When Do I Allow My Child To...

Navigating independence while still maintaining safety.


One of the biggest dilemmas that face parents in New City is “At what age can I allow my child to cross the street, ride his bike to school, go to the movies alone, wander around town and possibly the biggest one: walk around the Palisades Mall alone.”

When I was growing up here in the late 70’s and early 80’s, we rode our bikes and walked everywhere without our parents.  I remember being dropped at the old New City Library (now a plastic surgery office across from Burger King) when I was in elementary school and then walking to the Clarkstown Mall to get pizza. In Junior High, we thought nothing of walking from a friend’s house off Laurel Road into town and back.

Today’s children are not always given the same freedom. Thankfully, we live in a relatively safe town. Although there have been incidents over the years of children being approached by strangers in cars, that’s not a common occurrence. The debate in how much freedom to give our children combines evaluating their competence with the possibility of danger that you can’t control.

Cyndi Cuddy’s thoughts reflected much of what I heard from people I had surveyed, “I first let the boys go to town around twelve, but it was to a designated location such as the movies. They were about 14 when I let them walk in on their own with a group of friends.” As Randi DeMinno described it, it’s a “middle school rite of passage.”

Jodi Landman-Bauer, whose children are out of high school, thought that “starting in New City town is a good place for them to stretch their wings.” The lack of sidewalks consistently through town was a lament from Margaret Gillespie, who might have allowed her kids to walk into town more if we had better sidewalks. Patch Moms Council member, Sheila, also expressed hope that the improvements in downtown New City would make it more pedestrian-friendly.

We allowed our children to ride their bicycles to school in elementary school. I admit that I then followed them to make sure their bikes were on the bike rack and they had made it to school, but they loved their perceived freedom. I remember one summer day that my son, Josh, and his friends took off on their bikes and went from house to house and into town and back.

To Josh, it was probably the best day of the summer.  There was one wipeout with a scraped knee, but the boys figured out to get to one of the mothers and have it bandaged.

Debi Margolies said that not only did she let her sons cross Little Tor Road at 12 years old to get to Hebrew School, but “many were absolutely SHOCKED I would have him cross by himself!! Then when I ALLOWED him to ride his bike a whole mile to his friends house, I got gasps! One of those rides ended with an ambulance trip to Nyack hospital and still we survived. If we have become so overprotective that a boy cannot cross a street alone at 12 then what happens at 16 when they want to drive?”

I have heard the criticism that today’s children don’t have the experience of walking to school or elsewhere by themselves and thus they are never in situations where they may need to problem solve themselves through a difficult circumstance (like a scraped knee or even a stranger approaching). It’s a tough quandary. We don’t really want them to face dangerous tribulations, but we know that at some point they need some independence and to be able to think themselves through something.

As Sheila said, “My daughter is in 7th grade now (12 yrs.) and some of the kids in her grade are roaming around town trying to figure out the tip in restaurants with great difficulty. I remember growing up in Brooklyn and being sent to the stores for my mother and walking to school (four blocks) by myself (or with friends) when I was younger than she is. I took the NYC bus and trains when I was 13 years old with other girls my age to high school. Kids are so sheltered now.”

The mall, with its constant influx of people and lots of dark corners for potential trouble, seemed to give the parents I spoke with more pause than allowing their children to walk around New City. Michele Ross-Heim initially allowed her kids to be at the mall as long as she was somewhere in the building. With my daughter, it took me a long time before I felt it was okay for her to be there alone.

And then, as Barbara Algranati said about her son, “Only during the day and with the understanding that he needed to stay in touch with me.” Tracy Urvater said that her rules are, “If I don't hear from them every 2 hours just to tell me they are alive, I come and pick them up at that very moment.”

Regardless of the pressure your kids put on you or the pressure they feel from their friends, it’s important to wait until you are comfortable. The good news is that cell phones make it easier to keep tabs on our wandering children. And letting go a little and giving them some freedom is probably good for us, too.


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