When is it Safe for Teens to Walk Alone?

Parent Q&A

  • Risk-taking by teen boy

    (3 replies)

    I know this is an age-old issue, but after raising two girls, my son's behavior is new to me.  He's nearly 16, and generally a great kid.  But lately he has an inflated sense of bravado, and sees himself as somewhat invincible.  He's already asking to be able to walk around town after dark, once the weather changes, and real school starts again.  I'd actually be ok with him DRIVING home in the dark, from school or a friend's house, (no license yet) but in our area, walking just seems risky.  He's an athlete, and seems to think his physical strength would protect him if someone were to try and mug him.  But the fact remains that he's a kid, and he'd be walking in the dark, alone.  Tips about raising teen boys with false bravado?  Thanks.

    RE: Risk-taking by teen boy ()

    You don't say where you live so maybe there's a particular concern about your neighborhood or nearby neighborhoods. Otherwise I don't see a big problem with a 16 year old (of either gender) walking alone after dark. especially once it's dark at 5 pm! I would definitely review with him personal crime prevention strategies, and maybe verbally run through some scenarios that might occur.

    What you might also want to do is enforce rules about him letting you know where he is, and a curfew, which to me is the bigger issue. You don't want him out all night.

    RE: Risk-taking by teen boy ()

    I don't see this as a gender issue; some kids are risk takers and some are risk averse. My son is much more risk averse than his sister. It is rough. I have to say that the fact that he's ASKING is probably good, rather than just sneaking out and doing it,  and is pretty different from my parenting experiences of this phase!! I also was both more risk averse than my daughter, and grew up in a city with 24 hour transportation, no one drove, and people were out and about in a way that isn't true of the east bay at all. My hunch would be not to overreact at this stage; maybe he's just talking it out with you? Looking for ways to figure out what is actually safe? Quarantine is pretty rough on teen brains that desire novelty and risk and independence. It's also true that I needed to talk with my daughter once she was 12 or 13  about the dangers of walking alone (at night or during the day), as she would get catcalled, etc.

    Freaking out (in my experience) doesn't ever help. Discussing strategies for what would happen if you did feel in danger, how to avoid being vulnerable, and making sure they'll always feel OK calling you at any time for any reason were what I found got me through (and are getting me through...)

    RE: Risk-taking by teen boy ()

    Is wanting the walk around after dark the only "risk taking" that he is engaged in? Our 14 year old frequently walks around after dark (short distances, but still). I don't see a problem with it at all, honestly, and I don't think it's false bravado for him to want to walk home after dark. 

    I recommend reading Dan Siegel's book "Brainstorm," about the teenage brain. It explains that many behaviors that mystify parents are perfectly normal, and based in evolutionary and physiological realities.

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Son attending ''Open Campus'' high school in SF

August 2010

Our son is attending a small, high school in SF which has an ''open campus'', meaning that the kids are not required to stay at the school for lunch. The school is in a ''safe'' neighborhood in the city, so I'm told. I'm nervous since our son attended a very sheltered middle school on the Peninsula and he is socially naive. Any advice/guidelines on keeping him safe? I know it'll be a great experience for him and I don't want to convey that he won't be able to handle himself. Thanks Mom

So much depends on where the school is. Basic rules -- avoid eye contact on the streets, avoid conversations with strangers, sit near the front of a bus, stay with friends -- and he'll quickly learn when to feel comfortable and when to be on guard. But in general, try to put aside your anxieties and think of this as great practice for when he's living on his own! City mom

Teen Girls Walking around Berkeley Alone

August 2010

Hi, We have a 16-year-old daughter who feels comfortable walking around Berkeley with friends and alone. She has a fair amount of independence during the day and we feel comfortable with that. In the evening her Dad or I walk or drive to pick her up when she is coming home alone after dark.

She wants to be able to walk home from a friend's house -- just a few blocks away -- by herself after dark. We want to encourage independence but we're also concerned about safety. She does have the local Berkeley 911 number programmed into her phone and we talk with her about being aware of her surroundings, not using her ipod, etc.

We are in North Berkeley, which is pretty safe but certainly not crime-free.

I'm wondering how much independence other parents allow their teen daughters, specifically walking around town in the evening/after dark. concerned mom

I get your concern. No matter what you do, there is a risk. If you let your daughter walk at night a few blocks there is a risk of a problem. If you don't let her walk there is a risk of over-dependence and an unnecessary delay in her ability to act for herself. We also have a 16 yr old girl, and do let her walk home in the evening in our neighborhood, which is in the Richmond Hills. Weighing on this decision was our awareness that children need to find out about the world and learn to operate more independently as they reach their mid to later teens. Letting the bird fly

My husband and I have strict family rules about our daughter, 15 1/2, going out with friends. A young girl walking around without a responsible adult is at real risk of being hassled or attacked, especially at night. Before we gave her that freedom, we had our daughter complete a teen self-defense course through Kidpower and highly recommend them. We allow her to go to the Cal Campus/Telegraph Avenue area or Emeryville's Bay Street Mall during the day if she is with a responsible friend. We do not allow her to be out after dark, unless she is with a responsible adult. At first, we told her to be home by dark, but that led to too many arguments about when dark is. Now, we tell her what time she must be on BART, which changes with the seasons. If she is not home on time, we ground her. Nancy