The new school year brings new milestones and freedoms for children... and more worries for parents.
TODAY and Parenting.com teamed up to survey parents on "When is it OK to?" questions -- the back-to-school edition.
From picking out their own clothes to doing homework without parental supervision, there are plenty of ways for kids to show their newfound maturity. But the question that got the most reaction from the 1,500+ respondents was "When do you let your child walk to school by him or herself?"
Most parents, 61 percent, picked the oldest age from the multiple-choice answers: 12. Age 10 was the answer for 28 percent; and 11 percent say age 11. But many moms wrote in to say their real answer is "NEVER!"
"I live in the town that I grew up in and I used to walk to school, but nowadays I would never let my children walk," Tricia Bogert Kerr wrote on the TODAY Moms Facebook page. "I drive them and will continue to do so." Beth Knight said she feels the same way. "My 10-year-old thinks it's ridiculous that I won't let him walk to school by himself, but my theory is that even adults get abducted!" she wrote. "Last year our school district sent out a notice that kids from the middle school were getting asked to get into stranger's cars! I can't see ever letting my son walk unaccompanied by me or another trusted adult!"
Even thought violent crime has been steadily decreasing over recent years, according to U.S. Department of Justice statistics, one scary story can be a whole lot more powerful than all the stats.
For Michelle Burgess, it was the story of Lieby Kletzky, the 8-year-old Brooklyn boy who was abducted on his walk home from day camp this summer and killed. His parents were waiting for him just seven city blocks away -- it was the first time they'd ever let him walk home alone.
"I would say about 9 or 10," Burgess replied to the walking-home-alone question, "then heard about that poor little boy in NYC and now I would say never. Not in today's world."
Other questions about maturity milestones got more mixed results on the survey. Some highlights of the TODAY/Parenting.com poll (percentages may not add up to 100 as not every respondent answered every question):
- When the question is letting kids pick out their own clothes for school, the only crimes you usually have to worry about are crimes against fashion. But go ahead, wear that purple plaid shirt with the orange-polka dot shorts and red cowboy boots: 9 percent said they let kids dress themselves at age 3; 38 percent said age 7; and the largest number, 43 percent, said age 5 is the magic number for fashion freedom.
- When is my kid ready to have a computer in his room? Kids may need computers for their schoolwork these days, but that doesn't mean parents want them using one alone. 16 percent said age 12 was OK to have a computer in their room; 19 percent said age 14; and 59 percent said wait until they're 16.
- Homework help. 44 percent of parents say they trust a 13-year-old to get homework done on his or her own. 32 percent say age 11, and 21 percent say age 9.
- Is a cell phone at school a necessity or a distraction? Only one in 10 parents say their 9-year-old is ready to bring a cell phone to school. One in 5 say age 11 is old enough to bring a cell phone to school, while most parents -- 59 percent -- say they'd wait until age 13.
- Home alone? Nearly half (44 percent) of parents say 12 is old enough to come home to an empty house after school. 16 percent say their 10-year-old is mature enough for that, while 38 percent say they'd wait until their child is 14 to let them come home to an empty house.
- Talking with friends: 39 percent of parents say 13-year-old kids should be allowed to talk with friends on the phone at night; 33 percent say age 11 and 26 percent say age 9. But they'd wait longer to allow unfettered instant-message access, with 40 percent agreeing that age 15 is mature enough to IM with friends.
- Loosening the leash: While only a quarter of parents say 10-year-olds should be allowed to walk to school by themselves, two-thirds are willing to let them brave the bus stop alone at that age.
Many parents pointed out that there's rarely a one-size-fits-all answer. Some 9-year-olds are more mature than some 12-year-olds (just like some 27-year-olds are more mature than some 45-year-olds) -- just depends on the person.
Jennifer Morrison was replying to the walking-home-alone question, but her answer could apply to any of these decisions: "I think it totally depends on where you live, neighborhood, how far from the school, maturity level of the child and if they are walking alone or with a group of kids - I love my kids and don't want anything to happen to them anymore than anyone else - but I can't wrap them in bubble wrap and go everywhere with them their whole life - they will never learn independence that way and I sure don't want them still living at home at 25-30 or older! Sometimes ya gotta cut the strings!"
What do you think of the survey results -- are they in line with what you do, or are you surprised by the answers?