Children Walk the Streets Alone

I have been living in Vienna for 11 months and when I see children, as young as 7, walk around by themselves on the streets, it makes me feel a little uneasy. Perhaps because the way I grew up in the US, in elementary school we were taught that when we want to go out we must have an adult or a chaperone with us. But when it’s about going to the bus stop or coming home from school, it’s okay for school children to walk home by themselves as long as they know basic safety advice like, don’t talk to strangers, or don’t get in a strangers car, only talk to people you know, etc.

Here in Vienna, I have seen children carry groceries down the street and buy food at bakeries and it is interesting for me to see these children with such independence — the kind of independence I have seen only in teenagers and adults.ba12-7dc0-4cbe-3149In the US, there was a case where two children (6 and 10 years old) from Maryland were taking a mile-long walk home, until the police found them and escorted them home, gave the waiting father a lecture on the dangers of the world, and pressured him into signing a safety plan pledging he wouldn’t leave his kids unattended until Child Protective Services followed up. Refusal to comply, he was told, would result in the removal of his children. The father was practicing a form of parenting called ”free-range parenting” where parents allow their children to ”learn self-reliance by being allowed to progressively test limits, make choices and venture out into the world (alone).”  The police officer pushed demands on the father to comply with the pledge, thus interfering with the father’s freedom to decide within his self-responsible perspective whether allowing his children to walk a mile back home is all right/supportive

According to the article, this type of parenting (free-range parenting) is more commonly found in Europe, and thus more controversial in the US.

The country of Austria has a very low crime rate, so perhaps that is one reason why parents here allow their children to walk the streets by themselves. Also another factor to consider if that families may not be able to afford a chaperone/babysitter/caretaker, which may be why children need to walk alone to places — it really depends on the family. My husband also mentions that during the usual school times, before school starts or after it ends, one can see masses or groups of children traveling on public transportation or walking home, sometimes with parents/caretakers nearby creating a more secure environment, so it’s not like they are completely alone.

Even despite living in a statistically-reported safe city does not mean it’s perfect and that the people living and working within the city are perfect and happy and have stable minds.  There was the case of Natascha Kampusch, a child in who at 10 was kidnapped and held captive for 8 years by a man while walking to school in Vienna. It made international news, one of which I remember reading some time ago back in the states. 

I find it to be a tricky point when it comes to what age to allow your child to walk by themselves, especially since I’m not a parent myself, though overall I wanted to share my thoughts on what I have observed and noticed when it comes to seeing children walk around alone in Vienna.

5 Replies to “Children Walk the Streets Alone

  1. When I was in Vienna last year (staying in the first district), I too was struck by seeing very young children walking the city sidewalks. It actually made me smile to think there could actually be places where children can safely walk themselves to school. Growing up in high crime US cities (Los Angeles and Sacramento) I could not even fathom such a thing.

  2. I love this about Vienna. I grew up like that myself but in a small town in Kosovo. To see it in a capital European city is amazing! I understand there are always risks and no place on earth is 100% safe, but after having lived in Pakistan for 8 years, I welcome this freedom and feel myself lucky and my children privileged to be able to grow in such an environment.

  3. This is how it used to be in the U.S. I grew up in the ’60s and no one thought twice about letting kids wander. The current obsession about safety and helicopter parenting is totally alien to anyone over 40. It’s a shame, and I think it’s more about paranoia than anything else.

    I love Vienna and just discovered your blog. Thank you for producing such a great site!

  4. Hi,
    I found your blog by accident and find the above article fascinating.
    I am the father of two young daughters (8 and 7), and yes our children walk to school alone and also can do other things on their own (like roam around in the close neighborhood).
    We notice that things that our daughters can do on their own makes them very proud and self-confident.
    Of course there is always a fine line. However, the risks that something bad will happen to them seem to us statistically exceedingly small. By contrast, the risk of them becoming insecure, passive and non-courageous grown ups, who dare not much, through helicopter parenting are – so we believe – quite high. So, in the end it is a choice but in my opinion not only that……. for their happiness children need some freedom from adults including their parents.

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