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How much freedom/independence do your 13 year olds have

(32 Posts)
pootlebug Wed 11-May-11 13:39:34

My step son is 13 and will turn 14 in September. He spends some weekends with us, and the rest of the time with his mother. We live 2 hours train journey away.

Recently we broached the subject of him travelling down by train himself (currently he is accompanied all the way), with his Mum dropping him off on the platform, one train with no changes, and his Dad meeting him on the platform at the other end. His Mum has said that in her opinion this is totally unsuitable.

There has been disagreement for some time about how much independence he gets. We have always stuck with the fact that it is his Dad's decision at our place, and his Mum's decision at her place. Nonetheless, she has complained several times about us letting him do things she didn't believe to be appropriate, such as:

- From the age of 10-and-a-half we used to let him go round to the local shops (5 mins walk, one road to cross but with zebra crossing). Apparently he was too young to do this.
- On holiday when nearly 11 we let him climb a hill (up public footpaths) behind the rented cottage on his own...20 minutes round trip and he knew the way and took a phone. Also inappropriate, apparently.
- A few months ago he came down here with a friend for a week and we let them go out in the daytimes together on public transport. She didn't complain to us but I know from talking to the parents of his friend that she wasn't happy with this at all either.

As far as I can tell, the only independence he gets at home is walking to the corner shop, or her driving him to the out-of-town shopping centre where he can meet up with friends/go to the cinema, then she drives him home again. He's never taken public transport on his own, for instance, except when with us.

I know we had a lot more independence than this at his age. Have things changed that much and are we completely out of touch? - Our other two children are 3 and 1, and I don't know many other parents of teenagers.

We can continue to give him some independence when with us, but in the end most of his time is spent away from here. I appreciate that someone may just tell me to butt out and let her parent him how she wishes. I guess my concerns are around the fact that I worry that he will suffer socially if he is not allowed out with his friends. And from a more selfish point of view, at the moment it is my Dad or my partner who has to do long round trips to accompany him on the train.....and I'd like to know that there was an end in sight to that for their sakes too. Or am I just being unreasonable? Are most young teens these days not given much independence?

Mollymax Wed 11-May-11 13:49:16

My 12 year old has a fair amount of freedom, as she is very sensible, walks from school, stays home alone for an hour or so.
I think for you it is very difficult as, as you say, you can nort force his mother to allow him to travel alone.
Personally i would allow my daughter too.

orangesmarties Wed 11-May-11 13:53:14

I think his Mum is being over protective. He's nearly 14 for goodness sake. In x2 years he will be able to go out to work and she needs to prepare him for that.
I would suggest that he does go by train but that she checks the route and phones him to remind him to change trains at whichever stop etc etc. I did that the first time my daughter caught a train on her own - she was 13 and had to change trains at Bristol. I knew the timetable/ route map /station stops etc so I phoned her before Bristol to remind her to get off (and not to forget her luggage!). We kept in touch regularly throughout the whole journey (approx 3 hours). She felt very grown up and I felt relieved!!
If you were his mum writing, she may take such advice on board, but it doesn't sound like she will accept it from you. If she doesn't watch out, he may go off the rails and rebel about the lack of independence he is allowed, especially if he sees his peers being allowed more!! Good luck

exexpat Wed 11-May-11 13:55:27

I have a nearly-13-yr-old DS and I would be happy for him to do that kind of train trip by himself - seen on to the train at one end, picked up at the other, with a mobile in case of emergencies. He has been walking to school by himself off and on since he was 8, has been getting a bus into the city centre to meet a friend at the cinema etc for the past year, and stays at home by himself for a few hours when necessary.

Certainly by 14 I would have thought most teenagers would be able to take a train trip by themselves? At 15 I went on a week's youth-hostelling around the lake district by bus and on foot with a friend, and that was in the days before mobile phones.

It sounds to me like his mother is being over-protective - but unfortunately you can't force her to come round to your way of thinking.

Maryz Wed 11-May-11 14:07:40

My 12 year old went to London on his own. I saw him through security in Dublin. He had to get through security in Heathrow, buy a ticket and get a bus to the airport hotel. He was fine.

He gets the bus to his sports club. He gets a bus to school (sometimes). He has been getting the school bus, walking to and from it first with his older siblings and then on his own since the age of 8.

I don't like him "hanging around " in shopping centres, but he goes to the cinema with friends, and buses it home.

My 14 year old travels a lot by train/bus. Last year when she was 13 a group of four of them went to the seaside by themselves - involving a walk, two trains and a walk. They have done similar this year, but a bit more complicated a journey.

My older son travelled regularly across the country by train/bus from the age of 12 when dropped by one parent and collected by another. And he has Asperger's and was never the most reliable.

And I consider myself pretty "controlling" shock.

I think she is causing trouble over-protective.

Naoko Wed 11-May-11 21:07:27

Well at 13 I was cycling 5 miles through rush hour traffic to school every day (normal for kids back home - I'm from the Netherlands where motorists aren't out to kill all cyclists are more used to cyclists) so I'd certainly say he should be able to manage sitting on a train - it's not like he can get lost, as long as he remembers to get off...

Difficult one to broach with his mum though, in such a way that she'll see reason.

LaurieFairyCake Wed 11-May-11 21:13:23

Very overprotective. My foster dd (nearly 13) has way more freedom than that and I'm an err-on-the-side-of-caution-in-case-i-get-hauled-into-court carer.

I'm not allowed to leave her at home by herself but she goes into town/to the cinema/to play in the country with her mates for 5-6 hours at a time (with a phone)

pootlebug Wed 11-May-11 21:24:42

Thank you all for your thoughts on this. I am relieved that it isn't just us being out of touch with what other teenagers are up to.

Unfortunately, I also share your pessimism that his mother will change his mind any time soon. Although she is genuinely over-protective in other aspects too, I think with regard to his trips to see us in particular, Maryz's last sentence has grasped the point rather well....

Maryz Wed 11-May-11 22:19:37

Can you get the teenager on side about the travel up and down to you? My 13 year old would die of embarrassment if he was accompanied on a 2 hour train journey by someone who had specifically travelled to be with him hmm. When ds1 flew home from France on his own he refused to sit with adults we knew who happened to be on the same flight. At 14 he felt much too old to be accompanied.

Can't he say to his mum "I really hate being babysat by pootlebug, I'm old enough to travel on my own". He might win, even if your suggestions are turned down.

When my son (at 12) went to Heathrow on his own he was really pissed off when I suggested he be accompanied - he wouldn't even let me ask at the airport if I could go to the gate. So he managed security, he managed to find the right gate, he found the plane (and got on on time), he dealt with luggage and his passport, got through the channels in Heathrow, found the hotel courtesy buses and got on the right one to the right hotel.

He was very chuffed. And although I was a bit worried (and was very pissed off that he forgot to text me to say he had arrived), I was pleased he had done it and wouldn't hesitate to do the same again.

Atwaroverscrabble Thu 12-May-11 09:58:06

You could always ask him if he would like to try going home by train alone next time he visits? My dh was like this with dsd but our car broke down when I was due to drive her back at 14 and I INSISTED she got the train back alone, 40 min no changes... Dh was furious and anxious but had to agree and she loved it! Dh got over himself too...

mathanxiety Thu 12-May-11 17:33:38

The way to tackle this with the mum is to say 'when in Rome' -- shrug off her complaints about what is allowed when he is with his dad, in other words. His dad obviously doesn't get to contribute his tuppence worth when it comes to what happens under her roof. The only grey area here is health and safety, but I think you could get around this by showing that plenty of other children are able to accomplish a quick trip to the local shop, etc.

Don't try smacking her over the head with claims that she is unreasonable and trying to argue the case on its merits. Ask her when she thinks the DS will be ready for the long train trip unaccompanied -- because it is unreasonable for her to insist he will never be mature enough to do this on his own. Meet her half way and be prepared to wait until she recognises what is reasonable.

Trying to have your own way, with one party winning and one party having to back down defeated is a sure way to have a very poor relationship and also risks losing the battle. Trying to gain a win-win solution with face saved for all can be much more positive.

I would also caution against using the DS as your footsoldier here. Don't send him on his own by train, ask him what he wants, or appear to put words or thoughts in his head. This is between the adults.

beequeen Thu 12-May-11 22:35:16

My DS (exactly the same age) has done 3-hour train trips alone (delivered/met at either end) and regularly rides his bike around the country lanes near our home. He is very organised (though not very streetwise - real country lad) and obviously carries a phone with him. He was a bit stressed before the train journeys but coped absolutely fine and I don't worry about him too much.
That said, when he got lost riding his bike with a friend recently (and didn't have a phone on him) I got into a real panic. (He didn't.)
What occurs to me is that your stepson's mother may find it difficult letting him go at all, so the idea of him travelling on his own is like a double separation and she feels totally cut off. For you, compared to your little ones, he probably seems very grown up and capable, but I guess for her (especially if he is her only child) he is still her baby. There is always that nagging doubt that nobody will care for them like you do, and 'reasonable' doesn't come into it.
You're right that other teens his age do have a fair amount of freedom, but I don't think he will suffer for lack of it in the short term, and like Maryz says, he will probably eventually insist on travelling on his own if you gently suggest that as a future option. In the meantime, it's more about your convenience, so I suppose it's a question of whether you see that as important enough to have a full-blown confrontation with his mum.

musicposy Fri 13-May-11 13:41:43

My 11 year old takes herself to ballet on the train 20 miles away, twice a week, and she isn't met the other end and has quite a walk from the station. I'd certainly be allowing a 13 year old to do the journey you describe. Unfortunately it doesn't sound like there's much you can do to get agreement in any case, however.

mumeeee Fri 13-May-11 22:26:35

OP you seem to be giving him the right amount of independance and freedom for his age, Mine were doing all that stuff at the age of 13. At 11 they would go to the local shops which is a 10 minute walk from us but by 13 they were going into town on the bus.
When my eldest was 12 she when we wre on ho;ifay she went on a bike with her 9 year old sister around the holiday complex and they were out of our site,

empirestateofmind Sat 14-May-11 05:28:43

My DD2 aged 12 has just gone off with a friend to take the bus to go shopping. Sometimes they use the underground but the bus is cheaper.

My DDs and their friends often fly by themselves, and have done since they were about 12. One friend's DD age 14 had to fend for herself for four days at Heathrow during the flight chaos at Christmas. She kept in touch with home by phone and was fine.

Of course a 13 year old should be able to take a train by himself.

WobblyWidgetOnTheScooper Sat 14-May-11 06:31:21

I think she's being overprotective but you can't really change that. Just keep giving him more freedom and hopefully he'll get more assertive with his mum.

We have the same issue with my DSDs who have just turned 13. They have only just been allowed to change buses by themselves - normally we meet them in town to bring them home on the bus, but only because we physically couldn't do that last week their mum said they could do the whole journey alone.

WobblyWidgetOnTheScooper Sat 14-May-11 06:34:32

It's about a 30min journey in total btw hmm

pootlebug Sat 14-May-11 23:04:00

Thank you again to everyone who has commented on this thread. I don't think we can use him as the footsoldier without causing even more drama, and I don't think that's fair on him.

It does seem based on the comments here that we're not expecting anything unreasonable....but we will just have to see what happens.

BitOfFun Sat 14-May-11 23:08:13

My daughter travelled to Australia alone aged 12, pulled it off no problem. You can tell whose side I'm on grin

snorkie Sat 14-May-11 23:48:06

She's being overprotective, especially with the travel arrangements - a journey he's presumably done many times and with no changes - I can't imagine what she thinks the problem might be. ds did his first long train journey alone at 14 - and that included crossing London on the tube and wasn't a journey he'd done before (though that was probably slightly on the young side compared to what his friends were allowed to do) - he came home looking taller and oozing confidence (having had to change the planned tube route across London by himself due to engineering works) - it gave him a real boost.

Agree that it would be a bad idea to involve him in discussions, but you are doing the right thing by giving him the freedom to use public transport alone/with a friend when he is with you I think. Most children his age would use public transport to/from school after all.

ImtheDD1 Sun 15-May-11 21:51:22

My sister and I used to fly as "unaccompanied minors" to my dad's in London. I was 12 when I decided it was far too boring (they wouldn't let you go to duty free or anything!) Since then we've decided to get the train, which is one cross country, one underground and then one over ground. My dad used to meet us at Euston, as mum didn't want us on the underground on friday evenings unaccompanied. However, for the past 18months or so we have been doing the whole journey alone,(and independently of each other) including the walk to my dad's flat at the other end. Not done me (18) or my sister (16) any harm. :D

pickyourbrain Mon 16-May-11 17:11:08

She is:
A, Causing trouble/ making life difficult for your husband
B, Using her son's imagined incompetence to validate her role as a mother
or C, Woefully out of touch with reality.

we had this exact situation with my DSD's mum and came to the conclusion it was a little of all three of the above. Utter rubbish that a 13.5 year old can't get the train. he's old enough to do the whole thing himself but seriously, if he's being dropped on the flatform and being picked up from the other wtf is going to happen to him in the mean time... confused

lemonstartree Thu 19-May-11 10:50:50

my son ( now 12) travels too and from school alone ( walk /train/walk) a journey of almost an hour.... I would be quite happy to put him on a train if he were to be met at th other end. He goes on th ebus to the local town, cycles to meet friends, gos to the local park alone /with friends..... how does she expect him ever to be independednt if he is mollycoddled at 14 - perhaps thats the problem - she doesnt want him to be independent!

pootlebug Sun 11-Sep-11 11:12:53

Arghh, stressing about this again. He's 14 now and we raised the subject again and her response is still a one-line 'He cannot travel inter-city on his own'.

Her reluctance to even discuss it suggests to me that she's not about to change her mind any time soon.

Pickyourbrain - if you happen to see this......I think your reasons are spot on - it is a combination of those three. Can I ask how you managed to get over this with your DSD?

niceguy2 Mon 12-Sep-11 09:27:50

My daughter's been travelling intercity since she was 13.5 and is also responsible for her brother during that time. Like others have said it's ridiculous to think at that age he/she isn't mature enough to cope. If they are not then that's a failure of parenting, not the child.

Can I ask what the current travel arrangements are for DSS? For me I think it helped because whilst my ex is rather overprotective at times, the fact it was costing her £30 in petrol every fortnight and a four hour journey to return the kids gave her an incentive to try this. Whereas on the train, I pay for a return ticket because it's only £1 extra, it saves her time and cheaper than petrol.

If your DP/DH is doing both runs then she's very little incentive to change and is probably getting off on the fact it's highly inconvenient, at the expense of letting her son have a bit of independence.

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