At what age should kids walk to school alone?

For several years, one of my greatest daily pleasures has been walking my kids to grade school. It is a happy routine to walk, talk and say good morning to the neighborhood kids and parents.

During that time I have become acutely aware that virtually no children walk to school by themselves. Almost every child is accompanied by an adult. In fact, those few kids who walk to school alone stand out in sharp contrast and almost seem neglected or abused.

At first I thought this was a big city thing. I grew up in a small town, and everyone I knew walked to grade school by themselves. But after speaking with a lot of adults from places like New York, L.A., Chicago, and Boston, I discovered that they, too, walked or took public transportation to school by themselves. In fact, most of the grade school parents I see on a daily basis also walked to school alone or with friends.

Sometimes, on the way home from school in the morning, I see kids walking alone that I know from my son’s class. I say hello to them by name, and tell them they could still make the bell if I think they are running late. They usually give me a general acknowledgement with a slightly fearful look and hustle on without speaking. Those kids are brave to walk by themselves.

What it must be like to walk alone everyday, amongst a sea of their classmates who are being prodded along – often smothered with hugs and kisses by overly protective parents. I imagine these lone children have parents whose work schedules don’t allow them to walk their kids to school. Or perhaps their parents are just unreliable. I’ve never had the heart to ask any of them why they walk alone. But they do it bravely, and they seem to be fine.

I started thinking that it might be a good thing to get my son a buddy, and have the two of them walk to and from school alone occasionally to bolster their independence and responsibility. I asked one of the neighbors with a boy the same age.

“You know, I was thinking that maybe one day a week, my son and yours could walk to school together – alone – without parents. What do you think?”

The reply is thoughtful and slightly hesitant. “No. I could never forgive myself if something happened.”

I counter, “At what age do you think they could walk together alone?” We are talking about 5 blocks here. No major streets or intersections. I get the same answer from every parent.

“Never.”

Saddest of all is that the parents in this neighborhood are not exactly worried about their kids getting hit by a car, or even stabbed or shot by some gang banger. Sure, it’s a concern. Their real fear is that their child will get kidnapped by some sadistic pedophile – never to be seen again.

And who is to blame them? You only have to look on the L.A. Times crime map to see where all of the sex offenders live in your own neighborhood. Or watch the nightly news with its terrifying stories that parents share along with other gossip every morning after the second bell sends the kids off to class.

So I continue to walk my boys to school, as I work on my own unwarranted fear. When the time is right, I want them to discover their own independence, responsibility and street smarts. The real question is – will I be ready to give up my greatest daily pleasure?

Tell me this. At what age would you let your child walk to school alone or with a buddy?

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