The mall can’t raise your children

As children get older, they crave independence — which means they want to do things beyond the watchful eyes of Mom and Dad.

That usually suits Mom and Dad because, as the kids approach those teen years, we don’t really want to watch. But parents need to be cautious about how to grant teens and preteens freedom.

We have to decide how independent they need to be. Consider the age of your child, says Fred Medway, a psychology professor at the University of South Carolina. If you don’t think your kid is old enough to stay home alone, or baby-sit a younger child, they’re not old enough to be left at a public place.

“I wouldn’t say the same thing about a carnival organized by a local church, for example,” Medway says.
“But anything to do with the public sector needs to be more chaperoned until a certain age.”

That age is probably 13 to 15, he says.

But it depends on the maturity and trustworthiness of the child.

“What evidence of responsibility has your child demonstrated?” says Ron Miles, interim director of guidance in Richland 1 and a consultant.

“If your child has consistently not told you the truth, if your child has made reckless and irresponsible decisions, should you leave them alone?” No. Yes, children need to be allowed gradual independence as they get older. But it needs to be plotted by parents, not the result of giving in to wheedling or whining.

“I don’t think malls, bowling alleys (or) movie theaters were meant to be a baby-sitter,” Miles says.

“As children grow older, they do have a need for independence and freedom … but parents need to ask, ‘Am I forfeiting my responsibility as a parent?’” Many businesses have been bothered by unchaperoned teens and ’tweens hanging out.

Others encourage their presence. It’s up to parents to know which is which.

Then, parents must decide whether it’s an appropriate and safe place for their kids to be without them.

“Are you willing to accept responsibility for his or her behavior?” Miles says. “Are you monitoring this, or are you acquiescing your power and letting someone at the mall raise your children?” Parents need to establish and enforce rules. Make sure your kids can get in touch with you. Show up unexpectedly. Call them. Stay in constant communication with their friends’ parents. Be a responsible parent. If rules are broken, make sure the kids suffer the consequences.

And pick them up on time.

“Sometimes things happen and we might be late,” Miles says. “But if it’s a consistent pattern of behavior, my child may be getting the message that they’re not very important.”

Parents have got to be responsible so they can teach responsibility.

Patterson writes an occasional column on parenting and family issues.