Over the last hundred years here, there's been a clear trend down in how far kids can wander at a given age. I think a lot of this comes from the demographic transition: with fewer kids and lower child mortality, previously acceptable risks become less so. On the other hand, I think it's really good for kids to learn how to be independent, and going where you want is an important component.
Let's say we started allowing our two older kids (7y and 5y) to wander farther from the house: what are the risks?
I think the biggest risk is cars. When my kids were learning to walk I taught them to stay out of the street, and more recently we've been practicing crossing. They're now to the point where I can tell them "cross when you think it's safe", and almost all the time they do it correctly. Unfortunately, "almost" isn't good enough here: they need to have the skill completely solid before I'm happy for them to do it unsupervised.
In cases where they don't have to cross any streets alone, like walking to school or walking around the block, as long as I know they're going it's fine. But let's say that in a few months, perhaps around when they're 8y and 6y, they're ready to cross our neighborhood streets together. They could potentially walk to the playground, linear park, and various friends houses, all within a few blocks. What are the risks then?
Potentially they could:
- Get lost.
- Get hurt to where they need help.
- Get kidnapped.
- Get stopped by the police or others, who might think they're too young to be out on their own.
I do wonder whether technology might mean we could give them more freedom for a given level of safety, however, with a cell phone or GPS watch? Something where they could contact us if they needed help, and we could see where they were. Has anyone tried anything like this?