Whether you find the practice of Free Range parenting out of your comfort zone or you encourage your kiddos to walk to school by themselves everyday, you’ll probably be amazed and surprised at how much independence tots have in Japan. Although I had heard accounts of schoolchildren navigating the subway system from an early age, I was unprepared for what I saw on the long-running Japanese television program My First Errand, which showcases children (some apparently as young as two or three!!!) going on errands by themselves.
In the clip above, a young boy and his even younger sister get sent out by Mom to pick up several grocery ingredients from different stores. After bidding their mother goodbye (tearfully for the older brother), they stop to pick up dandelions, have a snack, play at the park with friends for over an hour, and eventually make their way to vendors selling fruit, vegetables, and meat (appearing to run in the street as they do so). The older brother orders and pays for the food items, and the children are encouraged and complimented on their burgeoning skills and independence. The television show relies on secret cameras to film the children while they are going about their errands.
Amazingly, this show has aired for twenty-five years. Japan’s low crime rate, the prominence of walking as a mode of transportation for all ages, and the sense of trust in the community make this type of activity possible. This collective sense of responsibility among members of the community, also known as “group reliance,” also extends into other areas. For instance, young kids in school serve lunch to each other and clean up afterwards in lieu of expecting adult staff members to do so. They also learn to take care of public spaces such as streets since they view themselves to be part of the community from an early age. While this push for independence may not be feasible in the U.S. for a variety of reasons, giving kids the skills and encouragement to navigate in society certainly seems like a much more realistic possibility!