Germany seems to have a lot in common with Japan. Children travelling to school by tram, bus, bike, or on foot, are legion. My daughter (11) and son (10) are among them. They use the bus and the train. As did I when I was little. My parents came with me on the first three days - and that was it. From then on, I was expected to manage on my own, and I did.
In retrospect I have to say that this has indeed paid off. Navigating foreign territory has never scared me, and the same seems to hold true for my own children.
But even in Germany, things are changing. Kids are no longer just a member of their respective family, it seems, but they have become coveted possessions, even life-time projects. Consequently, they seem to get pampered (and driven everywhere by car) more and more. German police actually keep pleading with the parents to let the kids walk at least the last few hundred yards, since all those cars in front of the schools pose more of a threat to the children's security than any other factor does.
Some parents even drive straight onto the school yard and insist on carrying their child's school bag upstairs to the classroom. A behaviour that has now prompted many schools to put up signs on their front doors, reading "From here, I can manage on my own!" Alas, some parents still don't take the hint... My daughter's best friend from primary school was not allowed to walk that one mile between our houses on her own. Her mother insisted on bringing her, and also always picked her up again. No matter what time of day or year, no matter what the weather conditions were like.
But like I said: For a large part, German kids are like Japanese kids: Independent from an early age. And while strengthening their characters may not be the primary goal in all instances, as one commenter suggested, it certainly is a reliable side effect.
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