by Kai, a 14-year-old from Boulder, CO, living in a town outside Tel Aviv, Israel
I was asked to write about the differences I’ve experienced as a kid living in America vs living in Israel. In particular, the differences in independent mobility and freedom. The one rule in Israel against kids doing whatever they want, whenever they want, without any supervision, is the rule that kids ages 9 and younger can’t cross the street without an adult. It’s got something to do with the fact that distance and motion perception isn’t fully formed until age nine, so they have a bigger chance of getting hit by cars. Other than that though, kids in Israel have much more freedom than they do in America. Here are some examples:
Last week, my eight year old sister went to her friend’s house at eight o’clock at night on a school night to bake a cake. She and her friends had planned that activity in school, and did not tell the parents it was happening until about an hour before they wanted to leave. We picked my sister up at 9:30pm, after the kids ate the chocolate cake they baked, with ice cream on top.
A couple days ago, my eleven year old brother was invited to a trampoline park with his friend. Nobody could drive them there, so they took the bus. They both have their own bus passes, and took the public bus to the next town so they could go to the trampoline park.
My friends and I are all 13 or 14 years old. We’ve taken the train to Tel Aviv (one of the main cities in Israel) a bunch of times. We get to the station, walk across town, and go to this huge mall. We stay there for a few hours, and usually come home at around nine at night.
When I lived in America, there were only a few places I was allowed to go to without my parents. In many of these places, someone would ask me where my parents were and why I was there alone. Coffee shops are a good example. In Boulder, if I walked to Ozo Coffee without my parents, the people working there would more often than not ask why I wasn’t there with my parents. In Israel, on the other hand, it’s unusual not to see a group of ten year old kids sitting at a coffee shop or even restaurant without parental supervision.
Because I live in a small town, you can get almost anywhere by walking or biking. Most kids have their own bikes. If they don't, they can just walk everywhere. Also, most people in Israel have their own bus pass. You can get it at a really young age and use it for the buses, trains, and the entire public transport system. Even if you’re a kid, you can get almost everywhere in Israel as long as you have your bus pass. It even has your picture on the back.
It’s perfectly normal here to walk home by yourself from a friend's house at 9 o’clock on a school night. It’s also perfectly normal for your friends to take you with them to wherever they're going that day, and then drop you off at home at 10:00 pm.
Probably the biggest difference between living in Israel and America is school. School here ends around 1:30pm, so you don't eat lunch at school. You have a snack at 10am (called “the ten o’clock meal”) and then you go home for lunch. The whole afternoon is free for after school activities. One of those activities is a youth group that almost everybody is in. There are a bunch of different ones all throughout Israel. The groups are run by kids in 10th - 12th grade, and they’re the counselors for kids in 3rd - 9th grade.
I think there's like one or two adults involved in the youth group, but you never see them at the activities, and they just help with funding and running the program. I’ve never actually seen them at one of our weekly meetings.
In Israel, the kids are given more responsibilities and more trust when it comes to those responsibilities because they're given the chance to take on leadership positions at a really young age. Then, they are better prepared when they have to be leaders in adulthood.
The way kids are in general is very different here than in America for not only that reason, but also because they have a lot more freedom. Parents here also aren’t as hovering in Israel. This can be good and bad because sometimes it can be fun to be at your friend's house, and even though their parents are home, you can do whatever you want.
Sometimes it's also not fun because if you want to go somewhere, there might not be anyone who can drive you. Then you have to figure everything out on your own. In most Israeli families, both parents work. That means they’re usually not home during the afternoons. Any kids ten and older are allowed to be at home alone, so the parents only stay home if they have little kids. Kids who are old enough to go to preschool can stay in after-school care. That program continues until kids are ten years old. After that, the kids just hang out at home, with friends, or at after school activities until their parents get back from work.
I don’t like to judge which country is better. In my opinion, both America and Israel have their pluses and minuses when it comes to independent mobility and freedom. I do think it’s a fun experience to be able to go to the city without having to have my mom be my taxi driver.
This Growing Up Boulder blog is a place for GUB leaders and partners to share their thoughts about child and youth participatory planning and child-friendly cities. Enjoy!