When is the right time to let children go out independently for the first time? It will differ for every child and every family, depending on where they live, the need and their maturity. For us it’s been a gradual thing, and is now building up ahead of the 13th birthday. The first time independence for pre-teens, the first time being allowed to go round town with a friend and without parents is ticked off. Now we’re looking for other opportunities.
During the pandemic N was able to take the dogs for a walk on his own. Or go to the hill behind for sledging. He had a basic phone for that reason in case he needed to call us. But all went well. After all, he was still on our farm.
The bike riding has been a struggle. For me I was open to him cycling to school in Year 6, or up to the village to meet friends. But the rest of the family stopped that. Yes, we have rural roads without pavements, but they’re also not that busy. And he’d cycled them before with family, wears a helmet, has a mobile phone, and has done his cycling proficiency. Much more than I ever did when we went cycling off everywhere we fancied (although just within the village at that age).
But he’s had a couple of times where he’s asked to go for a bike ride – once up to his cousin’s half a mile away and another to the village 1.5 miles away. Both short journeys he knows and fairly visible roads for cyclists. He’s proven he’s sensible. Although I’m the only parent who feels comfortable with it.
Now he’s had the chance to go around town with a friend while us parents were off doing our thing. Yes, it’s not totally independent as they were driven in. We were also in town and had arranged a time we’d meet up, then they were let loose.
These days pre-teens have bank cards. We use Hyperjar so it’s linked to an app on my phone which means I could see where he was going around town as he spent money. There may be some discussion needed on what’s a reasonable amount of money to spend on a tracksuit, and how fast money is spent. But I’m hoping he’s learnt from that and that next time he’ll have realised how much is sensible to spend and what to spend his money on.
They had a great time wandering around and choosing where they wanted to go. As expected, various drinks and sweets were purchased, pick and mix, sports gear. And bizarrely they wanted a pound each to try out some massage chairs.
Now they want to do a journey in by bus. The way in will be fine as it’s N’s usual school bus stop, just going the other way. I’m not sure how they’ll cope with the return journey given there’s not many buses a day, and they’ll have no idea about how to use the bus station. But then they have to organise a day as well so we’ll see if it actually happens.
I’m proud that he’s managed that first independent time out, although I do think there are situations that I need to teach him about. After all, they need to be prepared to know what to do if something goes wrong. Who to call, where to go, how to avoid situations they don’t want to be in.
It’s probably better they’re prepared than being put in a situation they don’t know how to deal with, so I need to get on the ball with that preparation ahead of more occasions when he’s out and about.
We did say that 12 seemed so young to be out and about alone. But others we know have been doing it younger. I think if we lived in a village, then he’d have been cycling or walking down to the shops alone at a much younger age. But living in the sticks means there’s no opportunity to do that within the nearby area.
If you’re not sure whether your tween is ready to start those independent journeys or trips, here’s some ideas on how to get prepared for their start of independence. It’s a gradual journey, but it’ll give them and you more confidence that they’re ready.
Tips on growing independence for pre-teens
Encourage open communication: make sure there’s openness for your tween to express their thoughts, and actively listen to what they’re saying. This helps build trust and a stronger relationship.
Set clear boundaries: establishing clear rules and boundaries will help them feel secure and provide a framework of expectations they can work within until they’re experienced enough to work out their own boundaries.
Give them responsibility: getting your pre-teen to take on small tasks and responsibilities can help build confidence in their own abilities.
Be a good role model: a parent needs to model the actions and behaviors expected of a child. Lead by example.
Provide support: your tween will face challenges and have failures as they grow and develop independence. Be there to provide support and guidance when needed, but let them to solve problems on their own )where reasonable).
Celebrate their successes: recognize and celebrate accomplishments, big or small, to build their self-esteem and confidence.
How tweens can help increase parental trust in their abilities
On the other side, children need to show parents they can be trusted to do things on their own. Especially that they can make sensible judgements and decisions when with friends or put in unexpected situations they might not have experienced before.
Looking after their own things and helping out around the house, ideally without being asked.
Taking accountability for, and doing their homework, and working hard at school or at their extra curricular activities.
Being responsible when using their phone or when online with friends.
Talking maturely and fairly about situations they or friends have been in, and how they would act. Or how they are reacting to what they might see or hear on tv. Parents need to have an idea of how children may act when out without them. Being with friends, they need to be strong enough to not just follow the crowd if something happens that isn’t appropriate, or that they don’t want to take part in.
Be supportive and empathetic of friends’ situations. By them understanding other people’s challenges, they’ll be more likely to automatically support them if things go wrong.
How did you increase the opportunities for independence in your pre-teens as they approached the teenage years?