My 11-year-old son is quite independent and it can be a bit of a worry as he’s happy to jump on a bus and go into town to the library or to spend his pocket money in one of those gaming places. He’s done it three or four times now and I keep wondering if it’s really too soon. What if he meets someone dodgy and gets into some kind of trouble? He has a cellphone but he often doesn’t answer it when I call to check up on him. A friend said I should really stop him doing his own thing because he’s not technically old enough to be home alone, yet we’re letting him wander around town by himself. I’m really unsure what to do.
Be proud of his independence but build in a bit more safety. Alert him to the dangers. It’s not the aggressive person that is the most likely danger; the most likely danger is from someone who thinks he looks “groomable”. Let him know that anyone who offers him anything for free (cigarettes, alcohol, drugs or a hamburger) is trying to reel him in. He should be polite, refuse and get away. Spell it out that while most people are kind, helpful and harmless, sadly, he needs to stay alert in public toilets and be aware if someone is paying him undue attention. Let him know that, if he ever needs a rescue, you will come pick him up and not be cross.
Develop a code word so that if he is in trouble, and includes it in his conversation or text, you will pick him up. Carrying a cellphone is a good piece of protection – but only if he uses it. Trusting him to have this independence is a privilege, as is having a cellphone. He needs to respond very quickly to a call from you. If he abuses either privilege, he loses both for a week and then he needs to prove to you that he can be trusted once again.
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