Louis, my fourteen year old son, goes off to Essex today...on his own. Gulp! I'm popping him on the train and after two changes which includes crossing London on the Tube, he'll arrive at the home of his grandparents. It's a somewhat scary prospect, but only for me. He's as happy as Larry that he's allowed to do something so grown up.
No-one can describe me as a helicopter parent, overprotective with a tendency to swoop down and protect my child at the first sign of trouble. In fact, I'm quite the reverse. Because Louis has achieved markers of independence early on for a child living in the UK in the 21st century I think I've been seen s a bit reckless. At five he started to play out in the village where he still lives half the time with his father. It's the norm there but I have to admit to feelings of terror the first time I agreed this. At eight he walked to school on his own down a country lane. I was too ill to take him. But given that hundreds of families took the same route day in day out I reckoned that he'd be safe and could call on help when he needed. He sacked himself from after school club and was a latch key kid for an hour a day at the age of ten. I'd find him happily curled up on the sofa eating crisps. Yet another person I know did a trial of leaving her child of the same age at home while she popped to Tesco Extra for a pint of milk. She came home to find them brandishing four big kitchen knives out of fear that there would be an intruder. Clearly they weren't ready to be left.
What people don't always appreciate is that my actions are not borne out of recklessness. Each time I allow Louis further and further off the leash I risk assess the situation. Each time I have a feeling of trepidation. Lots could go wrong but in reality the chance of a major disaster is low. I'm not reckless. Everyone knows the plan. And the benefits of preparing my son, bit by bit, for independence as he approaches adulthood are pretty enormous.