There’s nothing more frustrating for a child to be told “not until you’re older” by their mom or dad – especially if their friends’ parents seem less strict than their own. That’s because all parents have their own views and apply different rules. This can make it hard to get the right balance between molly coddling and letting your children grow up too fast. YouGov has asked its US panelists – which include both parents and non-parents – what ages they think are ‘appropriate’ for children to do things like go out alone, watch movies, date, diet and drink alcohol.
Activities which Americans deem mainly acceptable from a younger age are:
- Being left alone (50% say it is appropriate for over-12s)
- Going on a diet (32% say this is appropriate for over-12s)
- Wearing a bikini (28% say this is appropriate for over-12s)
- Drinking coffee (25% say this is appropriate for over-12s)
- Watching movies with violence (22% say this is appropriate for over-12s)
Stranger danger: Leaving children alone
Attitudes to leaving children on their own have changed dramatically in the past few decades. Children today may not recognize the youth experienced by their parents – playing in the street, spending lots of time out of doors, and being more trusting of strangers.
American childhood has moved indoors and under parental supervision. This is partly related to parents’ concerns for their children’s safety as a result of there being more cars on the road and a greater perceived “stranger danger”. This is reflected in the results, which indicate 50% of Americans feel a child should be at least 12 years old before they should be allowed to leave the house on their own. 34% say that a child should be at least 16 years old, and 11% say they would only leave an 18-year-old on their own.
Bikini divides opinion
Children’s high heeled shoes, shirts with inappropriate slogans and pre-teen bras and bikinis have left some parents worried that children are growing up too fast. There is also a perception that young girls may feel under pressure from the media and their friends to look a certain way. Many parents were upset when Abercrombie & Fitch introducing a padded bikini in its children’s clothing line last summer. Originally named the “push up triangle”, the padded bikini top was renamed the “striped triangle” after parents complained.
The padding raised comments from parents interviewed by news channel ABC – some said the bikini encouraged young girls to be “sexualized” from a young age. The bikini was not removed from Abercrombie’s clothing line, unlike in the UK where a padded bikini was discontinued in a national clothing store, Primark, after public opposition in 2011. 10% of Americans say a young person should wait until they are 21 until it is appropriate to wear a bikini, and 19% said only an 18-year-old should be allowed. The biggest group of respondents (71%) said it is appropriate for anyone aged 12 to 18 to wear a bikini.
Dieting more acceptable at a young age than coffee
Many children might find coffee too bitter to drink until they are older. But the market is now flooded with ice-blended, cream-topped and syrupy coffee drinks that are more palatable to younger taste buds. Parents might object to giving their (already energetic) children a caffeinated drink. And too much caffeine can be bad for children – and adults too – by causing symptoms lack of sleep and anxiety.
Dieting also has its dangers for children – who may develop an unhealthy relationship with food from a young age. But the fact is childhood obesity in the US is on the rise – around 16% of children in the States are currently overweight, according to Government figures. Interestingly, 32% of respondents said it is acceptable for a 12 year-old to go on a diet other than for medical reasons while only 25% feel a 12 year-old should be allowed to drink coffee. 25% said that a person should reach adulthood (18 years of age) before it is appropriate to be a coffee drinker and 28% said only over-18s should diet.
There were certain activities that returned older age-appropriate responses among YouGov panelists:
- Going on a date (9% say this is appropriate for someone over 12)
- Drinking a glass of wine (21% say a child should be at least 16)
- Watching movies with sexual content (75% say 18 is an appropriate age)
- Going to a tanning salon (Only 3% say this is appropriate for a 12 year-old)
- Being sexually active (28% said this is only appropriate for someone over 21)
‘Tanorexic’ mom is cautionary tale
A New Jersey mom recently made the headlines after she was accused of taking her five-year-old daughter into a tanning booth. Dubbed ‘Tanning Mom’, Patricia Kendal pleaded not guilty to the accusation after a teacher of her fair-skinned daughter noticed burns on the child’s skin. The mother denies that she let her daughter use a tanning booth – but is a self-confessed “tanorexic”. 24% of respondents said a 12-year-old should be allowed to go to a tanning salon, but 21% said it is only appropriate at 16 and 45% that it is only appropriate at 18.
The majority of respondents would stick to the legal drinking age – 48% responded that 21 is the youngest age at which it is appropriate to drink a glass of wine. But a large proportion of Americans (21%) would let a 12-year-old have a tipple.
Perhaps the most controversial categories listed are watching movies with sexual content and being sexually active. 50% said a person should be at least 18 before having sex, and 42% said that an 18-year-old or older should be allowed to watch movies with sexual content. The age of consent in America varies from 16-18 depending on state law – which corresponds with American’s values, as the overwhelming majority of respondents (96%) said a child should be at least 16, 18 or 21 before being sexually active.
And who makes for the strictest parent? A Republican woman over the age of 64, with a household income of up to $40,000. Respondents in each of these demographic groups (ideology, gender, age and income) generally thought that children should be older for the activities listed. Here are some interesting points of disagreement between demographic groups:
- REPUBLICANS were stricter than democrats in all the activities asked except DEMOCRATS responded children should be older in order to go on a date and drink coffee
- WOMEN are stricter than men in allowing children to tan, diet, drink wine and drink coffee
- MEN are stricter than women in allowing children to be left alone
- The biggest gender disagreement was on sex: 31% of men said it is okay for someone over 16 and only 13% of women said it is okay for someone over 16 to be sexually active
- LOWER EARNERS are more conservative – more people earning less than $40,000 responded people should be older to be left alone, drink coffee, go on a date, watch movies with violence and diet than people earning more than $100,000
- The 65 AND OVER age group are generally strictest – 38% of 18-29s would let someone under 18 go to a tanning salon, and only 9% of over-65s
Do you think American children are growing up to fast? Or should the young generation be given more freedom?