Parenting: How Old is Old Enough?

Aristotle is growing into that phase where he is old enough to want to do certain things but not necessarily old enough for it to be appropriate. For instance, at what age should he be allowed to use the Men’s toilets on his own while I wait outside? At what age is he to be trusted to stay home alone? At what age can he watch certain movies? More and more of these scenarios are cropping up and I thought it was time to start exploring these questions.

I realise that we cannot arbitrarily assign a set age and assume it will work for every child because there are other factors to take into consideration.

1. Level of maturity

There are individual differences between children of the same age. Some children are more mature and able to take on greater responsibility from a younger age while other children require more time to develop the same level of maturity. A prime example of this difference can be seen in my two boys. Aristotle at age 3 was more capable of handling responsibility than Hercules at age 3. I could give Aristotle instructions to follow and have some peace of mind that it will be done. Hercules gives me no such comfort.

2. Where we live

Some cities are safer than others and depending on where you live, this can influence the age at which you allow your child to walk to the corner store on his own to buy some bread. Regrettably, my country made it onto a “World’s Top Dangerous Cities” list – although there is contention about whether it belongs there. Nevertheless, I think I might be hanging on to my children for a while longer until I can hone their killer instincts.

On TV and Books

Despicable me 2 PurpleWhat shows and books are appropriate for your child? Again, it isn’t quite as straight forward as assigning an arbitrary recommended age since some children mature faster than others. Then there is the individuality of each child that makes some children more sensitive to certain programs than others. Some children are timid and get scared easily so you would think twice before exposing them to a show or book that might frighten them even if they are within the recommended age group. Even then it can be quite hard to predict what might frighten your child. For instance, Aristotle once watched Clash of the Titans at his grandparents’ house and I was so worried he would get nightmares but he told me he wasn’t scared at all. But when I took him to watch Despicable Me 2, he was so troubled by the purple minions that he refuses anything to do with the show even though he was initially crazy about the original Despicable Me movie before this incident.

I believe that if you are in doubt about whether or not to allow your child to watch a specific show or read a specific book, I would err on the side of caution. A fear, once created, can be hard to dispel. I remember watching Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan as a child. I was so disturbed by one scene where some mind-controlling worm-like creatures crawled into the ears of Kirk’s men that I refused to watch anything related to Star Trek all the way up to adulthood. Even then I would only watch the newer Star Trek movies and TV series.

Although you can talk to your child about the scary part of the movie or book to help them manage the fear, sometimes logic and commonsense will lose out. Even as adults, we experience irrational fears that we can’t shake despite knowing the silliness of it all so don’t assume you can easily talk away the fear. Sometimes you won’t even get the opportunity to talk about it because your child may have nightmares that he can’t explain either because he can’t remember anything more than the feeling of being afraid or because he can’t explain what the dream was about.

In the event that you are too late and your child has already seen something scary, you can manage the fear by exposing how movies are made. Show them the “behind the scenes” videos of how movies are made – how blood is just red dye, how the actors fake being hit, how stunts are created with the aid of computers, etc. Even watching the actors dressed in their terrifying costumes talking as normal people can dispel some of the fear that they create on screen.

If you are wondering about the suitability of certain movies, books, websites, games, music, etc. for your children, there is a site called Commonsense Media that offers reviews from parents on whether they feel the content is age appropriate, not age appropriate, or requiring further consideration as it may not be right for some children.

At the end of the day, exactly what is or isn’t appropriate for your child will have to be decided by you. What might be right for one child may not be suitable for another. As parents, we are the ones that know our children best.

Published by Shen-Li

SHEN-LI LEE is the author of “Brainchild: Secrets to Unlocking Your Child’s Potential”. She is also the founder of (a website on parenting, education, child development) and (a website on Right Brain Education, cognitive development, and maximising potentials). In her spare time, she blogs on Forty, Fit & Fed, and Back to Basics.

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