Parental Supervision Ends at What Age?

I just took the ChatterBox out for pizza – he earned a free slice and a free ice cream through a learning program at school. While we were there a group of four girls came in, not one of them more than seven years of age. No parent with them. One girl went up to the counter, stood on tippy-toe to order,  and paid with the money she had been clutching in her fist.

The food was ready, the girls ate and chattered and ate and ordered ice cream. Then left. Again, alone. Now, I didn’t see where they went after leaving the store – perhaps a parent was waiting in the parking lot, perhaps they live just down the street. It just struck me that I would never allow my NINE year old to hang out in a public place without a parent present – yet these girls were without parental supervision for a prolonged period of time. I worried for them – if anyone wanted to walk off with one of them, it would not have been difficult.

Am I over-reacting? Is it OK for a group of 7 year-olds to be alone in a pizza store? At what age would it be ok? Am I coddling my 9 year old by not allowing him this kind of independence?

Please weigh in.

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18 Comments

  1. lady lock and load says:

    I don’t think it’s a good idea. Who knows who could grab one of them and run off? Crazy world we live in.

  2. Mark says:

    They’re nuts and irresponsible. My 12 year old and her friends don’t hang out in public without supervision. That starts at perhaps 14 or 15, later in some places (and earlier in some as well – like in Israel).

  3. rachelli says:

    that really is very young for little ones to be by themselves with no supervision, especially with all the nuts walking around.. maybe the parents figured if they are a group , its not so bad. it would have been interesting if you would have asked them how they got there, and is someone waiting for them outside. to take them home. etc.

  4. Carol says:

    Is it possible that the parent/guardian of these kids was in a store nearby or “sitting in Starbucks” across the street, supervising from afar? Age 7 does seem a little young to be off by themselves. Or, is it posisble that the kids were related to the store owner or another consumer in the pizza shop?

  5. woodrow says:

    Age 7 seems a little young- but then again, with all the nutty, overprotective parents out there maybe there’s something to be said for erring in the other direction.

    If you infantilize your children the way many parents do, maybe you create a self-fulfilling prophecy: because they don’t get any responsibility they become the helpless infants parents treat them as.

  6. Z! says:

    I remember as a kid, my best friend had so much freedom! She was allowed to taken the city bus to school from age 8, and seemed to just be trusted. BH, she is well adjusted independant adult.

    I was allowed to go to the local park at age 8 with a neighbor. I know that times have changed, but a group of four seems reasonable. Perhaps a tad young, (I would be more comfortable with 9 year olds) but teaching independence is so important. So is safety in numbers.

  7. fille says:

    I think you are over-anxious.

    Where I am, the kosher café is the after-school baby-sitter. Now I agree that this is a bit unfair to the owner, but he just throws the children out if they don’t behave.

    In this case, it looks as if all this had been properly prepaired (food ordered in advance, exact sum given to the children), they just stayed for the amount of time necessary to eat, the were not alone, but in group. I do not really see where the problem is…

  8. a) from three days ago: http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/headlines/2012/02/caught-on-tape-girl-fights-off-wal-mart-kidnapper/
    this was with her mother and under supervision! (ok, the mom turned around for “a second” but still….the kid wasn’t alone….)
    b) the best place teaching kids how to defend themselves! (stranger = danger) http://www.elhalev.org/index.php?lang=en

  9. rebeccad says:

    You are totally right!! I don’t let my kids walk to b’nos in a pair until 12 yrs old and we live in suburbia! We have one block here and the parents let their 4 and 5 yrs old walk by themselves to the friends house. I have had to redirect kids back down the street because they ended up either on the street or at the wrong house. When I bring them home I always remind the parents these children are very little and that if anything happened to them “they” the parents could be arrested for endangering a minor. Or worse this child nearly ended up under the tires of a car—Dead. I am strong about this because this is not the old days where most people sent their 8/9 yrs old 2 miles down the road to market. This is a scary time where kids disappear into thin air!!

  10. Batya says:

    Every place and every kid different. I was lucky to grow up in a place in which I had a lot of freedom at a young age. My kids did, too, my grandchildren less.

  11. lady lock and load says:

    After the incident with Leiby Kletzky, no parent can be too careful.

  12. RubyV says:

    It depends on where you are and the kid.

    I live in a mid sized city, on a very quiet residential street, with little to no traffic. All the kids play outside alone in good weather, with parents watching from windows. When one kid gets an itch to play, they grab a jacket, go knock on their friend’s doors, and soon, everyone is playing, with a level of freedom similar to that I had in Brooklyn in Williamsburg in the 80′s, which was much more dangerous than where I live now. My child is very responsible, aged 8, and the kids range from 6 to 14. They all know how to cross the street safely, and come in before dark.

    I used to walk to the grocery store alone at her age, in a much more dangerous environment, just for perspective, and that was a block away.

    Realistically, your children are much more likely to be abducted by a family member than by a stranger. Stranger abductions are actually very rare.

    Now, if I had a child that couldn’t follow directions, etc, I wouldn’t allow her to play unsupervised. That pizza shop may be right down the street, or mom may be watching from her car. I wouldn’t be comfortable with my child alone in a restaurant right now, but if it were down the street, in a few months? And we knew the owners? It’s possible.

    I think we have a tendency to over coddle children today. Note, I don’t say we shouldn’t supervise, discipline, and parent, but we also have a trend nowadays where children are so overprotected that when they go to college, they can’t function without their parents. Ask anyone who teaches at a university. You have 20 year olds who call their mommies at the drop of a hat. Try baby steps – kids sit indoors while you have coffee outside, you send them to the grocery a block or two away with your cell phone in hand, etc. The world can be scary, but better to learn how to safely navigate.

    Food for thought: In many parts of the country, the NY area particularly, crime is at the lowest it has been in 40 years, but children have the least amount of freedom. Maybe we need to trust our children more. My child can die from touching a table due to severe food allergies. My choices are 1. keep her in a bubble, so she’s always safer, but doesn’t learn how to keep herself safe or 2. take some risk, and let her out of the bubble, but she’ll develp the skills she needs as she gets older to care for herself. I’ve opted for the latter.

  13. carolyn says:

    7 is a little young…but i definitely have let my 10 year old go to the local kosher pizza store with her friends without adult supervision during the day time….

  14. Jennifer says:

    Hmmm…. Seven years old still seems just a tad young to me. Still, maybe the parents know things about their children that I don’t? :) My own daughter is going to be 11 soon, and we are just getting to the point where she can have more “freedom” to do things with less supervision. My lovely girl has Aspergers though, so she doesn’t read situations well, and has a hard time identifying the right response to friendly conversation, let alone if someone were to approach her with ill intent. I can imagine that if she were better able to ‘read’ situations better, she would have been able to have more minimally supervised outtings at a much younger age. I’m not sure if I am a fan of leaving kids completely unsupervised though, and it has nothing to do with whether they can get home without being accosted. For many, many years, girls had chaperones for good reason. I don’t think that people have changed so very much that that wisdom should be completely disregarded. :)

  15. Brenda Mommy says:

    I’ll admit I haven’t read all these comments but I will add that recently my mother sent my almost 8 (in less than a month) yr-old to buy one specific item from the grocery store by himself while she waited in the car with a sleeping set of twin toddlers. She gave him the money and sent him on his way. Admittedly it is an upscale smallish market catering to a small wealthier local population. She was waiting out in the parking lot for him to finish his transaction (and/or come to the rescue if needed) and it would have been both hard on her to take the twins in for one item and just plain wrong to wake them. I think she made a smart choice. It gave my son a real sense of independence to make the transaction on his own. I was proud of both of them for the decisions they made, but I am not sure I would have done the same in her place. She is the Bubbe after all and has 30 years more experience raising kids than I do, and I think I came out pretty well after all.

  16. Nora says:

    7 seems a little young for this situation. I would’ve been allowed my own table with friends (and allowed to get our own check and pay like big kids) but my mom would definitely have been present in the restaurant.

    At 12-13 I’d have been allowed to go alone provided that I was both coming and going with a group of friends. We used to walk home from school on half days and stop for lunch at a local restaurant. We walked busy main roads and side streets both. If I had wanted to do it alone I’m not sure my Mom would’ve been ok with it, though. It was over a 2 mile walk from start to finish in an area with virtually no foot traffic.

    Our school used to do a regular, weekly, evening event at a local skating rink. You could start attending in 4th grade (so 9-ish) and go from 6-9. The big kids and older siblings generally looked out for the little kids and there were always teachers and parents around (usually comiserating over bad coffee) so even if it wasn’t my parent she knew enough of the other adults there that she knew I was safe. I also knew not to leave and not to change plans without calling her.

    I’m with RubyV, if your kid can and will follow directions and rules then a little more freedom is a good thing. I knew to call if plans changed, if I wanted to come home early, or if I ever felt uncomfortable in a situation. Those rules were in place all the way through high school and got me out of more than one bad party. Did a midnight phone call annoy the hell out of my mom occasionally? Absolutely. But I ALWAYS knew where to turn if I wanted or needed help. In exchange I was given more freedom than a lot of my friends who never had consistent rules and expectations.

  17. Serpil says:

    I was not allowed to go out with friends without my parents’ supervision until I was 16, which I think is the right age. The other day, someone tried to kidnap a little girl at walmart, and she was there with her parent! It’s not safe outside for adults, let alone kids of such a young age.

  18. Dave says:

    Certainly at 8 or 9, when I was growing up in a mid-sized city in America, we would go to shops, malls, pizza places, whatever, unsupervised.

    At 12-14, I would take the Subway in Manhattan alone without qualm (and it was certainly more dangerous then than it is now in New York).

    These days, I live in a small town, and would think nothing of seeing children that age out and about on their own.

    This perception that things have gotten more dangerous, and that we cannot let children do “what we did” as children is driven by the modern tabloid news cycle. Things aren’t more dangerous, you just are more likely to hear about the rare cases that do occur.

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