Recently, Netflix started promoting a show called “Old Enough” that’s been a hit in Japan for 30 years. The premise is that toddlers, aged two to four, are followed by cameras as they are sent on their first errands by themselves. They are tasked with delivering items to their neighbors & making shopping trips to the grocery store. These little kids are making their first independent journeys into the world without their parents. Often, they are asked to do multiple errands in one outing.
This show came up in my suggested viewing on Netflix. My daughter and I were so curious that we sat down for several episodes. We were both immediately charmed by how adorable and capable these young kids are, but at the same time somewhat amazed at how risky these errands seemed to be.
After we watched a few episodes I started seeing reviews of this show; most saying this would never fly in the US, as well as many comparisons of Japanese culture and that of the US.
Japan’s culture is one of first rate public safety. There is much less violence in Japan (gun violence in particular). I learned that drivers in Japan are taught to yield to pedestrians, speed limits are low and because the way most neighborhoods are constructed, kids have to learn to cross busy streets. Also, the concept of “stranger danger” is barely an issue.
One review pointed out that the dangers in “Old Enough” come not from the outside world, but from within. The concepts here were more about the young children’s internal fears such as would they be afraid of talking to strangers? Will they be able to focus and remember what their given tasks were? If they see diversions, will they be able to get back on task? Can they carry on without feeling afraid of being alone without a parent?
The fact that there are great differences between the Japanese & US cultures still doesn’t address the fact that we as Americans are overly protective and often parent with a lot of fear. Often, for good reason.
The founder of “Let Grow,” an organization that advocates for children having more freedom said that with child abductions getting more media attention in the 80’s and 90’s, parents became more afraid to let their children out of their sight. In addition, parental neglect laws have heightened parent’s anxiety over giving their children more freedom and independence as they age.
I remember so vividly being scolded by a woman in a grocery store because I turned my back on my daughter while I was unloading my grocery cart. My daughter wandered a few feet away from me to look at a display of cookies. This woman told me she had worked for a child abduction agency here in NYC and that’s how child abductions happen in a split second when you turn your back. Well, that interaction filled me with absolute terror. I know we all can share a “horror story” or two of losing sight of your child for a split second.
On the flip side of our worry and anxiety that we as parents have developed in this country, there is research from the “Journal of Family Psychology” that points out that “too much parental involvement may lead to worse self regulation among kindergarteners. In the Atlantic, Derek Thompson said “the reason that American teenagers are so anxious is that their bubble wrapped childhoods can leave them without a sense of competence”. (NY Times, April 2022)
Within this changing tide of overprotectiveness within American parenting, how can we instill these “strength from within” concepts from an earlier age?
It’s difficult to know what an appropriate amount of independence is for young children. You might be thinking, am I being too “overprotective” & not supporting their independence enough? What is a reasonable amount of help to expect from your child? How much should we intervene when our children are having issues?
There are many strategies that don’t involve allowing your 2 year old to go grocery shopping alone…
- Teach self-help skills – we should be stepping back regularly and asking ourselves, are we still doing things for our kids that they can be doing for themselves? Take a mental inventory of what you do that your children are old enough & capable enough to do themselves.
- Require Chores & Family Responsibilities – help support your child’s growing sense of self & desire to do things for themselves. Even young children can start doing small things. It’s a good idea to break things down into simple steps. Provide gentle reminders.
- Don’t Fight their Battles – teaching children how to problem solve is a great skill that can begin in early childhood. Help them to learn to identify the problem & come up with possible solutions. Begin to let your child advocate and speak to teachers directly at school. This can start in elementary school with forgotten homework, or asking a teacher for extra help. Let them experience a natural consequence, ie. if they don’t hand in their homework on time, or maybe don’t replace an item that was left out in the rain & ruined after you’ve asked them to bring it inside (I know this is a hard one)
One of the most important skills to teach our kids is that of independence & resilience. You want them to venture out in the world and be able to solve their own problems.
I recommend tuning in & watching “Old Enough” for a few episodes. The children are absolutely adorable and it’s a fun show to watch with your kids. It’s a great conversation starter about independence & a way to discuss ideas of how they can be more independent, both within the home and outside.
The show advocates independence from a young age, but also highlights the joy that these accomplishments give the young toddlers. Don’t we all want to see this kind of internal strength in our own kids?
I’d love to learn more about what independence means in your family. What types of activities are your kids doing and at what ages?
Are you personally struggling with letting go and giving your child more independence? Does your child get nervous or anxious about doing things without your input?
Parent coaching can assist you with the skills to communicate more effectively with your children, as well as support you at the different ages and stages of your child’s growth. If you or someone you know could use this kind of support, I’d be so grateful if you could give them my name.