Yesterday, the New York Times posted an article called “Parents Test the Boundaries of Neglect.” The two anecdotes in the articles are extreme ones– one parent ditched her children at an intersection with a stack of diapers and a note, the other had multiple outstanding warrants and left her son in a hotel room so she could go gamble.
I struggle with defining the proper boundaries for monitoring my child. I follow my comfort level, which usually results in me hovering over my kid 24-7. For example, when we went to the library yesterday, there were plenty of parents sitting back and keeping an eyeball out to make sure their kid didn’t get hurt or disappear. I seemed to be the only one who was actively following my kid 3 steps behind everywhere she went. This is not a judgment on the other parents at all– all the kids at the library were playing nicely, reading, and behaving well. And with the exception of Baby Beez making a dash for the door a couple times, she was behaving perfectly appropriately as well. Admittedly, I follow her like a hawk, because I get so wound up and worried that if I don’t other people and parents will label me inattentive or irresponsible.
There are no hard and fast rules on how close a parent needs to monitor his/her children. These rules are largely culturally driven. When I visited Denmark and Germany, those countries seemed to be a free-range free for all…even though I was maybe 20 years old at the time, I was actually nervous about the amount of freedom parents gave young children (probably 5+ years and up) to run around unsupervised. Not infrequently, I also stumbled across an unattended stroller parked right outside the gate surrounding a restaurant patio, with a baby sleeping contentedly inside. I wanted to assume the parents were dining within eyeshot, but there was no way to tell, and even if that were so, it made me nervous to see an infant in a stroller all alone. In those situations, I was the outsider. This was not taboo parental behavior for Germany or Denmark. The cultures in those countries approved of giving young children significant freedom, and accordingly the children learned the appropriate level of responsibility.
I want my child to be responsible and perceptive, but I’m afraid to let her off a short tether. American society also frowns on giving children unsupervised/independent time (pick your term based on the side of the debate you’re on).
Where do you draw your boundaries of supervision? What principles do you use to make those decisions?