playoutside

Can children still run free in 2014?

As I discussed in my last post, my family and I just bought our first house. We moved only five miles away from our previous home of eight years, but in some ways it feels like we moved to an entirely new town.

One of the differences between our last neighborhood and our new neighborhood is that I now feel like it will soon be safe for my older daughter to ride her bike to the local park and elementary school – by herself. It’s one of the reasons we chose the house in the neighborhood that we did. The park is only .3 miles away, and the school is .7 miles. It seems pretty ideal.

She’s only seven years old now, and still a bit inexperienced on her bike, but I’m pretty sure that within the next six months to a year, she’ll be off and running – or biking, as the case may be.

Except…sometimes I wonder if I’m going to get arrested for child abuse if I let her go off on her own adventures at the tender age of seven or eight. Lately, it feels like every day I read another story on the news about a mom who was arrested for letting her child walk or bike alone in the neighborhood or to the park.

Sounds crazy, right? But most of us in our 30s and up probably remember roaming our neighborhoods unsupervised when we were kids. I know that I was pretty young when I started locking up the house in the morning (I was last to leave) and riding my bike the mile to school – it was maybe 2nd or 3rd grade.

And in the summertime, I would walk through a path in the woods at the end of our cul-de-sac to take the shortcut to swim team practice, in the wee hours all by myself, and no one thought a thing of it.

Now, this kind of freedom seems a rarity. Helicopter parenting has become the norm for many. I do think some parents are slowly starting to reject that concept, as research has shown time and time again that hovering over our kids does not make them stronger, braver, or more resilient; quite the opposite, in fact.

But as parents talk themselves into letting their children have more freedom and take more risks, it seems that society at large is now attempting to step in and “take up the slack.” Perfect strangers are calling the police when they see a child walking alone or playing by themselves at the park. A recent article referred to these strangers “bad Samaritans”, but I think that plenty of people would disagree with that title.

I always dreamed of raising my children on some acreage, where they could run free and climb trees, explore creeks and hills, catch frogs, and plop down to read under a shady oak. (I think my idea of the perfect childhood was heavily influenced by Anne of Green Gables.) Alas, that particular dream for my children has not come to pass and probably never will.

But I refuse to accept that my children can’t have freedom to run and play on their own in 2014 – especially considering that statistics in the U.S. show that things are generally safer now than they were 20-30 years ago.

The only question for me, really, is this: what does it mean about our culture when I am more worried about whether something bad will happen to ME (for letting them go to play unsupervised) than I am about whether something bad will happen to my children?

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kids playing at the lake

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thoughts on having a son

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More and better words for difficult kids

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