HomeHealth & BehaviorSocial Skills

Ask the Experts

Am I Overprotective of My 9-Year-Old?

By Debra Collins, Family therapist


My daughter is 9 years old. Her friends from school and the neighborhood are allowed to roam the neighborhood without parental supervision, stay out later than her and have late bed times. I'm not sure if I'm right for keeping a tight rein on her or if I'm being a clingy mom. Things aren't the same as they were when I was growing up. How do I know if it's time to let go a little?


Parents want to foster independence and initiative in their children, but the news is scary. We are warned about cyberspace stalking, molestation and abduction. I doubt the world was ever truly safe for children, but it does appear to be more perilous today, with danger lurking around every corner. This perception may be due in part because we have more media coverage of crimes against children, and recent education about the vulnerabilities children face in the world has also brought more awareness and fear for their safety.

Every parent needs to make her own decision about what level of independence she is comfortable with. Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • How mature is your child, regardless of their chronological age.
  • Does your family have safety plans in place? Will your child know what to do in difficult situations?
  • What are the environmental risks in your neighborhood? (Not all suburban and rural areas are necessarily "safe," and not all urban areas are dangerous.)
  • Is your child good at making wise choices in general and independently of the influence of her peers?

It's still appropriate to establish a bedtime for fourth graders. It is not unlike setting a curfew for teenagers. However, one way both of you can feel better about the limits you set is by providing opportunities for her to make age appropriate choices for herself. For example, she can choose her extracurricular activities, the clothes she wears that day, and when she does her homework after school. Other activities to encourage responsibility are participation in household chores and involvement in charitable community activities.

Because safety will always be a parental concern, see if your school or PTA can contract with outside agencies to educate children and parents about the issues that are of most concern. Many local law enforcement agencies offer education in everything from pedestrian safety to Internet safety. has a variety of safety information.

Debra Collins is a licensed marriage and family therapist and has worked in both primary and middle schools as a school counselor. She gives workshops to teachers and students and offers parenting classes in the San Francisco Bay Area. To learn more, visit her website.

Advice from our experts is not a substitute for professional diagnosis or treatment from a health-care provider or learning expert familiar with your unique situation. We recommend consulting a qualified professional if you have concerns about your child's condition.

Comments from readers

"I think your doing a great job. I have 8 kids my oldest is 13yo and the baby is 2yo. I see so many parents that dont even go outside and check on there kids. I dont think there bad parents or anything but I cant bring myself to do that. My golden rule is if i cant see you you cant go.Its not because I dont trust my kids. I say its better to always be safe then sorry. Just make sure you let your kids know about all the good in the world and not just the bad. "