A new discovery about parenting raised its ugly head recently that I hadn’t yet considered. My childers are still of nursery age, in Israel they are 6 before they start school. I pick them up and they are with me for the afternoon from 4pm onwards, but what happens when they start school? In Israel school is a morning thing, something us Brits can’t get our heads around. School finishes in general around 12.30, so what happens afterwards, where do all the children go? Here’s my horrifying new discovery, after age 8 or 9 (3rd Grade) they go home, ALONE. OK not all of them (Grandparents, stay at home parents, working from home parents aside), but in general it is perfectly normal and acceptable for 8 and 9 year old children to take themselves home from school on foot or by school bus and spend the afternoon alone or with siblings until a parent arrives.
Like most modern countries, the majority of families have 2 parent’s working, if you are a single parent then of course you also work, so in essence that means you always need someone to take care of your children after school finishes at lunchtime until you can get home from work at 5pm, 6pm or shudder 7pm and later. For pre-school, Grades 1 and 2 that means after school clubs which are privately run and are costly (especially if you have more than 1 child), or a babysitter. Once they reach the 3rd grade after school club is no longer available and a large majority of children here take themselves home, feed themselves their lunchtime meal (crisps and chocolate?) and entertain themselves.
This is no criticism on the parenting here, children and family life here is treasured and Israel in the main is a very safe environment for children (security issues aside). It is a very child friendly nation, one of the reasons I like it here. There are very few cases of abduction and pedophilia in comparison to the States, the UK or Canada for example. It is out of necessity rather than choice that kids are left alone at what I would consider a very young age and I presume it is so commonplace that it doesn’t seem an issue. However I can’t help thinking about accidents, about burglary, about bullying and quite frankly right now the idea of leaving my kids alone (when the twins reach 3rd grade their brother will be 11) quite simply horrifies me. Perhaps I will think differently when they get to that age.
When I made my discovery I started asking around, both Israeli and British parents, what their take on the situation was, maybe I am just over-protective. In the main the Israelis think its normal, some have grandparents who call in, generally there is an older sibling, these are the days of mobile phones and they can constantly track where their little ones are. The Brits, like me are appalled, especially those whose children haven’t reached this age yet. The Brits were convinced that in the UK leaving a 9-year-old alone is in fact against the law. Not so. A quick bit of research reveals that there is no age specified by law in the UK when you can leave your child alone, however, ‘it is an offence to leave a child alone when doing so puts him or her at risk.’ Hmmm, what’s risk ? A bit more googling revealed that in Australia, Canada and most States in America also don’t have a minimum age, New Zealand however, says at 14 a child can legally be left alone or in charge of younger children, which rather puts into question my safe environment in Israel theory – surely New Zealand is uber safe? I did discover one source that said children under the age of 6 cannot be left alone in Israel. I’m not certain how reliable the source is but even so, SIX? Oh my good lord.
Let’s put safety to one side for a moment, I am sure many will argue that it is perfectly acceptable. My next question-to-self was, what do they do? Homework? How many 9 year olds will do their homework without coercion? (and by the way they have a lot of homework apparently, probably due to the fact they are only taught for half a day ie 3.5 – 4 hours a day). I would hazard a guess and say computers and TVs play a large role, but I am no expert, my childers are still too small. I know what I would do. Also, if they are home totally alone with no siblings, don’t they get lonely?
When I was 9 school finished at 3.10pm. I lived opposite my primary school and as my Mum worked shifts as a nurse, some days she picked me up. On the days she worked in the afternoon my Grandma would be in charge and I would take myself back to her house (15 minutes walk away) or she would be at my house cooking up a storm (her culinary expertise was legendary – once she cooked custard in a pan she had cooked carrots in, forgetting to wash in between. What are these orange things in the custard Grandma?). I am 99.9% certain that I wasn’t left to fend for myself until I was in High School (aged 11) and my older brother was then in charge (age 13). I should add that my younger sister (then 6) went to a child minder, we didn’t take responsibility for her until she was at least 9.
I think my horror and surprise was due to a few factors; yes safety, yes the question of amusing themselves, getting themselves home safely etc but also it’s just so strange that in a country where kids rule and family is sacred there is this illogical lack of support for working parents once school is out – why oh why do the schools finish so early? Especially because school is 6 days a week here. Yes you heard right, kids go to school on the weekend so the parents get a morning to themselves.
If we are still in Israel when our eldest gets to 3rd grade I don’t know what we’ll do. Who knows what our situation will be then. Right now I just feel sad for all the kids home alone every day (although they probably love it) and for the parents who must worry non stop, or maybe I am just being too damned soft… What do you think?