Cutting the Cord: Untether your Kids and Set them Free

Several weeks ago I allowed my six-year old daughter to drop off a few letters she wrote at the neighborhood mailbox. It wasn’t like I was sending her to the post office; our drop-off box is a tenth of a mile down the road from our house. It is a very short and safe walk but little did I know what a commotion this would cause.

My daughter was overjoyed by this taste of freedom, so she set off on her merry way while I hung out on my driveway to keep an eye on her.

She wasn’t gone more than 45 seconds when a large truck slowed down and tried talking with her. I automatically switched to “mom-mode” and yelled that there was no reason to stop and he should keep on driving. The driver saw me, pulled up and I could see he was a concerned father wondering why there was a little girl walking down the street by herself.

My daughter arrived at the mailbox and made the drop-off successfully. She skipped back until a taxi crossed her path. The old lady driver exchanged words with my girl and then drove off. My daughter ran back, visibly upset.

It took a while for her to tell me what the taxi driver said. She was crying and kept saying she didn’t want to hurt my feelings…which really got me concerned.

Eventually I dragged it out of her. It started-off nice enough with the driver asking my daughter if she ok and what she was doing out by herself. My daughter explained that her mom allowed her to take a few letters to the mailbox. To which the taxi driver responded, “Well, shame on your mom!” and then drove off.

Shame on me? Shame on me?

I was seething! This woman decided to stomp all over my daughter’s harmless adventure. My sweet girl then meekly said, “Can I wait until I am six-and-a-half or maybe seven to go back to the mailbox alone?”

Oh no….nobody is going to squash my child’s natural yearning for adventure and independence!

So I decided to take on a “Cutting the Cord” challenge.  I am now constantly looking for ways to encourage my kids to spread their wings. Nothing crazy or age inappropriate. But I ask myself, what is the maximum independence they can safely have each situation.

This “Free Range” movement is spreading. Parents are realizing that the focus of safety and security for our children has drowned out our main goal of parenting which is raising independent and confident kids.

Statistics show that our country is actually safer for kids these days. But with the 24-hour news cycle, it can seem like child abductions are actually on the rise.

We need to swing the parenting pendulum back to common sense. My daughter should be able to walk a tenth of a mile without stopping traffic and being scolded by neighborhood busybodies.

So what adventures have my kids tackled?

  • My daughter found and then used the public restroom alone in a crowded museum.
  • My three-year-old used an elevator by himself to travel up one floor while I took the stairs.
  • My daughter picked-up eggs from the 7-11 while I watched from the car.
  • My son made waffles with the waffle iron.

It has been so much fun seeing what my children are capable of and how proud they are when they complete their “adventure”.

So here is the challenge I pose to you – how can you cut the cord? What can your children do on their own that will challenge and inspire them to be more responsible and courageous?

I came up with a short list to get the ideas started (click here for the printable version).

5 – 6 Years Old

  • Cook oatmeal on the stove
  • Write, stamp and drop-off letter at neighborhood mailbox
  • Walk into convenience store to pick up and pay for small item while parent waits in car
  • Ride in an elevator alone – parent takes the stairs
  • Order own food at restaurant
  • Pick out clothes and get dressed (only caveat is that it has to be weather appropriate…yes this means they might mix plaid with polka dots)

7 – 9 Years Old

  • Pick our recipe, put together shopping list and then make the meal
  • Crack eggs and cook scrambled eggs
  • Use the washer and dryer
  • Use a sewing machine for a small sewing project
  • Plan and pack own lunches and write a shopping list of items needed
  • Use power tools under supervision to build something
  • Build a campfire
  • Walk to a park with a friend or sibling and play unsupervised
  • Take the bus or other public transportation for a short trip

10 – 12 Years Old

  • Pump and pay for gas
  • Call and schedule simple appointments
  • Stay at home by themselves for short periods of time
  • Bake more complicated breads and cakes
  • Go into grocery store and purchase family shopping list
  • Map out best route for family vacation and research lodging and dining options
  • Assemble the next new piece of family furniture or electronics

I would love to expand this list – so please share the ways how you are untethering your kids.

7 Responses to “Cutting the Cord: Untether your Kids and Set them Free”

  1. Lenore SkenazyApril 27, 2014 at 12:24 am #

    I love this list! And anyone wondering what else their kids can do can simply think back on the things THEY did as children. Since the crime rate today is LOWER than when most of us were growing up, there’s no reason to rein in our kids any more than our parents did. So if you played at the park, explored the woods, made your own playdates, walked the dog, babysat… Your kids can do these things at the same age you did! Good luck! And thanks for the inspiration, Free Market Mommy! — Lenore (founder of Free-Range Kids)

  2. TimApril 27, 2014 at 10:54 pm #

    My 10 year old daughter has been using hand and power tools for years. We had classes on use and safety. We practiced. We always used hearing and eye protection, and now when she helps me she makes me wear hearing/eye-pro.

  3. SharonApril 27, 2014 at 11:00 pm #

    In some states you have to be a licensed driver to pump gas, so that particular idea might not work for all 10 to 12 year olds.

  4. Vasuki NarayanApril 27, 2014 at 11:01 pm #

    Walk or ride bikes to and from friends homes in the neighbourhood
    Check themselves in at doctor/dentist appointments while the parent watches

    Walk to and from school unsupervised
    Let themselves into the house with a key (when the parent is at home)
    Walk/ride their bikes to the library to check out books

    Travel on a plane by themselves within the country

  5. Laura ChutnyApril 28, 2014 at 12:39 am #

    Awesome list!!!

    Funny, I have pretty much thought all those things appropriate.

    Except here in Canada you have to be 16 to pump gas.

    Add to that:
    9+ with sibling or friend, walk to convenience store for slurpee or milk
    8+ (if skills sufficient) – swim with a friend at the pool
    7+ (if tall enough). – use the push mower and shovel snow
    5+ – ask the librarian, store clerk, instructor, etc., where X is, or how to do something, all by themselves!


  6. Emily Guy BirkenApril 28, 2014 at 6:51 am #

    My 3 year old has been helping me cook. He loves cracking eggs, stirring food on the stove (I just don’t let him help if it is a splatter prone dish or if I’m frying with oil), and checking to see if the pan is hot by holding his hand 6 inches above it like I have taught him. He was even helping me chop veggies (his hand over mine on the knife) until the day he wanted to help me cut up an onion and hated it. I love to cook and I hope I’m helping to pass that along to my son.

  7. IrinaApril 28, 2014 at 9:38 am #

    Ours did all of the above at all those ages, except the car-related things because we don’t have one. For her 13th birthday our middle daughter asked for (and got) a train ticket to the small town in Belgium where her friend from camp lived — meaning she could guide all of us through the complex central station of Antwerp when we went as a family a couple of years later.
    Frankly, I don’t see what the fuss is about, but perhaps that’s because we live in Europe.