I let my 7-year old walk to school with his buddies, without a parent, everyday.
There I have said it.
Fill up my comments with how I am endangering my child. But before you do. Think, why are we so afraid of our kids walking to school alone?
We live two blocks from our neighbourhood school, there are no major streets to cross and it is a direct route. There are hundreds of other kids, parents, strollers, bikes all going in the same direction at the same time. Almost everyone knows or at least recognizes each other. We call it the walking school bus.
Before we let our son walk unaccompanied we talked about some “safe” houses along the way in case he needed an adult. We talked about stranger danger. We talked a lot. Too much probably. And now every morning he goes two doors down, knocks on his friend’s door and off they go, sometimes some siblings and other buddies join them and then they walk responsibly and happily for seven minutes until the reach the schoolyard.
Despite the obvious safety of the route I have had other parents express surprise that we let the boys walk alone. The peer pressure to walk your child to school is very strong, and to go against the tide is to risk schoolyard condemnation.
I have such great memories of walking to school when I was in primary school. At the age of 6, my best friend and I were in charge of walking my sister who was 4. Can you imagine that now? Walking to school on your own was common when we were young but is now the exception. What has changed other than the media's reach?
The risk of abduction which seems to be the reason is incredibly small. But as this New York Times article points out, parents are terrible at assessing risks.
For instance, the five things most likely to cause injury to children up to age 18, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are: car accidents, homicide (usually at the hands of someone they know), child abuse, suicide or drowning. And what are the five things that parents are most worried about (according to surveys by the Mayo Clinic)? Kidnapping, school snipers, terrorists, dangerous strangers and drugs.
Ironically, the lengths we go to avoid abduction often mean putting strapping kids into our cars to drive them somewhere which, statistically, is much riskier behaviour than allowing them to skip to school with a pal. (In the U.S. the approximately 115 children are kidnapped by strangers each year, according to federal statistics but 250,000 are injured in auto accidents. )
I have sat in lectures and classes where parenting experts plead with the audience to allow their kids to walk to school alone because it will give them a sense of independence. Kids need responsibility to learn how to be responsible. If we constantly tell them how scary the world is, how will they ever be able to go out into the world?
I still pick up my son at the schoolyard gate everyday. Walking home from school is a different beast with it’s lack of school bells and varying times of exit, but we will get there. And the payoff to my son’s self-esteem will be immeasurable.
So don’t ask yourself ‘why should my kid walk to school on their own?’, ask ‘why not?’.
If you need some resources in how to start a walk-to-school program at your school, check out saferoutestoschool.ca.