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Independence Day: Granting Freedom to Kids

Letting go is something all parents try to prepare for—letting go when your child goes off to college, gets married, or joins the Army. About the only way you can prepare for those big "Letting Go" events is to practice on the small ones.

And those small ones, unfortunately, are often the hardest. Parenting books can offer advice, but you know your own children and you're the one who has to make the judgment call on questions like:

  • When is your little girl old enough to ride her bike in the street?

  • When is your son at the right age to stay overnight at a friend's house?

  • Or (and here's a toughie) when is it OK to send the kids off to a rock concert?

What do the experts say? They say, "Good question!"

Learning judgment

By struggling to know the answers to these questions, parents begin to learn the fine art of judgment, the main subject in the school of Letting Go.

A parenting book can give you a guideline about how old your children should be before they can cross the street by themselves. But your decision will be based on your own situation: how busy the street is, how independent your child is, and how well he or she follows safety rules.

What to do?

How can you provide children with a sense of independence while simultaneously staying close enough to ensure their safety?

This should occur in stages. Children should demonstrate that they are responsible before they have a privilege. If your child wants to walk down the block to a friend's house, for example, over a certain period of time, you can walk them to the house, walk them halfway to the house, and finally watch them walk to the house alone. This "strategy"  helps you decide if they can make the judgments needed to be safe. In addition, it's comforting to your children to know you are supervising them from a distance.

As your children get older, some of the same parental wisdom you used when they were toddlers and school-age children will still apply when they're teenagers. For example, when teenagers receive their driver's license, they need limits, such as driving only during the day.

Talk to your pediatrician if you're unsure about how to "let go" of your child. He or she can offer guidance. But overall, trust your judgment.