My 9-year-old is asking to bike to school without adults. He is generally responsible. So far I have said he needs to find a friend to go with him.

What can children do to convince their parents that they are capable of going to school on their own?

What factors do you think are important?

  • 6
    I think this is an excellent question, and interestingly it varies culturally as well. In America, what we parents used to actually do as children is considered by most parents horrifyingly dangerous even in relatively safe suburban neighborhoods today.
    – MicheleV
    Commented Mar 31, 2011 at 17:00
  • It might help to understand if you currently accompany your child while they cycle to school, or if you walk or go by car. If the only factor changing is you ceasing to accompany them, the answers for how to go about this are different than if they want to cycle a journey they currently only do by car. If they get a flat tyre, be sure they can walk the whole distance pushing the bike - twice. If they get a flat on the way to school they still need to do their best to get there on time, then get home again. FWIW I used to cycle about 9 miles to school and 9 back at age 12 on busy main roads.
    – AdamV
    Commented Oct 30, 2014 at 9:14

4 Answers 4


I'm approaching this from the "what could possibly go wrong?" side of the matter, as I think a child getting into trouble on the way to school is unlikely.

  • Traffic safety. A nine-year-old should already know how to cross a street safely. You can practice it with them and watch how they do it, both on foot and by bike.
  • Getting lost. Once again, a nine-year-old should know the way to school and back. The question is what happens when they decide to get adventurous. In that case, teach them what to do in the event they get lost. Approach police/any adult in public, go into a shop to ask, follow their steps back to where they came form until they know where they are, call home.
  • Getting bullied. This could happen, but is very specific to the child's social situation, and there is no real rule of thumb.
  • Getting kidnapped/molested/murdered/whatever. Honestly, the odds of this are about the same as being struck by lightning. I truly believe that people panic over this too quickly.

For what it's worth, 25 years ago, we all walked to school. I started when I was 6.

  • 4
    Upvote for making a point of the odds. I can't speak for the whole world, but most places are far safer now than they were 20 years ago, and I bet most of us enjoyed a lot more independence in those days than many kids get these days.
    – Saiboogu
    Commented Mar 31, 2011 at 20:24
  • Accepted because it was a succinct list based on "what could possibly go wrong". This allows for flexibility based on: age, location, distance, hazards, etc.
    – nGinius
    Commented Apr 5, 2011 at 12:49
  • 1
    Your child should also know their full name, address, and phone number. Can't let them wander around without that -- most kids are smart enough around 5-6 to memorize this information.
    – ashes999
    Commented Apr 9, 2011 at 18:30
  • I would also consider distance. A Middle School Student can also more likely handle a further distance than a third grade student. Commented Nov 20, 2012 at 22:36

This can vary widely by region: Some cities are downright murderous and can only be traversed by car, others are very safe. Here are the factors that I can think of, in no particular order:

  • How long is the trip? (three minutes at a child's pace, or twenty minutes by car)
  • What are the roads like? (bike lanes > pavement > dirt road)
  • How much traffic is there? Are there specific points that are more dangerous than the rest of the way? (hiding places, dark parks, big intersections)
  • What kind of traffic is there? (lorries, trains, cars, bicycles)
  • What kind of neighborhoods does the child need to get through? (upper class residential areas, shopping, industry)
  • Can the child ride the bike to get there? (moving faster than walking means less chance of distractions, and theoretically less chance of kidnapping??)
  • Can the child bike well enough? (both in terms of plain biking skills, and in terms of traffic awareness)
  • How should minor accidents be handled? (flat tire)
  • How should major accidents or injuries be handled?
  • Will the child travel alone? (siblings, classmates, known adults)
  • How can the child contact me if needed? (cell phone)

Also see this answer which basically says, let the child lead you to school and see if you feel okay. You can also try to distract the child and see how that goes.

  • Good list. I especially like the role reversal idea from the public transit question.
    – Saiboogu
    Commented Mar 31, 2011 at 13:12

The only real factor, besides your own potential anxiety, is whether you believe he can take care of himself - including handling problems that may come up. To help decide, I would suggest quizzing him on possible scenarios. Maybe use some role play. For instance -

  • You've taken a wrong turn and don't recognize the street, what do you do? (Approach a stranger but stay in public view, ask for directions or to use a phone)
  • You run into another kid who wants to take a different route / go play at the park / etc (See if they want to walk with you for company, keep heading to / from school)
  • The classic stranger with candy - get in the van, help me find the puppy, etc. (Be polite but stay in public view, keep walking, scream bloody murder if you really feel threatened.)

Suggested answers are just that - suggestions. Use your own judgement - probably on the spot too, because no matter how much you or I think up, your kid will probably come up with their own responses that are very likely good fits to the situation too.

Ultimately, it's one of those "it depends" sort of answers, but I think the role played scenarios should help you figure it out, and will help prepare a kid who isn't quite ready.

  • 1
    Role-playing this is an excellent idea! That can be done both in the living room and on the actual route. Commented Mar 31, 2011 at 12:59
  • How can you discount kidnapping? If you remove the statement saying "only real factor" and talk about the risk of kidnapping, I'll give you an upvote.
    – J.J.
    Commented Apr 9, 2011 at 4:28
  • One of my scenarios does handle stereotypical abduction tactics. And "only real factor" is part of a sentence that goes on to ask the parent to judge whether the child can handle themselves - including in situations like the examples. Making the point more explicit like you suggest amounts to fear mongering, which I don't partake in.
    – Saiboogu
    Commented Apr 9, 2011 at 13:04

Apart from the obvious issue of a child's responsibility level, distance and location would be important factors for me. I walked from school from around 9 years old or so, but it was only 0.5Km, in a quiet village with good pavements (sidewalks).

Riding a bike would personally make me very nervous as the chance of more serious accidents is much higher, especially on the road.

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