For some time now, I've been allowing my big boys (aged 11.5 and 9.5 now) to take themselves off to the park, or run quick errands to the shops for me. They have certain restrictions laid upon them, including an agreed upon route, and estimated time of arrival home. They do not carry a mobile phone with them because I don't believe it would protect them in an emergency, and where they are allowed to go is always close to residential housing. There is also another reason I don't allow them to have mobile phones, and the following example will help to illustrate this.
Yesterday, Luey had just come back from the park when there was a knock on the door. It was a girl from his class, her sibling and another friend. They said they'd been wandering around the local streets for a while and had seen Luey and his younger brother when I'd ask them to sweep some leaves and seed pods off our footpath and driveway, so these kids had stopped by to say hi.
Luey went out to the front yard with them, but was back in the house a couple of minutes later because it was home time for the other kids. I thought the children stopping by was really lovely and it reminded me of when I was Luey's age, and neighbourhood kids would come by to play, or I'd stop at a neighbour's house for a play.
Apparently, the children had tee'd up to go to the park today at midday, and the others were dropping by here to pick Luey up on their way. Midday came and went and Luey finally asked if he could go to the park himself, and if we could let the others know he was at the park if they stopped by. I said that was fine.
Sometime later Luey came home and said he'd run into his friends at the park, or rather, he ran into one child, and then that child took off, then he ran into the other two, who were looking for the first one, and then they disappeared as well. Then he saw all three of them, and was talking to them, and then suddenly they were all gone, so he came home. He wasn't worried by any of this.
Later in the afternoon, they stopped by again, and he asked if he could go to the park with them, and I said, "I need to know you're going to the park, and only the park!" and the next thing I know he's gone - no goodbye. I wasn't happy. I waited until Dave got home from an errand a short while later and then sent Erik to retrieve Luey from the park. Erik found Luey walking up from the park with two boys from school. Luey has been on play dates with these boys before so we know them, however they were not part of the original group of friends who picked him up from home a little while before.
When he got home I asked where the other three had gone, and he said he didn't know! They'd just left, but these other two boys had turned up and were on their way to another girl's house which was on the way home for Luey, so Luey was just going to walk with them as far as this girl's house, and then walk the rest of the way home himself.
I know for sure that two of the children who picked Luey up from home have mobile phones, I don't know about the other child. I also don't know if the two boys Luey ended up leaving the park with had phones but either way, I would never have known he'd even met these boys or left the park with them.
These other children (with the phones) seem to have been roaming the local streets all weekend and not even sticking together - I suspect they were going their separate ways then calling each other to find each other again. I wonder if their parents realise they are doing this? I wonder if their parents are reassured simply because their 10 year old has a phone and is with a group of other children? I honestly think giving a child - who obviously has no sense of responsibility (or they wouldn't have picked Luey up from home, then just deserted him at the park) - is a false sense of security. If the children didn't have a phone, would their parents allow them to just take off all day like that (in this day and age)?
Do they believe if their children have a phone, they can ring them and say, "Are you in the park right now?" the child will necessarily tell them the truth if they are, in fact, at a friend's house? Did these children's parents realise the children were dropping into our house throughout the day or that the group was dispersing and then "losing" each other?
As I said to Luey, "I'm not that cool!" I'm happy for him to go out on his own, but there are rules and so he knows I'm serious about those rules. He doesn't get a phone, and he does have to stick to certain routes, so that *at any time* I can send Dave or Erik out to check that he has followed the rules.
Calculated risk. I have already had my children brought home by the police one because they followed their childish instinct and wandered through an open door at their own school on a weekend day (when there was possibly a burglary taking place!). Putting faith in an electronic device seems fool-hardy to me when the device is only ever as smart as the person employing it...