Is Your Child Old Enough for That?

By Dorothy Foltz-Gray

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boy walking to school
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Hot button: Walking to school solo

Annie Perkins, a public relations account manager in Andover, Massachusetts, didn't want her 11-year-old son, James, to walk a mile from school to a new youth center. "I was concerned about older kids on the street who I didn't know. And parts of the street have no sidewalks," she says. But her husband, Bill, reasoned that James was confident, smart, and a seasoned overnight camper complete with cell phone.

Solutions: Work it out together -- and have a backup plan
"My husband talked me off the ledge," says Perkins, who has another son and four daughters. "He says that boys are different from girls. I helped him let the girls go, so I have to trust his judgment with our son."

But she also has to feel comfortable, says Wendy Grolnick, Ph.D., professor of psychology at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, and author of Pressured Parents, Stressed-Out Kids. And to get to the comfort zone typically takes two things. First, sit down and hammer out together what is appropriate. And second, Grolnick says, "Put in place backstops and rules: 'You have to go straight there. You have to call every time you change places.' You have to communicate [to your children] what you're comfortable with."

Perkins made it clear to her husband and son that if she arrived at the center and her son wasn't there, that would be a deal breaker: "I wouldn't let him walk alone again. He would have to prove [again] that he was true to his word."


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