Raising Children

How Much Freedom for a 7 Year old?

Sunday we had friends over for a swim. We are staying in a serviced apartment for one more week until we get moved into our new place. When I say serviced apartment, think corporate apartment, kind of like a Residence Inn but a little more private. In this complex, there are three buildings, each with 16 or so stories. The apartments are interior, no balconies. In between the three buildings are a bunch of pools, some shallow for children, some 4 feet or deeper, plus jacuzzis and a hot tub. Our building houses temporary stays, usually three months or less. One building is condos, the third is an apartment rental building.

While the kids were swimming, they picked up a new friend, a seven year old girl. At first I thought nothing of it, I had seen her before. The kids all played together for an hour or so, and then it was getting late and I asked the kids if they wanted a snack. Kate asked if her new friend could come along. I said sure, but let’s ask her mom or dad. I asked her where her parents were, and she told me Bali. I was a bit surprised, but then asked who she was staying with while her parents were in Bali. She told me the helper, aka the domestic helper or the maid. My first thought was that this must be a great helper to be left with the kids while the parents are in Bali, so I said we should go tell the helper where she is going. Turned out the helper had let her come down with her brother, who was either seven or eight himself, and the two of them were alone. Here she was, seven years old, deciding to come up to our apartment, and we had never even met her parents or the helper. In the end, my friend and I decided we should bring snacks down instead, because neither one of us could imagine wanting our seven year old to run up to the apartment of strangers without our knowledge. For the record, for the next hour the kids played and not once did I see the helper come check on her at all. At least I can say the girl was a good swimmer.

It made me think about how much freedom should kids be allowed? Did I have free reign at seven to run around our neighborhood? Yes, I did. Was it at a swimming pool? No, not until I was a couple of years older. I don’t believe I went to strangers’ houses at seven, but by ten I probably did. I would leave after school and not come home until dinner time. Did I do really stupid things while out on my own? Yes I did. I ran through drainage tunnels. I played in the ditch. I followed trails in the woods alone. I went to the 7-11 by myself. Once I narrowly missed getting hit by a train. I ran into sketchy characters often enough to make me nervous as a parent now, including flashers and men with panel vans with an unhealthy interest in children, literally offering me candy. Fortunately for me, I was shy and not easily convinced to do anything, so nothing bad ever happened to me, except the flashing which was just creepy.

Granted, this is Singapore, where crime is punished by a quick hanging, but still, it seems like a risky proposition. Given the hotel like properties of our building, the proximity to a community center next door, and a sketchier hawker center around the corner, I’d say NO WAY should a seven year old be out to do as she pleases. Maybe I am just a little paranoid.

Perhaps this is just a bit of cultural difference. I believe the little girl is Russian. Maybe they are not wound as tightly as Americans. Maybe the parents wouldn’t have allowed it themselves, they were in Bali. Maybe this was a helper neglecting to watch the children properly, or this is a cultural difference with the helper. In any case, I think seven is too young to be at a pool alone, without supervision, and especially not a pool with a transient population. Would you let your seven year old swim here alone?


  1. I remember seeing a reality/contest show in Japan where 3 and 4 year olds were sent to the market on their own. They were given a list of things to buy, where to buy them from, and money. They needed to bring back everything and correct change. The camera crews kept a good distance so the kids wouldn’t depend on them. The 3 year old forgot one thing. One of the older girls took the scenic route. But they did fine. When they got to a busy intersection, someone just grabbed their hand and took them across. No fear or freaking out by the adult, they just stepped in, got them across the street and went about their day. At the store, the shop keepers took the time to help them out, count their change and make sure it was secure in a pocket then sent them on their way. When they struggled with their bags, someone would help them along until they weren’t going the same direction any longer and let the kids go it alone. I couldn’t do it, but that’s because we (Americans) have proven that the only people looking our for our kids is ourselves. It’s not a community effort. American society doesn’t own raising all of our children, and some of us (sadly and tragically) just punt the responsibility all together.

    Despite having that much freedom myself as a child, I could never do it now with Nate. But I always wonder if I could adapt.

    LOVING your blog!

    1. Now that you say that about the tv show, I remember my brother did that at four years old. He took the money from his piggy bank, and walked down to 7-11 and bought himself some candy. It was probably 1982, and we lived about 8 blocks away, not a straight shot at all. He knew the way, though, and we found him on his way back, pockets full of candy. The cashier at 7-11 apparently helped him with his purchase, and when he didn’t quite have enough, she gave him the five cents or so he was missing. I cannot imagine Isabel having such a successful trip. At four, Kate left the house and went next door without asking and I thought I was going to have a heart attack. We lived on an extremely busy street in Brooklyn. She was fine, though.

  2. Wow, Im with you on this… I could trust Sophia but I am probably more creeped out by perverted men or women lingering around. Although, i remember as a child probably about 7yrs old going to neighborhood mini marts and parks a few busy streets away.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *