kid this important skill and they go forth into the world? A little scary and a lot fantastic! Yes, some may judge you. But you know what is best for your kid and your situation.
Let Grow co-founder Jonathon Haidt tweeted about letting his 9-year-old daughter walk half a mile to school on her own in New York City. No doubt she had to cross more than one busy street alone. This was a great moment for the Haidt family. It's a great moment for any family giving their kids a little more independence.
To break through the ice of fear, we need to hear about parents doing this. Many of the people responding to Jon's joyous tweet cheered him and his daughter on, but some felt compelled to chide him: "If something terrible happens you will never forgive yourself." Paralyzing fear is held up as the only moral choice.
Don't let fear rule your parenting.
Sometimes parents have to be persuaded (that is, gently pushed) to let their kids go do something on their own. Crossing the street and walking by themselves for a bit is a terrific example. When the kids return home, glowing with pride or simply excited that their parents trusted them, that changes the parents too. That's how we learn to overcome fear-based parenting.
Someday (hopefully a long time from now) our children will have to survive when we are no longer here. Until they do something on their own, all we know is that they are safe because we are ever-present, protecting them. To finally see that your kids have what it takes to make it as independent humans, to carry on when you are gone, that is the game changer. So go ahead. Make sure your kid knows how to cross the street safely. Check out our video below of Anna, giving her tips and advice.
Then let them do it on their own. It's a big step for both of you.
Ask Lenore features advice from Let Grow's President, Lenore Skenazy. Send your questions and stories to her at AskLenore@LetGrow.org.