I was travelling interstate a couple of weeks back and rang home to speak to Max and our nine-year-old twins. “The boys aren’t here,” said Max, “they’re playing tennis up at the courts with some mates.”

Deadly treadlies. Deadly style. Pic: Supplied

What the? I’m away for two days and my babies are wandering out in the wicked world alone?!

Guess what? They were fine. In fact, better than fine: I think they actually blossomed that week I was away, because their dad showed enough confidence in them to loosen the reins. It’s a conundrum, though, isn’t it?

In a recent survey of 1400 people on AdelaideNow, more than 80 per cent of respondents said children under the age of 12 should not be left home alone; more than 85 per cent said children should be at least 12 before they’re allowed to spend time with friends at the park, movies or shops without adult supervision.

I honestly can’t believe those figures – particularly the idea that 80 per cent of parents don’t leave responsible primary school-aged children while they, say, duck to the shops for half an hour.

Remember back when we were kids? Every day after school we’d be off on our deadly treadlies quicker than mum could yell “Be home in time for dinner”.
Makes you feel sorry for today’s kids, shadowed every second from the school crossing to the couch – more likely to be enrolled in an “organised activity” than enjoying the simple pleasure of climbing a tree.

Thursday’s Channel 7 News featured a GPS tracking device that lets parents keep a watch on their kids via iPad; it issues alerts if they stray from designated areas.

GPS tracking certainly takes “helicopter parenting” to a whole new weird level, but I bet they sell like hotcakes.

And while we parents are wrung out from constant hovering, we’re breeding sedentary (often overweight) children who are much more at home in front of the computer than out playing with neighbourhood kids.

Respected child psychologist Michael Carr-Gregg says we’re raising a “marshmallow generation”. 

A tradesman mate of mine laments the result: a constant struggle to find teenage apprentices with a bit of fibre and steel – kids who can take telling and handle a bit of hard work. (He’s no grumpy tradie either. He’s a fair and gentle man.)

Not to say I don’t sympathise with protective parents.

The 24-hour news cycle means we’re confronted with awful stories of abduction and worse; cars seem more threatening, somehow – faster, louder and more recklessly driven.

Realistically however, the likelihood of something happening is miniscule. And while that doesn’t make the prospect any less terrifying, we have to be careful our kids don’t pay a price for our paranoia.
And what is the law anyway?

The Weekend Australian recently catalogued cases where parents have either been charged or reprimanded for leaving children in cars unattended or letting them walk home from school without parental supervision.

In one incident, a Brisbane mum was hauled before the court for leaving two children, aged 10 and three, in the car while she popped into Bunnings for five minutes. A concerned bystander phoned the police.

As a mum who happily leaves the kids in the car (no, never when it’s hot), I’d argue the bystander could just have easily a) asked the kids if they were OK; b) watched over them until their parent returned; or c) minded their own business.

Guidelines listed off the Parenting SA website say there is no actual law that states when children can be left alone, however parents can be charged with an offence “if children are left in a dangerous situation”.

Common sense, surely.

We all know when our kids are ready for new challenges. We just need to take a deep breath, warn them of the dangers, and let them take the leap.

Most commented


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    • John says:

      08:35am | 07/10/12

      Leaving kids alone in a car *is* irresponsible. They might turn the radio on and listen to Alan Jones. They’ll then be marked for life. Even worse, they might hear Jones’ best friend Tony Abbott,

    • Shep says:

      09:16am | 07/10/12

      Really John! I think you’re on the wrong storyboard. 

      I am SO sick of conversations being hijacked by rabid political loonies who just don’t seem to understand that there is a time an a place.

      I get that politics is important, but when did it become the only thing.

    • Matchofbris says:

      10:31am | 07/10/12

      LOL, win joke of the day. A more disturbing thought than coming home to find them watching porn, amirite?

    • Student says:

      11:07am | 07/10/12

      @Shep. It was a joke, gosh!

    • John says:

      11:15am | 07/10/12

      Compared to Jones and Abbott, porn serves a higher social purpose.

    • Mattb says:

      01:43pm | 07/10/12

      wow, the rabid political loony calling someone else out for it.

      The conservative right are so sensitive about Alan Jones and his best buddy Tony at the moment aren’t they, they start crying whenever anyone mentions their names, even if it is in a joke!

    • Greg says:

      02:00pm | 07/10/12

      @John I disagree
      I don’t blame her for leaving the kids in the car at Bunnings especially if Julia is still doing the sausage sizzle there on the weekends. children shouldn’t have to listen to that sort of language from angry Australians asking julia why she is doing everything she can do ruin the nation.

    • Cat says:

      08:42am | 07/10/12

      Constant shadowing almost certainly does more harm than good. Children in this situation do not experience the opportunities to make judgments for themselves - an essential part of growing up.
      Parents however have been led to believe that children should be shadowed at all times. They are told the world is a dangerous place - yes it is - and that they could be sued for neglect - yes, they will be - if they leave their children alone.
      This is why I can pass three local playgrounds on a fine, warm day in school holiday time and find they are completely empty. I then go into the local shopping centre and find that the cinema upstairs is packed with kids watching a film as part of an “school holiday programme”.  Apparently the playgrounds are “too dangerous” and children should “only have closely supervised activities”.
      My mother, a full-time teacher in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s used to say to us,
          “Out! I don’t want to see you inside.”
      In school holiday time we were given sandwiches and water and told to come back “in time for tea” unless it was very wet, very cold or very hot. We lived both in the city and “the bush”.
      I am not sure it was really so very different then but the media has made people more aware of potential dangers and blown them up in a way that makes us believe this will happen to you if you do not closely supervise your children…and so we are ending up with children who grow into teenagers who get into trouble because they are lacking in experience. We have couch potato screen dependent young people who cannot entertain themelves.
      Perhaps it is time to take some calculated risks - or provide playground attendants and adventure playgrounds?

    • Fair go says:

      08:50am | 07/10/12

      It’s common sense when that three and ten year old kids are found dead in the car after their fat Australian mum runs into her tuckshop buddy and blocks up an aisle for a 30 minute chat

    • marley says:

      09:25am | 07/10/12

      For crying out loud, we’re talking about a 10 year old, not a 10 month old.  A ten year old is perfectly capable of opening a window or a car door.

    • Peter says:

      10:54am | 07/10/12

      Look, you blokes, bad shit can happen when small children (10 and 3 yr old in this case) are left in a car alone.  That’s a fact.  You think it’s no big deal, but even if it only happens once in a thousand or even a hundred thousand times, the consequences would be so f*ing devestating that we would be left wondering “why the hell did she leave her kids in the car alone?”.  That’s the point, mates.  You fasten your seatbelt because every once in a blue moon accidents happen and it could save your life.  We didn’t used to wear seatbelts.  Now we do.  We used to leave our small children unattended in cars.  Now we don’t.  Get used to it.  And for god sake leave us Parents alone!

    • marley says:

      11:28am | 07/10/12

      @Peter - I have nothing against parents. I reckon it should be up to parents, and not to the law, to decide whether their ten-year old is mature enough to be left alone in a car or a home for a while.  And I have to question why a ten-year old today is so much more fragile than a ten-year old 30 years ago.

      Parents who over-protect their kids aren’t doing them any favours.  They may save them from a scrape or bruise today, but they’re setting them up for a future of anxiety, frustration and failure when the kids can’t cope with adversity, pain or the on-going challenges of teen and adult life.

    • Austin 3:16 says:

      12:05pm | 07/10/12

      Hey Marley,

      unless the child locks are on and the windows are electric

    • Peter says:

      12:52pm | 07/10/12

      @Marley, you know that is a dumb argument.  A ten (and THREE year old child, remember that bit Marley?) are not more fragile but we have learned that leaving young children alone in carparks can lead to some very, very bad consequences.  Horrific stuff.  The kind no parent could ever even bear contemplating.  So you don’t do it.  It’s just plain common sense.  Not to mention it’s against the Law.

      You know, the funny thing about this is that the Mother actually thanked the Police for “doing their job”.  She agreed she should not have left her kids alone and was grateful that there were people out there who were looking out for her children.  Now there’s a decent attitude for you.  Why can’t we look at this issue in that way?  Looking out for each other’s well being is a good thing.  Now isn’t that refreshing.

    • Bertrand says:

      01:00pm | 07/10/12

      When I was 10 my parents both worked afternoon/evening shifts, so no-one was home until about 7.00pm.

      I would catch the bus home, walk the 2km from the bus-stop and then be left to my own devices until they got home. It was my responsibility to cook dinner, using (gasp) the oven and stove. I could do a pretty good roast.

      My parents would probably have ended up having me taking away from them if they tried that today. For Pete’s sake, 10 year olds should be capable of sitting in a car for 5 minutes while their mum pops into the shop.

    • marley says:

      01:20pm | 07/10/12

      @Austin:  in the particular situation in which the Mom left the 3 and 10 year olds in the car, she also left the aircon running.  I reckon that means the kids could open the windows.  In the other case, there were three kids aged 11 and 12 in the car.  Sorry, but there is no way those three kids are too young to be left alone in a car or are going to die of heat stroke.  Especially since she was gone for less than 10 minutes. 

      I’m not suggesting that a three year old should be left alone, but when you’re getting kids of 10 or 11, I think common sense should prevail.

    • marley says:

      02:52pm | 07/10/12

      @Peter - you say, “god sake leave us Parents alone!”  Well, that particular parent was charged by the police with a criminal offence.  Do you seriously think she should have been hauled into court, distraught and sobbing, for leaving a couple of kids, one of them a ten year old, alone for a few minutes?  And then been convicted?

      Sorry, but I think that’s an incredibly bad way to treat the mother in that situation.  And yes, I think a 10 year old can keep an eye on a toddler for a few minutes without the world caving in.

    • Peter says:

      05:05pm | 07/10/12

      @marley.  ok, she left the kids in the car at Bunnings - which is a massive carpark with all kinds of people there.  No shade.  Big place.  She left the air conditioning on, you say?  How?  Left the keys in the car.  Kid takes keys.  Or, person steals car.  Or person steals kids.  It’s not rocket science, Marley.  And that kind of shit DOES happen.  You have heard of car theft,, haven’t you, marley?  A person then came by and saw the kids alone in the car.  They reported it to Bunnings.  They then went to the car, confirmed it and made an announcement in an attempt to get the fing lady who left her bloody children in the car!  They had a duty to report the incident to the police who followed it up later and - just like the lady said - did their job.  She knew it was the wrong thing to do but did it anyway.  She plead guilty and was let off with a very, very little slap on the wrist.  I think what happened was exactly the right thing that should have happened.  What do you think is the right thing?  People should leave their kids in their cars playing video games instead of coming inside with them?  Why is that good parenting?  Have you actually thought about this?  SHeesh.

    • marley says:

      06:41pm | 07/10/12

      @Peter - geez, man, at the age of 10 I was smart enough to look after my little sister in a car for a few minutes, or 20, while Mom and Dad dashed into the shops.  Why are you treating a youngster of 10 as though he were a baby?  He’s not.  And I simply don’t agree with giving Mom a criminal record for this.  If you do, fine.  But dont’ then demand that we leave parents alone, because obviously, you want every damn person in the parking lot double-checking what parents do and reporting them to the cops if they do something you don’t agree with.

    • Peter says:

      08:58am | 07/10/12

      This topic - again?  Wtf do you guys at The Punch have against parents, anyway?  Leave us alone.

    • Austin 3:16 says:

      09:06am | 07/10/12

      Qld Criminal Code
      364A Leaving a child under 12 unattended
      (1) A person who, having the lawful care or charge of a child
      under 12 years, leaves the child for an unreasonable time
      without making reasonable provision for the supervision and
      care of the child during that time commits a misdemeanour.
      Maximum penalty—3 years imprisonment.
      (2) Whether the time is unreasonable depends on all the relevant

    • marley says:

      03:01pm | 07/10/12

      @Austin 3:16 - by that definition, my parents would probably be finishing off life sentences…

      It must be a generation thing.  I just don’t get it.  Letting kids go to the local park to play cricket or football unsupervised is now verging on a criminal offence?  Objectively, does that make any sense?  How do kids learn street smarts, common sense, social skills, if they are supervised every waking moment?

    • OzTrucker says:

      09:30am | 07/10/12

      The whole character of this country is changing.

      “As a mum who happily leaves the kids in the car (no, never when it’s hot), I’d argue the bystander could just have easily a) asked the kids if they were OK; b) watched over them until their parent returned; or c) minded their own business.”

      I’m not a mum, I’m a dad, well a grandfather now. Unfortunately I would never ask an unaccompanied child if they were ok or watch over them until mum returned because by the time mum returned some do gooder would have quietly rung the police and I would be called a pedophile before I knew what was happening. Oh it would get clearded up eventually but after how long. Or mum would come back and god knows what would happen then.

      It seems no longer possible for people to mind their own business. We see it everywhere. It’s so easy to take an anonymous photo (remember the idiot on the motorbike) and the police are compelled to respond. We demand it.

      On that’s note look at the anonymous sniping etc that occurs on the net. It’s so easy when you are anonymous.

      Those in control of councils etc take the ‘cotton wool’ approach every time because they don’t want to take the risk. We demand it.

      Our children are creating a generation of weak minded money grubbing malcontents.

      They all seem to want the big house with the top quality finish, the new car with all the bling and a top paying job as soon as they graduate.

      The grandchildren, have a winge once and mum just gives them what they want so there is no tantrum in the supermarket, so she can have “five minutes peace” which she then uses to update Facebook about how crap her day is..

      I love the way our society is going. Anyone else seen the movie Idiocracy?

    • Shane From Melbourne says:

      02:32pm | 07/10/12

      “Our children are creating a generation of weak minded money grubbing malcontents.”

      Absolute rubbish, the Baby Boomers beat them to it by a couple of generations…..

    • marley says:

      06:42pm | 07/10/12

      @Shane - I’ve about had it with your comments.  The boomers paid for your education, and it appears we didnt’ get value for money.

    • Kipling says:

      09:34am | 07/10/12

      Way to totally fail. I am surprised that you didn’t mention absent father’ beig drunk, stoned or in gaol…

    • Shep says:

      09:34am | 07/10/12

      When I was a kid, I knew how to ask for help.  I knew how to wind down the windows of the car (not always possible now I know).  I was able to safely cross the road, I walked or rode to school, I went to the shops for lunch occasionally (no tuckshops), I was bullied ( by todays standards) and coped, bullied others somewhat (again by todays standards) and was chastened and guilty.  I learnt what i could get away with, pushed the envelope, and survived to reflect on how silly it all was. 

      On weekends (in primary school) we left home early in the morning on our bikes with picnics and wicked intentions and heads full fantasies, rode in the bush and all around town at our will, and returned home as it got dark.  Our parents never asked us where we’d been, but they always seemed to know. 

      We used to ride down to the shops for mum, had busters, fought, threw rocks and insults at other kids, expected and took our punishment if we got in trouble at school or elsewher, moved out of home and supported (mostly) ourselves from our late teens.  Bought our first decent cars with our own money and managed in general to have good and appropriate relationships with our parents, our elders and our peers.

      And yet ... Its my generation as parent who seem to have created the environment responsible for ruining the capacity of their children to survive without them.  I have a 20yr old and a 23yr old.  Lovely kids, both of them, capable strong and smart.  But in maturity they are years behind where we were at the same chronological age.  And they are very average in their perrgroup.

      We seem to be regressing, perhaps its a result of the smaller and far more affluent families that we have now.  Perhaps money ultimately makes you soft!

    • Austin 3:16 says:

      12:09pm | 07/10/12

      It also might be that we value children more today. Families are smaller and in a few cases the children that turn up do so after a great deal of effort and some medical intervention.

      My great-grand parents came to this country with about 20 children, my sister and her hubby have 1 child after years of IVF.

    • d&s says:

      05:02pm | 07/10/12

      Interesting comment Austin. My grandfather’s grandparents had over 60 grandchildren (from 15 children) and those grandchildren had over 150 first cousins. My daughter is the only grandchild on both sides and as a result has no first cousins and is very likely to remain a sole grandchild.

      I’m not sure if children are valued more but they are certainly much fewer in number these days.

    • Kipling says:

      09:48am | 07/10/12

      There is a huge difference between chronic abuse and neglect of children and teaching kids to be independent and engaged in the world around them.

      Please take note, the word chronic is important. To understand neglect for example, a child getting sun burnt (pretty common occurance in our country) is in simple terms neglect. Yet, it just happens. A child getting badly burnt and not treated though would be chronic.

      The idea of these evil child protection agencies just waiting to take kids from poor hapless parents who are just doing their best is ludicrous to say the least. It is a favourite cookie for the media to trot out. How strange that when a child dies from neglect and/or abuse this also is a failing.

      On the upside, I notice there are many far more involved parents around now days. This can only be a good thing, provided they are involved to develop the relationship they have with their children of course and not simply to nurse maid them away from danger.

      One of the best lessons I got as a kid growing up was getting injured playing somewhere I had been told repeatedly not to play. Blood and stitches in this case made a far better teacher than any words my parents had. Even better, my mates who were with me also took the lesson on.

      I think the last sentence in this article is the best bit. We need to allow our kids to have some bruises and scrapes unfortunately. Good parenting is simply being there after the event with some care, dettol, badnaides and a reminder perhaps of the better choices that we could have made. That said, good parenting is not the easy road emotionally, and possibly this is a big part of the problem too.

    • DragonLass says:

      10:52am | 07/10/12

      I can’t imagine my children growing up without some of the freedoms that I grew up with.  Being able to ride my bike to friend’s houses after school or on weekends, where we could go for a swim or play some ball games or just hang out.  My mum trusted me to do the right thing, we knew not to talk to strangers and to be home before dark.

      Sure, the world is a bit different now than in the 80s when I grew up.  But not THAT different.  There were bad people in the world back then.  There still are now.  There’s actually been no increase in the number of child abductions at all, the media just makes people think there have been.

    • Lorraine says:

      04:19pm | 07/10/12

      To Peter,
      I empathise with your desire to be left alone but really parenting is about bringing up children who will take responsibility for their own actions and be able to cope with out continual help. the only way to do this is to give the kids some opportunities to practise.
      Eventually it will make your task as a parent easier and may even give you a little time off.


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