'At What Age Should My Kid Be Allowed To…' A Common-Sense Guide for Parents

Every parent wonders what the “normal” age is for their children to engage in certain milestones, like staying home alone or going to the mall with friends. You don’t want to be too restrictive, but you also worry about your children getting hurt or being placed in situations they aren’t ready for. There are many opinions on when it’s normal for kids to have different experiences, and they are based on things such as your culture, neighborhood and the child’s peer group. However, there are certain guidelines that make it easier to figure out when to let your child engage in new activities.

Get a Phone

Some kindergartners have phones nowadays, but this seems a bit wasteful and extreme to the majority of parents. It is good practice to get your child their first phone when they will be engaging in more independent activities. You can read here what each state’s laws are for when a child is allowed to stay at home alone. Whenever you decide your child is ready to stay at home unsupervised, you may also consider getting them a phone, with the rule that only a few numbers can be called, like you, Grandma and a best friend. As your child ages, you can increase your child’s latitude with ther phone to include other friends and texting — with the knowledge that you reserve the right to check the text messages.

Use Social Media

Twenty-five percent of teens are online “almost constantly” and almost three-quarters are on multiple social media networks, according to Pew Research Center. Many parents supervise their children’s social media accounts, but it will be better for your relationship with your child if it is done openly and, as this post from Harvard Medical School recommends, not via spying. As your child gets older, allow them more privacy. While a 12-year-old may benefit from a parent keeping tabs on his social media use and ensuring that he isn’t engaging in anything dangerous, a 17-year-old will feel invaded if a parent views his private messages. Certainly, don’t view anything like private messages between your older adolescent and a best friend or significant other, as it is completely developmentally appropriate for your child to maintain these boundaries.

Spend Time Without Parents

Most adults look back fondly on times that they spent with friends, without parental supervision. Sleepovers, hanging out at the park and going to the mall with friends are all wonderful experiences for your developing older child and pre-teen. When your child is about 11, it is time to start considering allowing them to spend time with friends at a mall or park without your constant supervision. Start with an hour at a time, and make sure that you have a plan for how your child can contact you if necessary.

Travel Without Parents

Traveling with an athletic team, Boy Scout troop, church group or other group of peers can be another exciting and life-changing experience for your child. Sleepaway camp can be a great experience that leads to lifelong friendships and the acquisition of independence and new skills. As long as your child is excited about these adventures and they are appropriately supervised, allow your child to participate in them.

Be Flexible and Open

No matter what your child’s age, if she’s still living in your home and under 18, she could benefit from a combination of independence and parental input. Some kids may be more independent than others, and this is a trait that you’ve likely noticed since your children were small. However, the most effective parenting style has been found to be authoritative, which is a balance of warmth, flexibility and rules. Both authoritarian (strict, no flexibility) and permissive (no rules) parenting have been found to be associated with a range of negative outcomes.

When setting limits with your child, be flexible and reasonable. Don’t stick to exact ages as much as consider what your child’s own skills are, what your child’s peers are doing, and what modifications you could make to allow your child to engage in a valued activity. Be flexible, and your child will flourish and appreciate your confidence.