How much freedom should kids have?

This post is answering a reader question from last year’s survey. You can see more of my answers to reader questions here.

At what age did you let your kids start going out on their own, walking to school, staying home on their own etc?

I have answered the question specifically about leaving kids at home in this post – Kids Home Alone a few years ago, but as well as being asked about it in my annual survey, I have also had a couple of emails on this topic over the last few months, so thought I would answer this part briefly again and address some of the other circumstances as well.

Leaving kids home alone

The age I will leave the kids home alone depends on how far I am going and how long for, so giving some examples might help explain this best:

  • To run the older kids to the train station when it is raining in the morning, which will take me 10 minutes and is less than 1km away, I am okay to leave the 7 and 10 year old home.
  • To go to the supermarket and be away from the home for 30 minutes and be about 3kms away during the day, I would leave the 10 year old,  but take the 7 year old.
  • To leave the house for over an hour and be more than 10 kms away during the day, I would leave the 13 year old with the 10 and 7 year old.
  • To leave the house for over three hours and be more than an hour away from home during the day, I would leave the 13 year old home, but take the 10 and 7 year old.
  • To leave the kids for more than an hour at night, I would leave the 15 year and/or 18 year old with the younger 4 kids.

These are just what I feel comfortable with and each family will need to find what works for them. Our 10 year old for example is super happy to left alone, however at 10 years old, another of our kids would not have been happy to be left alone, so we wouldn’t have done that.

I also make sure I monitor the mood amongst the kids before leaving them alone as well. If they have been fighting or appear to be getting on each others’ nerves, I will make a different call some days and make the younger ones come with me, if I think they may fight while I am out.

There are also legal considerations as well. This post here outlines the legal perspective for each state in Australia which you should check out before making a decision to leave your kids unattended.

Letting kids be alone outside of the home

Again I am mindful of taking note of each child’s personality and maturity when allowing them to be unattended outside the home. What they can do will differ depending on age and circumstances but as a rough guide, for our family it is:

  • By 5 years old, they can play out the front of the house and within set boundaries up and down the street on their own.
  • By 10 years old we let them walk or ride to school on their own.
  • By 11 years old, they can make a special trip on public transport on their own during the day.
  • By 12 years old they can make regular trips on public transport on their own during the day.

As you will notice, it is a gradual approach to independence. We walk to school pretty much everyday, so they are used to walking to school and familiar with the route we go. We take public transport quite frequently as a family so they are used to how it works.

It would be a much bigger jump for a child who has been driven to school every day and never taken public transport for example, to all of a sudden start taking the train to the city on their own.

Letting kids go out on their own

For us it is has generally been once they reach secondary school that meeting up with friends or going out on their own has come into play. By this stage they are getting public transport to and from school, so will often do something on Friday night’s after school – grab a bite to eat, or head to a friend’s place.

I would love if this was always organised in advance, however I usually get a text from them after school letting me know they won’t be home at the usual time. At that point I can let them know if I want them to be home by a certain time or not. If I set a time, they are pretty good and sticking to it and making sure they arrive home in time.

Night time parties become a big thing at this stage and how to manage them is the topic for a post on its own!

How much freedom to you give your kids to do stuff on their own?

This post does not constitute professional advice, each parent needs to make their own decision on what is right for their child given the individual circumstances. This post shares my experience only.