The age of our first child, aged two years and nine months, is the Netflix new series. It’s not too late! A young man can walk half the distance along a highway to cross a large street and find a grocery store. Simple. He lives and works in Japan.
Parents in that country proudly allow their children to walk to school, and they even let them ride the subway alone by the first grade. It’s not too late! pushes the age down further for dramatic effect, but that’s what makes it so cute—and so crucial for Americans to see.
This is not about me. However, 14 years ago, I published a column entitled, Why my 9-year-old daughter rode the Subway by herself. I was slammed. In America, it’s a scandal—and sometimes even a crime—to let your kids do anything alone before they hit double digits. Japan is different.
Hiroki is the boy who was in the first. It’s not too late! episode. He is responsible for sourcing fishcakes and curry as well as flowers to decorate his grandmother’s altar.
He seems a bit daunted at first. He eventually finds his way to the supermarket, locates the fishcakes and asks the clerk for help finding the flowers. (Can your child—perhaps in college—do that?)
Outside, he recalls “I forgot about the curry!” He returns to the shop and buys it.
He then heads back home with a crew of cameramen who are adept at concealing in the bushes.
This contrasts with American current norms. Growing up, many children would walk to school. Today? About 10 percent. An American Academy of Pediatrics white paper states that “children should not be unsupervised pedestrians before 10 years of age, except in limited situations.” What is the reason? “Normal developmental characteristics such as magic thinking, egocentricity distractibility and impulsivity increase pedestrian risk to children.”
How about normal development characteristics? It’s not too late! Like tenacity and helpfulness? Or bravery and purpose? We see children in the U.S. only through the prism of vulnerability. They see every way they can get hurt.
In Japan—or at least in It’s not too late!—kids are seen as capable. The truth is that they can.
It has been in Japan for over 30 years. My First Errand. This is its appeal: Nobody is quite as charming. OderAs a preschooler, he was determined. So, four year old gets a chance to get a vegetable from the farm.
The girl believes her mom left one in the barn. The stalks of cabbages are thicker than the broom handles. She pulls and pulls. No luck. Finally, she grabbed the cabbage and began twisting it like a driver on a bus. This goes on for about half an hour.
Is there anything the AAP has to say about children being easily distracted and impulsive.
The stalk finally comes off the cabbage. It is now nightfall and the girl drags its remains home. She ends her day, like all of the children in the show, happy and satisfied. She is also happy with her parents.
It is the deep reward we can get from parenting. While we do everything for and with our children, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t capable of showing us what a great parent we can be. What can we do to get our kids out there before they are old enough to go on a beer run?
It’s much easier than it appears. This is my own reality television show. The World’s Worst MomThe film, which was shot eight years ago, is a kind of dystopian twin. It’s not too late!They were 9-10 years old, 12-12, or 16 in some cases. Their extremely overprotective parents had not been able to let go until an outsider—me—prodded them. The 16-year old’s mother gave him an Elmo box.
After they had been let out without security, all the children were as proud as peacocks. Parents were joyous: They felt their fear disappear and replaced it with pride, joy, and even more.
Parents in America face another threat: the possibility of their children calling the police. The Meitivs from Maryland were investigated twice after their children, aged 10 and 6, walked home alone from the park. But from where I sit—as founder of the Let Grow, the nonprofit promoting childhood independence—I hear from other parents investigated for things like letting their kids play outside, venture down the street, or even walk the dog.
There have been some major breakthroughs recently. Legislators across the political spectrum have passed “reasonable childhood independence” laws in four states— including Colorado, just a few weeks ago. These laws clarified that neglect is when your child is in immediate danger and not whenever you allow them to leave your sight.
It’s also good to know that the surgeon general has reached out to address the connection between decreasing children’s free time and increasing levels of depression and anxiety in young people. Perhaps more autonomy could help kids with their mental health.
Keep an eye out It’s not too late!It is worth harnessing the potential of childhood independence. They are eager to start the amazing journey called life. American kids are eager for this journey.