How to raise your kids to be independent

By: Craig and Marc Kielburger

Author: Canadian Living


How to raise your kids to be independent

By: Craig and Marc Kielburger
A skinny blond 12-year-old kid from suburban Toronto, Craig seemed an unlikely activist for international children’s rights. Our parents were pleased to see him involved in social issues. But when Craig announced his intention to visit the locations in South Asia where some of the worst child labour practices took place, they couldn’t help but be concerned.

And when Craig said that he hoped to embark on the trip alone, our mother’s verdict was clear. “We love you very much…,” she began, which always meant a gentle letdown was coming. “But you can’t even take the subway alone. You’re not going to Asia on your own.”

Determined to go

Craig remained persistent, writing letters to human rights organizations and researching child labour. Planning the trip became an obsession. Seeing he would not be deterred, our parents reluctantly agreed to let him go. They set two requirements: first, Craig would raise half of the funds himself; and second, he would have to guarantee his safety throughout the journey.

Bake sales, car washes, shovelling snow…Craig did everything in his power to raise money. And with 24-year-old Alam Rahman – a recent graduate Craig had met while researching the trip – as a knowledgeable companion, Craig could assure that he’d return unharmed.

A valuable experience
Our parents still had genuine concerns, but they saw Craig was ready. That year, he set off on a seven-week journey that would prove to be one of the most eye-opening experiences of his life.

Looking back, our parents weren’t opposed to the trip in principle. Their natural instinct was to ensure their child’s protection. By being required to raise the money and show how he’d be safe, Craig would have to earn his independence. It was a gift. With our parents’ faith, he was emboldened to push further and bring to light some truly horrifying scenes of child labour and exploitation.

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One of parenting’s greatest challenges
We’ve seen hundreds of kids head off to do volunteer work in developing nations. The energy these kids possess isn’t reckless idealism. They know risks and hard work lie ahead, but this is what makes the journey so fulfilling. They return energized, ready to direct their newly earned independence toward changing the world.

Knowing when your children are ready to fly solo is one of parenting’s greatest challenges. Make them part of the decision-making process by setting clear conditions for your consent. When they take steps to earn your trust, you’ll know they’re ready.

Stepping out on their own – and learning from missteps along the way – gives kids the confidence to take chances and the courage to realize their dreams. And by letting go, you can set them off on a spectacular adventure of their own.

How to teach your kids independence 
1. Walking to school or taking public transportation can be a child’s first big step toward independence. Make sure he knows the route inside out and understands the rules of not talking to strangers, then let him take those bold steps with a trusted friend or sibling.

2. Scouts or other youth organizations are a great way of getting your kids outdoors and developing valuable social skills.

3. Encourage your child to take on a part-time job. Whether raking leaves for neighbours or delivering newspapers, earning money teaches responsibility and lets her raise funds for her own adventures.

Craig and Marc Kielburger are the founders of Free the Children and coauthors of Me to We: Finding Meaning in a Material World (Simon and Schuster, 2006) and Me to We: Turning Self-Help on Its Head (John Wiley, 2004)

This story was originally titled "Flying On Their Own" in the October 2007 issue.

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How to raise your kids to be independent