American Parents Are Chicken
What we consider "normal" parenting here in America is pretty much considered wackadoo in most of the rest of the world, especially when it comes to what we consider dangerous.
In Japan, for instance, the kids walk to school -- or take those trains you always see people squished into -- starting around age 5. By themselves. No one screams at the parents for "endangering" their kids, and no one screams at the schools when sometimes, spontaneously, they let the kids out early. The tykes are just expected to walk home as usual and if the house is empty, it's empty. They'll be alone for a little while.
Likewise, a Russian translator I know here in the United States lets her kindergartner come home to an empty house, too. She has trained the kid not to set fires or eat paste. She considers this raising her kid responsibly. Moms here consider it child abuse.
It all depends on how competent we think our kids are, and frankly, we Americans treat our kids like dolts. Consider this: An American family with four children moved to Sweden a few years back and their 13-year-old's class went on a field trip to the capitol, Stockholm. This was about a 2-hour ride from their town, and after a morning of sightseeing with a guide, the students were told, "Okay, now it's time for you to explore. Meet back here at 3." Off they went, on their own.
A few years later, the family had moved back to a swank Chicago suburb and this time, another daughter was now 13 and her class went on a field trip, too -- to the park about a mile down the street from her home.
Well the girl got a nosebleed and it stained her shirt. She wanted to go home and change. The teacher said absolutely not, unless her mother came and escorted her home. Turns out, the mom was out of town, but she was reachable by cell and she said to the teacher, "Don't worry. My daughter has a key, she can just change and be back before you even leave the park."
In the end, the mom had to scare up a neighbor to chaperone her daughter both ways.
This past week I was in Australia, giving a Free-Range Kids lecture at the Sydney Opera House (la di dah!). When the local radio shows got hold of me and opened their phone lines, most everyone was calling to say, "Of course our kids can ride their bikes around town!" "My son goes surfing after school!" And, "Good on you!" which is good for you, Down Under. Here in the States, half the callers say, "She should have her children taken away!"
America may be the home of the brave. But not when it comes to parents.
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