Late last week, the BC Supreme Court made a weighted decision that paves the way towards mandating helicopter parenting by law. In case you missed it (as we nearly did, were it not for a fellow parent sharing this information), a B.C. judge has ruled that children under 10 years of age are too young to be left at home on their own.
This decision was based on a case in Terrace, in which a single mother let her eight-year-old son walk home alone from school, and wait there until she finished work – a period of about two hours. A provincial social worker, alerted by the father of the child, reviewed the situation, and concluded that a child of that age does not have the cognitive responsibility to be home alone for any amount if time.
Regardless of your opinion about the reasonable age that children can be left at home alone, there is currently no legislation setting a minimum age in British Columbia. The Legislative Assembly has – up to now – deferred to the discretion of the parent to determine when his or her child is ready to be left home unsupervised.
In our humble opinion, this ruling sets an incredibly dangerous precedent, as it leads to a scenario in which parents begin to second-guess their own better judgment. Judgment, one could argue, that instills responsibility and freedom in their children, two qualities that are sorely lacking in many young people today.
Elsewhere in North America, families have been subject to intense scrutiny and debate for allowing their kids to walk a few blocks alone, and subsequently being reported to social services by “well-meaning” neighbours. In Europe, meanwhile, it is completely normal for children as young as five to walk to school on their own.
Growing up in the 1980s, we were both latchkey kids at some point – children who came home from school to an empty house before our parents returned from work. That trust given to us as kids helped developed a sense of accountability that we would never had fostered had our parents been with us every moment of the day.
It was exactly this kind of trust and responsibility that we hoped to begin giving our own children – ages six and nine – around this time in their lives. With the start of a new school year, the plan was to have them start making the walk to and from school on their own. It is a never-changing route we’ve taken every single day for four years. They can recite every step, and describe every possible safety precaution they need to take. It is a rite of passage they’ve been looking forward to all summer.
With this ruling, and the acceptance of one social worker’s opinion without specific legislation, we – like many BC parents – will now have to wonder if we are making the best decision for our family. Not because of its merit, but because someone with the best of intentions may deem our actions harmful to our children and “call it in”.
Much has been studied about the damages hyper-parenting has done to an entire generation of young adults: how they struggle to cope with newfound freedom and responsibility when they set off on their own, and fail to learn from their mistakes.
For a brief period of time, it seemed as though we were beginning to recognize the psychological damage done, and the benefits of giving our children the freedom to roam. Cases like this are a stark reminder of how much more work needs to be done.
Our nine-year-old daughter is an incredibly mature and sensible person. She has been leading our walks, train, bus, and bike rides across the city since she was six, and we have been teaching her and her younger brother how to be safe and aware on the streets and at home from the moment they could walk on their own two feet.
We are confident we have done everything in our power to prepare them for the day that we start giving them more independence. Now we just have to trust that society can stop underestimating their capabilities, start recognizing their competency, and grant them the same level of belief and conviction that we do – as their parents.