Kids Going Solo: Weigh In on When to Let Them Go

Smug is a strong word, but I will be truthful here and admit that with five kids there have for sure been small moments when yes, I probably have felt the tiniest bit smug about parenting like, yep, I have this stage DOWN like a champ.

Like, baby food? Done that. Diapering? I got that one handled. Toddlers? Got that one down (oh except for Talley but we are working on that one). Basically all baby/little kid stuff I have been there, done that, learned A LOT OF LESSONS and have come out the other side older, wiser, and yes, smugger.

Until I came to the middle school stage.

Middle. School.

It's enough to strike fear into the hearts of even the smuggest of moms. And I'm about to get all up in it with my oldest.

Case in point? Figuring out when is the right time for them to do their own thing? Like, solo movies? Now, before I had kids old enough to do any of that, I shrugged it off like, I'll cross that tween bridge when I come to it. It felt SO FAR away when I was adrift in the early toddler years with my oldest kids. Surrounded by sippy cups and Lightning McQueens, the idea of them being in middle school felt as foreign as the idea of a newborn sleeping through the night.

I also (wrongly) assumed I would be totally prepared for middle school aged kids when they became that age, which is weird because how could I prepare for something I hadn't done yet and had zero experience doing? That's the kicker about parenting that never changes, there are constantly new stages and parenting challenges that you will have to learn and deal with as they are happening. Nothing like learning on the fly when you're, you know, just trying to raise a human being.

Which brings me to my oldest and his first solo movie experience. When I was his age we pretty much roamed the neighborhood alone, all day, usually with zero money or plans or check ins with our parents. We can all nod our heads at this and think to ourselves, "It was a different time back then". But, was it? Or are we just different parents now?

Research suggests that being a kid in American is the safest is has ever been. Missing person reports involving minors has been at record low levels in recent years, and overall, the number of these reports have fallen by 40 percent since 1997. You need to also keep in mind that the overall U.S. population has risen by 30 percent over that same time period, meaning that the actual rate of missing person reports for children has fallen faster than 40 percent (read more here). Add into that the fact that many kids have cellphones now where we can not only keep in touch with them but literally keep track of them, and the idea of dropping them off at a movie doesn't sound so scary.

But, and I'm not pointing fingers here because I am guilty of some of this too, we are more paranoid as parents than ever. I sent my ten year old into our local convenience store the other day when the baby was asleep in the car to get a gallon of milk and someone asked him where his mommy was (I was parked outside and could see him through the window and I waved politely at her when he turned and pointed to me). Could I have woken the baby up and brought them both into the store? Sure. I guess so. But at ten years old I feel he's old enough to take the cash in, pick the milk out, pay for it, etc. Right? I mean, I feel crazy even saying that because YES he is old enough to do that FOR SURE but I know there are parents among us that would scold me for letting him do that, and I can't wrap my head around it.

The thing is, if we never let them do things on their own, how are they supposed to learn how to do things on their own? Do I want a teenager that can't go into the store to buy milk?! Um, NO. There is zero, ZERO reason why a ten year old kid can't be learning to do this type of stuff on his own. So, maybe back off and let the kid do his thing? Maybe?

That being said, since I am new to this whole tween/middle school game, I'm curious, what age did you start to let them do things on their own, like being dropped off at the mall, going to see a movie with friends? ed note: I realize every child is different and that always needs to be taken into consideration, so I am talking in broader terms here.

This summer I am sending my oldest to sleepaway camp for the first time because he needs to have some independence going into middle school. He needs to make his own decisions and manage his own time and start navigating things on his own. And if you are the parents of young children, when do you think you'll start letting them do solo mall trips, or solo movies? Quite frankly I'm a little scared to let them to go the park alone in case someone calls the cops and reports me for neglect, and it makes me sad that yes, it is a legitimate fear of mine that parents will report me for neglect for letting my ten year old go to a park alone in a time where being a child is the safest it has ever been. Instead of protecting them we are hindering them, and I think opening up a discussion about it is at least a tiny step in the right direction.

So let's talk. Share in the comments below when you think kids should be allowed to do things on their own and when you are going to let your own kids do their own thing.