SINGAPORE: Like any parent, you’ll have to deal with the day your child asks if he can go out with his friends or on his own. After all, it’s a very natural part of your kid wanting to assert his independence as his grows.
Yet, just like deciding when your offspring is responsible enough to be left home on his own, you’ll have to figure out when it’s safe for him to venture out without adult supervision.
Jennifer Lim, 19, was not allowed to go out without an adult’s supervision 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 let their kids to go out without parental supervision. Yet, much as you would like to protect your kids from the dangers outside, sooner or later, you will have to let them leave the nest and spread their wings.
Clinical psychologist Dr Vaani Gunaseelan noted that most parents only 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 the decision.
She added: “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 advised.
Here are several things your children should be clear about before you allow them to go out on their own for the first time:
MATURE AND RESPONSIBLE
Your children should be able to take care of themselves when they are outside. Dr Lim Boon Leng, a psychiatrist, states that your children must be able to evaluate and act responsibly and maturely to risks.
THE RULES YOU SET FOR THEM
They should know the rules that they have to follow, such as things they can and cannot do, places they should avoid and the curfew timing.
BE MINDFUL OF THEIR SURROUNDINGS
They should be observant and know what is happening around them – this will help them figure their way around. “Ensure that your child knows her routes and travel procedure to and from the destination,” stressed Dr Vaani.
KNOW HOW TO GET HELP
They should know who they can call to ask for help. Get them to memorise either yours or your spouse’s number, so that if they lose their phone, they can still contact you.
UNDERSTAND THE DANGERS THEY CAN ENCOUNTER IN PUBLIC
Tell them about child predators and unsafe motorists, so that they can be wary when they are 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 ones about possible risks when you are out with them,” said 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 children 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.
- Teaching them how to cross roads safely, and explain the concept of “stranger danger” to them. “Anyone they don’t know is a stranger, and they should be careful around strangers,” Dr Vaani said.
- 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.
It’s also important to set rules for your kid before they step out of the house. They must understand that going out independently does not mean that they can do whatever they want. Rules that you can implement include:
- Set a curfew.
- Ensure that your children keep you updated on who they will be with, where they are going and their travel routes.
- Be clear on any places that you do not want them to go to.
- Be firm that certain behaviours are not allowed, such as alcohol and smoking.
- 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, said 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,” added 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.”