When I think of the most free I ever felt, it was traveling solo through Malawi on the back of a sugar truck with about 40 others, mostly gorgeous, singing Africans; heading towards the Tanzanian border. The truck was open air, I was warm in a sleeping bag and I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face, drifting in and out of sleep throughout the night - a mixture of pride in my achievement and excitement, after my 10 hour wait at the bus station for a bus which never came.
The thrill of independence is comparable across the lifespan. Think of your first unsupervised party as an adolescent, your first train trip to the city in the absence of a parent or maybe you can recall your first trip on the school bus. For me, this involved the same amount of clinging and screaming as my first day of school. It seems independence becomes more appealing with age and early adolescents (9 to 12-year-olds) are most likely to start pushing parents beyond their comfort zone. A comfort zone often impacted by reports of violent crime against young people in the media.
The recent sexual assault of four girls in a stairwell at Haberfield Public School by an unknown man, and the unrelated robbery of a 12-year-old girl at gunpoint by a man in Minto, set off the collective anxiety of the parent community once again. How can we give our children freedom when this requires overriding our primal instincts as parents? I hear many stories from parents at the Quirky Kid Clinic, keen to encourage independence among their fearful children. I work with children who are scared to talk to shopkeepers and the concept of catching a bus seems like a world away. Yet, by establishing a community where you and your children feel safe, there will be an increase in confidence and a greater sense of security all round.
The first step for parents is to establish your own sense of safety in your community. Branch out and get to know your neighbours. Let your children deliver occasional baked goods or excess yields from your herb garden - wait and watch from a good vantage point in order to wave to your neighbour when their front door opens and the gift is received.
For some, the process of establishing a safe foundation may start within the local soccer club or the netball community. The only criteria for establishing a safe community for your children, is to be part of that community. It needs to be a place where you know most people and where a walk to the canteen is par for the course.
Making a plan towards greater independence is also highly recommended. It may only take a shift in peer group to trigger a host of new requests based on what “everyone else is doing”. Talk to your child about what you’re comfortable with, in terms of their independence. Map out a plan going forward by listening to your child’s requests and give yourselves time, as parents, to consider their ideas. You may be opposed to your adolescent walking around a shopping centre with friends, however, a smaller market may be within reason. Negotiating is key in the quest for freedom and it shouldn’t be refused in my opinion. If you’re being pressured, put a timeframe on the discussion and make notes to ensure your child feels heard.
Thankfully, violent crime is on the decrease according to The Australian Institute of Criminology (2011) statistics, while the increase in social media has triggered more stay-at-home social events than ever before. Yet, we all benefit from a window of freedom; a chance to stretch our wings and prove ourselves ... to ourselves.
For more ideas to inspire freedom, good judgement and independence among young people consider:
1. Sailing with The Young Endeavour Youth Scheme at www.youngendeavour.gov.au
2. Read about “Young Australians of the Year” at www.australianoftheyear.org.au
3. Talk about inspirational young role models, like Jessica Watson (16), Jesse Martin (17) or Jordan Romero (13), the first teenager to climb Mt Everest.
4. For discussing the greatest, biggest, and scariest moments, try the Tell me a story cards