by Cheryl Critchley

How much independence should you give your son?

Mother holding hand of little son with backpack outdoors, back to school

As I write this post, my 13-year-old son is on a weekend bike ride with a mate to the local shops.

They’ll move between each other’s houses and maybe hang out in a nearby park before heading home sometime in the afternoon.

With the holidays approaching, I know Ben will want to go out alone, or with friends, even more often. It’s a good time for us parents to get prepared and think about how we’ll handle requests for more independence over the summer break.

The ‘what ifs’ can be scary, but boys need age-appropriate independence in order to develop important life skills. Allowing your son to explore the world – through walking to school, riding to a friend’s house or catching public transport – is a must if you want him to become a resilient, confident and responsible adult.

Giving boys the freedom to explore independently – and make mistakes – is one of the biggest gifts parents can give them.

When Ben started venturing out alone in late primary school, my husband and I:

  • ensured he knew about road safety
  • made sure he knew the route he needed to take – and did a few practice runs with him
  • discussed what could go wrong and who to call (e.g. 000 in emergency)
  • talked to him about ‘stranger danger’
  • gave him a mobile phone
  • ensured he told us where he was going and for how long.

Of course, all of this depends upon where you live, how busy your roads are, local crime rates and each boy’s personality.

I’d love to give you a definitive ‘what your son can do and when he can do it’, but basically it’s all down to parents’ personal choice and the unique boy. If you think he is mature enough to navigate your local streets with friends, then he probably is.

The experts agree: resilience expert Dr Helen McGrath, a Professor at RMIT and Deakin University, says it is difficult to pinpoint how much independence to give boys, and when, as some mature faster than others. But she says parents should encourage independence from a young age – and prepare them for it.

“The crucial aspect of giving any boy independence in a specific area is making sure that they fully understand how to stay safe when they are acting independently,” says Dr McGrath.

Tips for encouraging independence in boys of all ages

From a young age:

  • Let boys carry their own bags into daycare and kinder classrooms.
  • Talk to them about how they might deal with situations or problems, but try not to give them the solutions.
  • Give them responsibilities at home, such as helping set the table or feeding pets.

Primary school:

  • Don’t do anything for them that they can do themselves – such as packing their own lunch or tying their shoelaces.
  • Discuss peer pressure with them and encourage them to think for themselves.
  • Share stories about how you solved problems in your youth – it’s great for dads to get involved with this.

High school:

  • Set boundaries (e.g. a set time to be home) but avoid overly rigid rules and expectations – negotiate and compromise within reason.
  • Remind him of the connection between independence and responsibility.
  • Focus on the importance of them keeping themselves safe and respecting others.
  • Discuss the ‘what ifs’, particularly in unfamiliar situations, and talk about what he’d do if something went wrong (e.g. if he missed the last train or a friend got hurt).
  • Ensure they communicate with you while out and advise of any changed plans.

Source: Resilience expert and RMIT and Deakin University Adjunct Professor Helen McGrath www.bounceback.com.au

Brought to you by Brighton Grammar School

Cheryl Critchley is an Australian freelance journalist and mother of three. This article is about

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