Before we moved, other American parents who had lived in Australia commented on how much freedom Australian children enjoy. Parenting here is not for the fainthearted—helicopter parents need not apply. Australian parents do not hover.
I sum up the Australian approach to parenting as: manage risk and then keep going. For example, every summer, about 40,000 children here ages 5 to 13 participate in a Nippers swimming program. Started in 1907 after a series of drownings, these classes teach children how to be safe in the ocean rather than just avoid it. They learn to recognize dangers like rip currents, jellyfish, and poisonous stonefish. Parent volunteers help them to navigate big waves, and children are encouraged to rest if they must, but to always keep going. This same pragmatic approach applies to the rest of the natural world: learn the dangers posed by crocodiles and the myriad poisonous animals, insects, and plants native to Australia, and then keep on exploring.
Schools operate much the same way. When our daughter was 13, she went on a school ski trip. When the bus arrived, teachers pointed out the lessons area and different slopes, then told them to be back at the bus in four hours. They were on their own. I could not imagine that happening on a school trip in the States.
In Canberra, students take public buses to and from school. In some cases, the buses have dedicated school routes, but usually students take regular public buses. School-age children commonly take public buses to go shopping, to the library, or to meet their friends. Consequently, my daughter can navigate the public transit system here far better than I can.
Australia’s way of parenting raises strong, confident children, well able to take on the world. We could learn a lot by adopting their approach: manage risk and then just keep on going.