With the happy news that 8 year old school boy Connor Beck has been found safe after going missing on his way to school, you can practically hear a collective sigh of relief from parents across the land.
|When is the right age to let your child walk to school on their own?|
Connor, for reasons yet unexplained spent his day yesterday hiding in a bush next to the school where he was found around 5 pm. His disappearance had sparked a full scale police search.
But I’ll bet his parents are today reviewing their decision to let him walk to school on his own.
This raises the obvious question – at what age is it safe to let your child walk to school alone?
Caitlin is 8 and Ieuan is 7 in June and although their school is a brief 10-15 minute walk away, there is no way I would let either of them go unaccompanied.
And, frankly, after the recent horror stories of April Jones and Milly Dowler, I think it may be a very long time indeed before I feel confident enough to let them go.
For a start, there is the danger from main road traffic, although there is a wonderful lollipop man (are we still allowed to call them that?) who is on patrol close to Caitlin’s school.
Although Caitlin and Ieuan are in the same school, they are on different campuses with a 5 minute walk between them. The daily start and finish times are staggered to allow time for parents and children to walk between the two sites.
Already some parents are letting their Year 3 children (who finish earlier) walk the 5 minute walk between the two sites to meet their parents and siblings, relying on the nous of the child and the supervision of the lollipop man.
There is no denying that, for the working parent, the school run is a hellish dash. Parking around both school sites is restricted, although you get the usual crew who seem oblivious to the meaning of a double yellow line (the bigger the vehicle, the more colour blind they seem to be, I find).
You also get those who happily do a three point turn in the face of on-coming traffic, forcing everyone to slow down or take evasive action.
Even if it’s pouring with rain, there is little point taking a car because parking is incredibly difficult.
Despite the fact that we are lucky enough to have a lollipop man, there have been at least 2 road traffic accidents involving injury to kids in the past year.
So whilst I understand the pressure, personally, I won’t take the risk.
And then there is the risk of violent crime. Now I know that statistically the likelihood of abduction or worse occurring is slim. But how could you live with yourself if something did happen? Even knowing it wasn’t my fault, I would forever wish I had been there to protect my kids.
But we have to be pragmatic. We are going to have to let them go at some point, aren’t we? We cannot keep them under house arrest in the event that something terrible may happen.
Already, kids spend too much time inside on iPads because many parents are too terrified to let them play outside unsupervised.
When I was my daughter’s age, my sister and I spent most of our time cycling up and down the cul-de-sac we lived in. The Husband used to play in a nearby quarry with his mates.
So what can we do?
– Teach your kids about “Stranger Danger”
– Consider enrolling your kids in a self-defence class like Tae Kwon-Do
– Buddy up with a fellow parent and keep a look out for each other’s kids in the event that you’re late picking them up
– Talk to the school about ways to get personal safety on the agenda
– Talk to the Council if street lighting is poor or inadquate
– Talk to the school bus companies to check that drop off points are as safe as possible.
I am sure that there are many other things that could be done to improve safety for those kids who do walk on their own to school.
Whilst I am against giving young kids mobile phones due to the possible damage to their developing brains from handset radiation, this is one situation where a cheap pay-as-you-go handset may well be worth the risk.
I walked to school on my own when I was about 10 or 11 and that is quite early enough in my book. You may well feel differently or simply be unable to do the school run and get to work on time.
Employers need to step up to the plate here and examine how family-friendly they are. I find that many firms will happily claim to be “family friendly” but it’s a different matter if you have to be late a couple of mornings or have to leave because your child is sick.
Let’s be honest. There is absolutely no reason why many job roles need to be carried out between 9 am and 5 pm. If you are in a sales role, then that is different but many administrative functions can be carried out on a more flexible schedule.
It might be worth talking to your Human Resources Department to see if there is anything that could be done to improve the flexibility of your working hours.
When to let your children walk to school on their own is a very personal (and tricky!) decision but if we talk to the schools, the council and the police (e.g. a local community police officer), much can be done to make things a little safer.
As parents, we should also be working together to look out for one another’s children.
And we shouldn’t be afraid to speak up and report anything we see that is even vaguely suspicious.
I bet little Connor Beck’s parents are hugging him even tighter today.