In parenting, there is so much information, but so little consensus. Still, whether you helicopter or free range, install blackout shades or blow through naps, serve vegan grain bowls or Coco Krispies, it’s the rare parent who doesn’t adhere to at least some of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ guidelines (and by “adhere,” we mean have a passing awareness of them so we know when to feel extra guilty).
And now, in addition to advising us on when we should introduce solids and how many hours of sleep kids need, we’ve learned the AAP has thoughts on how old our kids should be before they try out some independence, like walking to school on their own or even crossing the street solo.
Their conclusion? Age ten at the earliest.
This information comes via a fascinating Wall Street Journal article called “The Overprotected American Child.” The gist, per author Andrea Petersen: “Overzealous parenting can do real harm. Psychologists and educators see it as one factor fueling a surge in the number of children and young adults being diagnosed with anxiety disorders.” The real heartbreaker? “For children who are already anxious, overprotecting them can make it worse. ‘It reinforces to the child that there is something they should be scared of and the world is a dangerous place and I can’t do that for myself,’ says Rebecca Rialon Berry, a clinical psychologist at the NYU Langone Child Study Center.” The antidote, say the experts? More autonomy.
And, to that end, it turns out crossing the street without an adult’s help is a major milestone marker. Still, when it comes to the maturity, danger awareness and traffic savvy it takes to navigate a crosswalk, researchers caution that even some ten-year-olds may not be up to the task.
“Research has found that young children walking to school often don’t look for traffic or stop at the curb before stepping into the street,” writes Petersen. She cites the AAP’s policy statement that parents “are likely to overestimate their children’s ability to safely cross the street.”
Bottom line? You know your kid best. After studying a range of age groups, the AAP concluded: “Development of pedestrian skills was highly variable such that a few of the 5-year-olds did better than some 11-year-olds on the overall pedestrian skills score.” So guidelines aside, it’s still a parent’s job to figure out where on the capability continuum their child sits (or rather, walks).