When I was young, my friends and I liked to look up the ages we could certain things, the rites of passage which would lead to adulthood. Life seemed a bit freer and relaxed in the 80s, we were always out playing in the neighbourhood and would come back when we were hungry or thirsty. As my secondary school was a fair distance away, just weeks after my 11th birthday I was on a 2 bus journey to school changing buses in a busy town centre. It wasn’t a big deal and I felt able to deal with it. However times have changed and we are thinking more about at what age we’ll allow our children to do certain things.
Yesterday my daughter had her ears pierced. She is so delighted and happy as she has been desperate to have them done for years and we agreed that she could when she was ten. I don’t know why we chose ten, looking back on old photos I think I might have had mine done a little earlier, I suppose we chose an age where we hoped she would have the responsibility and care to look after herself.
As parents we are finding ourselves more and more questioning our decisions on what we allow our daughter to do, it’s a very fine line between allowing her some independence and knowing what is appropriate for her age. Last week on holiday, we allowed Little Miss to go to the mini market on site for any little bits we needed, she loved it and we were reassured as it was a car free 5 minute walk. However, I still wouldn’t let her walk to town to potter around, yet when we’re off shopping tomorrow, I will allow her to browse the girls clothes whilst I pick up a few pieces with her younger brother on the same floor.
In the final two years of our children’s primary school, the pupils are allowed to walk to and from school independently with parental permission. Whilst we have given permission, the reality is that because we walk her little brother to and from school it’s likely that we would have her in view for the journey as it’s basically one street she has to walk with a lollipop lady at the only road crossing. Little Miss also really likes the social aspect of the walk as we tend to walk with a few local families and she would miss this aspect on her own. However I would like her to have a bit of practice as she will need to walk to the local secondary school.
For Little Miss the biggie is the the age she can have a mobile phone. I think that since about Year 3, she has had peers who have had mobiles at school, this is a real big bug bear of mine, I don’t feel children need them and do not have the skills or maturity to use them properly. Some of her friends have Instagram accounts under false dates of birth, full internet access etc.. The stories I have heard at safeguarding conferences (I’m a DSL at work) only strengthen my beliefs that primary children should not have a phone. However I am also conscious that Little Miss wants to belong, feel like her peers. At present we have a compromise, where by she has my old iPhone without a SIM card at home. I control the Internet access and it is only me who downloads anything onto the phone, it is password protected at all other times, although it’s a password she is always trying to guess. She uses the phone for songs on a Spotify list we make together and a few games for car journeys etc.. It is a compromise and she is still desperate for a SIM card, she asked Santa for one last year but thankfully he was a very helpful Santa who read my cues well! Mr S and I both agree that Little Miss can have a mobile when she starts secondary school, but again there are problems here too, I would prefer her to have a simple call and text phone but there is that pressure to have a more modern version, eg camera and internet. Again with my attendance at safeguarding conferences I am only too aware of YPSI ( new term for sexting; peak age 13) and online bullying and the long term effects on a child. We have a year to make a decision.
Over the next few years I’m sure there will be more difficult questions over the age my daughter can do things. We then have our son to consider too. Our daughter is bright and savvy yet our son has some learning difficulties but is very close in age, how do we agree on an age for her and not have the same rule for him? It’s all so difficult to be fair, safe and consistent. I guess as parents we’ll analyse each situation and try to follow our instincts. Sometimes it’s not about an age but a feeling and confidence in your child to be sensible and appropriate in different situations.