Published in SIMPLYkc magazine in May 2012 issue in parenting section
BY STACEY HATTON
As parents we all desire for our children to grow into healthy, kind adults…who won’t move back into our extra bedroom. There are extenuating circumstances for various re-nesters; but with years of parental training and molding, most kids will eventually grow wings and find the strength and desire to live a life of their own, and still want to fly home for a brief visit every so often!
In this interview, Dr. Megan Loeb, a pediatrician with Leawood Pediatrics, shares her insight on three distinct childhood developmental stages and how much freedom they should be allowed. It’s every family’s decision on what’s right for them, but Dr. Loeb offers her ideas based on experience and research explaining why elementary, middle and high school youths need their parents to assist them in obtaining overall independence.
Q: What helps grade schoolers become more self-sufficient
A: It’s important to have your kids help with food prep. An elementary age kiddo might start by preparing a snack with dry food and expand as they’re able to show they can do it…avoiding sharp knives. Ultimately, you’re giving kids the opportunity to learn about healthy eating by getting them involved, whether it’s by snack prep or helping choose family meals for the week.
Q: Do you feel chores are beneficial for this age?
A: Chores are a great way to learn responsibility. It’s important to see basic chores as just being a part of the family, rather than rewarding every chore with an allowance. An allowance should be for things above and beyond basic chores. Most inside the house chores are okay: including keeping a clean room, setting the table, (taking the laundry) to the laundry room, and feeding the family pet. (Chores are) an opportunity to teach household safety with your kids. Ironing wouldn’t be appropriate for an elementary-aged kid, but use it as a time to talk about fire/heat safety. Mowing the lawn, either by foot or riding lawn mower should be reserved for teenagers. There have been too many accidents – there’s actually an American Academy of Pediatrics policy on that alone.
Q: How do you feel about this age group walking or riding a bike in neighborhoods not chaperoned?
A: That depends on where you live and what neighborhood system you have in place. Ideally, a buddy system or a group is better! Start by walking with your child to the desired location multiple times. Talk with them about the importance of staying on their route. Map out “safe places” along the way (a neighbor’s house or store). Practice role playing stranger safety. Kids need to know to NEVER respond to a stranger, and what to do if a stranger approaches them or asks them to get into a car. Walking to a friend’s house or to school has to be a privilege that is earned, and one that can be taken away. As an aside, all of these privileges build on each other. It’s tempting to not let your child do these things, but you are establishing a system of communication, privilege, and trust…this sets the foundation for when they are older
Q: Do you consider it safe for tweens to go to the mall or movies without a chaperone?
A: It’s important to know your kids’ friends and their parents. You need to have more than a basic knowledge of who these folks are. So, before you unleash your middle schooler on the world, have her friends over. Get to know them. Talk with the parents. Learn each other’s fears and values. After this, communicate with your child that you trust them; and as part of that trust, you want them to have the privilege of being able to do some of these things on their own. Be very clear with your expectations. For a movie, know the movie times. Set the pickup time, and be there. Let her know if your trust is broken, the privilege is lost. Again, you are setting the stage for healthy expectations and good future communication. Just “hanging out” (at the mall) can easily turn into loitering. It’s better to have a defined activity (buying a shirt, having lunch), with a set time period. At this age, it would be encouraged (for parents to) be at the location as well.
Q: What age is it appropriate to get your child a cell phone?
A: That’s an individual family’s decision. Cell phones can be convenient and helpful for communication and safety purposes. Anytime a cell phone is involved, there HAS to be clear rules. There has to be an open relationship about the phones:
- The phone is ultimately the parents. It’s expected for parents to check the phone, look at text messages, and set limits on who the child can call or receive calls from.
- Set limits on when and where the phone can be used: communication and emergencies only? Is phone around during family time or at school?
- Charge phones in a public spot, and communicate it’s expected to be charging at a certain time. Have open talks with your child about technology; and how it can be helpful, but also misuse can provide harm. Talk with them about things like respecting the privacy of others, not taking unaware pictures of people, forwarding gossip, cyber bullying, and sexting.
Q: How much freedom is too much for adolescents?
A: It’s important to still have rules and expectations. Freedom should be earned and taken away when abused. Believe it or not, but your teen wants and needs that. Discuss your expectations regarding friends, going out, dating, driving, and curfews. Let them know when and how much you are proud of them for respecting you. On the other hand, communicate clearly to them what will happen when your rules are broken. That way, it’s not a surprise to her. Ultimately, your teen will know you care.
Have her call you when she arrives or if she is going to change locations. Communicate and model to your teens what you want them to be as young adults. Don’t be your teen’s friend, be their parent who loves them.
Q: How independent does the student preparing for college need to be?
A: Ultimately, parents have set the stage from even toddlerhood to slowly help children to make decisions based on their values and beliefs, and to be respectful of those around them. By doing this, hopefully the transition to college or independent living will be somewhat smooth and even natural. It shouldn’t be that suddenly when our kids graduate, a switch flips, and they need to be prepared. It’s an 18 year process!
To learn more about Dr. Loeb and Leawood Pediatrics, check out their website at www.leawoodpediatrics.com.
© 2012, Hatton. All rights reserved.