In the past, I have investigated legal,allowable ages for some acts of child independence. In short, they vary, and cultural norms or societal beliefs come strongly into play when laws are made. Let me help illustrate this point by using an examples that is both extreme and a non-parenting issue: women walking around in public topless. In many African societies, this is the norm. Until recently – in this country, that same behaviour was considered “indecent exposure” and illegal. Our society dictates some laws of behaviour of its citizens based on cultural norms.
Many cultures also give independence and responsibility to children at younger ages. A ten year old carrying water and walking for hours may not look odd in Kenya, but a 10 year old walking alone or with a younger sibling may appear different than the norm in many places across North America. So much so, that in the recent news story from Maryland, police were called to investigate if these children were being abandoned, neglected or running away from home.
Clearly the parents knew they were making choices for their child(ren) outside the norm of their culture because they had taken proactive steps in creating cards for their children to carry. The cards stated the children were not lost, but rather “free range children” and were travelling independently with the blessings of their parents.
I carried a letter from my parents when I was 14 and travelling alone to a youth conference in Maine. My parents didn’t want US immigration thinking I was a teen runaway. In the current news story, on the day the children were stopped by authorities they did not have their parent’s note. The police decided it was best to investigate and ensure the children’s well being. In many laws we err on the side of protecting individual freedoms, but this is not always the case when dealing with children and minors. When we say “It takes a village to raise a child”, there is a joint responsibility to keep an eye on all. If we have to make an error, we feel it is better to err on the side of caution and bother a few innocent people, invade their privacy and personal rights over letting a case of neglect or abuse go unchallenged or undetected.
So, the fact is – we are living in a very restrictive culture with respect to our children. Those conditions do need to change, and change quickly, PLEASE! However, while social change is underfoot (and I am doing my part to push it in that very direction with my work), we have to understand that if a bystander or police questions “Where is your mother? Does your mother know you are here?” we simply have to have our children say “Thanks for caring and asking – but I am ok” and hope that they are carrying their note, or grin through a little visit – knowing that you’re living in a caring society that may be a tad smothering at times; but it’s better than not caring about our kids at all. I am sure this case got closed as quickly as it got opened.