Is this the magic age children gain independence?

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock 

When your kids are little, and every waking moment (and many sleeping ones) is a hands-on parenting experience, it can seem like a pipe dream that some day your children will be grown and not need you so much any more. One day they'll be independent thinkers, who can travel by themselves, make their own dinner, and not feel the need to watch you while you shower.

If you're wondering how long you have to wait for that miraculous day, a new poll suggests it's at the age of 13 that children typically start to be given more freedom and responsibility by their parents.

The O2 Family survey found that, on average, children were allowed to walk to school alone, get a mobile phone, sit in the front seat of a car and play a 12-rated game such as Fortnite by the time they turn 11. At 12 they could listen to explicit song lyrics, stay up after 10pm and go to the shop alone.

But it's 13 when the real freedoms kick in. This includes having full access to social media, watching reality TV such as the Bachelor and Love Island, having full access to TV streaming services, staying home alone, having a girlfriend or boyfriend, using the family credit card, having their own house key, watching 15+ rated movies, accessing the internet without parental controls, and wearing high heels and makeup.

Renee Duffy, a mum of two teenagers from Melbourne, said she'd love to give her children all of those responsibilities but they're not quite ready for all of them.

"I got my 15-year-old a house key and he lost it the day he got it," she laughs. "But I do let them watch whatever movies or TV they like, and they're allowed to stay home alone. It's wonderful to be able to go out for a few hours and not have to worry about finding a babysitter any more. I still hardly know what to do with myself!"

Sylvie Christof, a Brisbane mum to a 13-year-old girl, says she still ensures she has some control over her daughter's activities, but they're both learning to relax the boundaries a little bit.

"My daughter isn't allowed internet access after dinner," she says. "She has to give me her phone and ipad and I keep them until the morning. But I do send her to the shops if we need milk or something little and that's a great help. I don't know when I'll be ready for the girlfriend or boyfriend issue but it's certainly not yet!"

Nina Bibby of O2 said, "As a parent myself I know that managing a family life in today's ever-changing digital world can be complicated. It's often difficult to agree on what we think is best for our children, and every family is unique, which is why we want to help to encourage parents to embrace these conversations and know they are not alone in facing these challenges."

Advertisement

Ariella Lew, a paediatric nurse and director of Kids On Track Consultancy, says it can be tricky for parents to know when to loosen the reins.

"There are a couple of things that should be considered here," she says. "The first is if the child shows an interest in what is being asked of them and for the right reasons. For example, are they asking for a phone and understanding that being given a phone is not just because everyone else has one but rather because as a parent, you feel it is needed from a safety perspective or that you have explained that having a phone is a privilege and that there are guidelines that come with that

"The second thing is that the responsibility should be started gradually to try and identify if your child is ready for it. For example, travelling alone: a discussion around the safety concerns should be had with your child before they do it alone for the first time."

If you don't think your child is ready for all that responsibility, Ms Lew says not to be concerned and to focus on the positives.

"As with anything in life, different people have different skills and some children will do better in certain areas of responsibility than others," she says. "Some are more practical and so can be given a credit card without blowing the budget whereas that same child may struggle to entertain their younger sibling if left alone with them for the afternoon."

It's also helpful to start slowly and build up responsibility and freedom, says Ms Lew.

"When we do anything for the first time, it is unlikely we will do it perfectly," she says. "It can be helpful if, rather than focusing on what they did which demonstrated they weren't ready, you break down the responsibility into manageable chunks and discuss the aspects they are struggling with."

And if you're a parent struggling to let your baby go, after 13 years of close-up parenting, Ms Lew suggests an incremental approach.

"This is something that should be done step by step, not just in the interests of the parents but the child as well," she says. "As with little children who first go to school, however ready they are, the idea is daunting and there is often an adjustment period. That doesn't mean they don't start school!

"I would encourage parents to slowly allow their children to become more responsible around the house with certain chores; for example, making their bed in the morning, and with these things allow your child to make it or not depending on their mood.

"These chores have no safety implications and they allow your child to understand you are taking a step back whilst they still feel protected."

Ms Lew says it's important for parents to maintain a level of control when their children start taking on areas they're not so comfortable with, such as finances and dating.

"Whilst 13-year-olds are very grown up in many ways and need their autonomy, they are by no means adults and still need guidance and involvement from their parents."

By encouraging young teenagers to take on these freedoms and responsibilities, Ms Lew says they will learn that they are valued and trusted, which often makes them more willing to give more and take more responsibility on.

"It also allows them to understand themselves and their strengths and weaknesses a little more as they see which chores, freedoms and responsibilities challenge them and their ideas in ways they may not expect," she says.

As your child takes on more responsibility, they will realise you are treating them as an equal or partner, says Ms Lew.

"You are sending your child a message that you value who they are, what they want and what they have to say," she says. "When your child receives this message they understand that you are trusting them and they in turn will trust you. This trust can then be used as a springboard to the next phase of the parent-child relationship."