How freely do you let your kids play?

We recently had a great discussion about whether we know our neighbors, and whether it’s even important for us to know them.  I found it fascinating the range of demographics and geography represented in the comments.  Overall, it seems like most of us want to establish some sort of community relationship with our neighbors, no matter where we live or what life stage we’re in.

Many of us have small children, so my next question for today involves their well-being.  There has been a huge shift in thinking — even just from my generation — about what constitutes safe playing for kids.

Nearly extinct are the days when kids just free played up and down their street, riding bikes to the pool and goofing around outside until the parents called them in for dinner.  Now, it’s much more about scheduled play dates, organized activities, and supervised backyard play.

Why is this?

typewriter key letter Q ampersand A

Is it too dangerous to play outside?

Richard Louv, author of last year’s Book Club summer selection Last Child in the Woods, and Lenore Skenazy, author of Free-Range Kids, argue that this is more than just interesting.  This is a crisis situation.

Parents are overly worried, argues Skenazy, because the dangers we imagine are mostly in our heads.  Thanks to the Internet and nonstop news, we receive worldwide information instantaneously, making us falsely believe the world is more dangerous than when we were kids.  In fact, crime overall is at an all-time 30 year low.

Here’s today’s discussion question:

Do you let your kids play outside in a “free-range” style?  How safe do you feel letting them out of your sight, even when you know where they are?  Do you think our current world is truly safer than it was when we were kids?  And how does this affect how you interact with your neighbors?

Also share how old your kids are and your living conditions, because I’m sure there’s a correlation.  I highly encourage you to check out Lenore’s site — it has some great information.  And if you haven’t yet, both books mentioned above are very worthwhile.

I’m looking forward to this week’s discussion! See you in the comments.

You can say no to constant busyness.

To lead your family with peace, you need to know your NOs and YESes. But what are they?

Like Your Life can help you figure them out.

246 Comments

  1. Melitsa

    I have 3 children under 7 and they get to play in the garden unsupervised.
    I would have the oldest play differently but I’m reminded that my perceptions are different because I grew up, had my childhood and lived overseas. I’ve only been here for a short while in the US.
    I feel comfortable doing more but don’t.
    When I lived in Italy it felt very different. I have no idea if it was safer. I feel safe here but the parents/ locals I believe are different.
    I agree with the Free range kids message so much. I don’t think things have changed enough for what we do to have been so radically altered.
    Living here in America, my neighbours are too busy. It feels like you need an appointment to drop by……which defeats the object. We do have cul-de-sacs though so when some come out others follow.
    I enjoyed the festivals in Europe. The village would go to them and you’re always seeing the neighbours.
    Not everything is rosy though.
    .-= Melitsa´s last blog ..Raising Playful Tots show # 24 Time management tips for busy moms and play =-.

  2. Angela @ Homegrown Mom

    I do not let my girls go in our front yard without me. So I spend a lot of time on the grass, watching them play. They go back and forth between our neighbor’s yard and ours. We might be over-worried by some people’s standards, but my husband actually had a friend who was kidnapped when they were out playing one day, so we don’t think twice about taking the time to sit out there with them. We’ve just never thought of doing it any other way.

    It’s also nice for me to be outside and read or work on my menus, etc. while they play. We also go to the park regularly where they have a little more room to run around. We live in California.
    .-= Angela @ Homegrown Mom´s last blog ..Wednesday Workbox Day =-.

  3. Sheri

    My boys are 12 and 14. I grew up in a tiny town, and I wandered the dirt roads of that town and the surrounding area all day, every day in the summers. No cell phone, no mall to go to, just walking and playing with whoever we could find. It was paradise for a child, and that makes it so hard for me to not let my kids wander. I didn’t let them when they were younger; I didn’t know my neighbors, it was a small neighborhood on the outskirts of town, and I was just nervous. Now that we live in a more central part of our suburb, and they are older, I let them wander. They walk to friends’ houses, to the park, to the store. But I still worry. I know that most of the things we worry about will not happen, but I still see newspaper reports of people following kids and trying to get them in their car. I can’t help but worry, but I also have talked to my kids since they were very small about the dangers. I feel like I have to let them go, let them “wander”, and really with cell phones these days, I do think they are safe and could call me if they need to. I am trying to raise my boys to be independent, so I can’t justify sheltering them at home because of my fears. I want them to have more and more freedom as they get older.

    I don’t know that it is safer today than when I was a kid. My husband grew up smack in the middle of a large city, but even with such a different environment than where I grew up, the neighbors (in my case, the whole town) all looked out for each other’s kids. They paid attention, they knew each other, and you kind of had a support network looking out for your child. I don’t feel like I have that, which is partially because moms and dads work all day now, and that wasn’t the case in the ’70’s and ’80’s when I was growing up. Cell phones do make up for that, but as a parent, it would be reassuring to know that other adults were watching out for my kids.

    Excellent question ~ this is something that seems to have no black or white answer, and we’ll probably always struggle with it.
    .-= Sheri´s last blog ..Monday Motivation =-.

    • Bernice @ Living the Balanced Life

      I grew up in a suburb, and wandered all over from the time I was about 7 or 8. We moved to the country shortly after I got married and have raised 4 kids here. It has grown up much, though it is still considered rural. My kids were allowed to run between several neighbors yards when they were younger, but as they hit 8 or 10, I allowed them a little more freedom. We have acres and acres of woods around us, lots of places to explore. I always encouraged them to be with one of their friends or siblings. Once they got cell phones it became easier.
      When my daughter turned 11 she got a horse. She would saddle up after finishing her schoolwork and ride for HOURS down power lines and through fields. Sometimes she would have someone with her, but other times she was alone.
      When they built a gas station at the end of our street, still a little over a mile away, I began letting them walk or ride their bikes up there. They were preteens by then.
      Now that they are grown, I hear stories of things that would have gripped me had I known them then, like the coyotes chasing my daughter on her horse!
      All-in-all, they had a lot of freedom, and we had no negative results. And they have great memories!
      To give perspective, we live about an hour outside of Atlanta.

  4. Sarah

    Well, I happened to already be browsing the site when this post popped up. 🙂

    I only let my older kids (ages 10.5, 9, and 7) play outside with a sibling or friend, never alone. My 10yo pretty much comes and goes between our house and his best friend’s house 2 doors down. They don’t ride around the block or anything w/o permission.

    I’m OK letting them out of my site. I leave the windows and doors open so I can hear them, and I check on them every few minutes or so. My girls usually end up in the backyard on the trampoline, so that lightens my worries a bit. 🙂 Our rules are they can only play/ride bikes or scooters on the sidewalk in front of our house and the houses on either side of us (so three houses total), and no further. I do not let my 4 and 2yo play outside w/o me.

    We live in a mostly empty-nester neighborhood. Lots of retired folks and surrogate grandparents look out for my family. 🙂 It’s a very nice but older neighborhood, the kind of place where people care about their lawns and yards, hang around outside to chat in the evenings, etc. It’s a close-knit neighborhood, including our street.

    Ack, this is too long! Briefly…. I am not sure if it’s safer now or not. I think we just hear so.much.negative on the news and it’s possible it just wasn’t broadcast as much back then. I am, however, very careful about how my kids interact with neighbors. There is one house on our street our children are not allowed to go to or go in, and all the other parents on the street feel the same way, so we keep an eye out for each other’s children. Other than that, my kids know they can run to almost any neighbor for an emergency. We also hold street or block parties in the summer at our house to get to know the neighbors and hang out. Like I said, we are all pretty close.

  5. anna

    we live on a corner block on a busy road in the suburbs (australian suburbs. 😉 ). it’s a small block – just big enough for a swing and a mini exercise trampoline. my girls (2 and 4) are allowed to play outside without me, but i can see them from the kitchen. i think it’s important that they learn how to play without adults being right there, but it’s also important for me to be there quickly if something gets dangerous (like climbing on the frame of the swing!). they’re still really young, though – i don’t know what their outside play will look like in a few years – i’ll take it as it comes.
    .-= anna´s last blog ..Another Keesh challenge… =-.

  6. anna

    mmm, i should say they’re allowed in the *back*yard… our front “yard” isn’t much of one, so there’s no playing that happens out the front.
    .-= anna´s last blog ..Another Keesh challenge… =-.

  7. Brandis

    I have a 3.5 year old and an 18 month old. They both get to play in the fenced back yard by themselves, and I let my older daughter play in the front yard by herself as long as I am in/near the kitchen where I can see her most of the time. They aren’t old enough to run around the neighborhood yet, but I imagine that if they were I would allow it. Our neighborhood is nice and, while I wouldn’t call it close knit, everyone is friendly. All the older (school age) kids play together up and down the block and ride bikes in the street. It’s a neighborhood that doesn’t get a lot of traffic, making it a bit safer in that respect.

    I honestly have very mixed feelings about this. I think we should give kids freedom, but with limits, and we have to be very careful about the choices we make so far as allowing them to run around. Crime may be lower, but no statistic in the world is going to make me feel better if my daughter was grabbed by someone, or run over on the sidewalk by a drunk driver. I don’t worry about these things happening (worrying isn’t good for you!). I just try to make choices that will make the aforementioned events less likely without infringing on my kids’ freedom too much. But I don’t think it is any more or less safe now than it was when I was growing up.

    I do think that this is a huge incentive to get to be friends with your neighbors, though. It takes a village, right?

  8. Shelby Austin

    We live in a small town (3500) in Alberta, Canada. I let my 7 and 4 year old play unsupervised in the neighborhood. This is new for me and I have to admit it takes some getting used to, I’ve been tempted to send them with my cell phone or to get walkie talkies. About 50% of the time they are within my sight, but that leaves a lot of the time where I can’t see them. They often play behind the houses across the street. I believe that this is good for them to experience and be given this freedom, so I try to work through my anxiety and remind myself often that its safer now than it was years ago. The problem arises when my 4 year old wants to go out without the 7 year old, I’m not comfortable with that yet, but she gets frustrated because she doesn’t understand why she can’t.

    • Mac

      My two older children were allowed more unsupervised play than we allow our youngest. I have grandchildren that are older than my youngest (step-son). We also live in a different place, let alone a different time. Just last week I ran off a little boy that had climbed up onto our deck, heading straight for my husbands new tomato plants. I ran him off. Thinking he would open the gate and go back through, he instead climed over it using the rails on the deck, in flip flops and up two stories. All I could do was hold my breath a pray that he did not fall. Two days later, I saw him outside across the street in a neighbors yard with very large fence cutters. He had to stand in the middle of the cutters with one hand/arm on each side in order to close the cutters and continue with cutting down the neighbor’s bush. Again in flip flops. At this point, I called the sheriff. I could just imagine the tips of the cutters dropping into his little toes or cutting off his fingers. I work in an ER and we see a lot of adults getting put back together after doing something stupid. I do not know where this child lives. I do not know where his parents are. The boy, who we now refer to as Dennis the Menace is about 5 years old. As the child continues to run the neighborhood unsupervised, I will continue to phone the police when I see any danger. Eventually maybe his parents will have to be accountable for their own child. Lots of other children “free play” in our neighborhood. But then we live in a neighborhood that has a lot of drug activity too and lots of speeding cars. There is parenting towards independence, and then there is pure laziness. We see most of the latter.

  9. Satakieli

    My son is only 2 and we don’t have our own backyard (military apartment dwellers!) so unfortunately he can’t play unsupervised. We do have a shared playground right outside though and when we go out to play I am always there if he needs me but I make a point to sit away from him playing with the other kids so that he can have fun on his own terms or I’ll be doing something else like weeding the flower beds.

    Not to say that I don’t play with them too, it’s fun to get a little messy but I know they need their own space sometimes. I try to keep it fairly balanced. We also live in Europe (Germany) where kindergarteners walk home/catch the bus home all on their own regularly. I’d have no problem letting him play unsupervised if we lived in a house with a backyard.
    .-= Satakieli´s last blog ..Forget the rain =-.

    • Satakieli

      I just wanted to add… i’m British originally. I don’t know how it is now but when I was a kid in England we would run all over the neighbourhood playing. The older kids would watch out for the younger ones and the parents would just have their windows open so they could hear us. We lived on a cul-de-sac with hardly any traffic.

      It seems to be much this way in Germany but I know when we lived in the states briefly I was surprised at how few children were playing outside in the yards or in the street. The only time I saw kids playing outside was when we lived in a lower income neighbourhood and in the summer the street was full of children playing and the parents sitting out on their porches, I used to really enjoy those days.
      .-= Satakieli´s last blog ..Forget the rain =-.

  10. Sarah

    I do not have this worry yet. My son is 3 on the 30th of this month but is dev. delayed so I have to have him in sight at all times. My 15 mo. daughter still looks around to make sure I’m there before she goes too far. We have a nice acre for them and are in a cul-de-sac. When they get older, who knows? We are currently living in the city my husband grew up in and I know no one except the next door neighbor. If we were in my hometown I would probably not care about them playing all over the neighborhood. I used to ride my bike to the downtown area(3 miles or so) and to the closest grocery(1 1/2 miles) when I was 10 or 11. I think it is different now in that there is more built up and more traffic but for the most part. What will be will be.

  11. Megan

    I routinely let my 3 year old play outdoors with the 8-12 year olds in our neighborhood without me. It took awhile before I let her do this more and more on her own. At first they would just play in our garage with the door open which progressed to her playing at the neighborhood playground across the street. I learned to trust the girls and they watch out for her. I still check on her every 15 minutes or so. It’s been difficult finding kids her age to routinely meet up with because everything is so scheduled. It seems so many moms of toddlers just sign them up for expensive “educational” classes but don’t let their kids have free play. My daughter has learned a lot from the older girls about friendship, imaginative play, sharing, etc. It’s an experience neither me or some over priced class can recreate.

    • Wendy

      Hi Megan,

      I’m in the same situation as you. My 3 year old daughter advanced quickly. A year ago, my husband met a family that moved in five doors down the street. She has a 7 year old daughter who is really friendly. My daughter took a liking to her right away. My husband started allowing them to play together and the three of them would go places, like the park or the local farm. My husband is a huge fan of free-range kids and was comfortable letting our daughter play with this girl on the street unsupervised. A few days ago my daughter and I were on the porch. She wanted to see if her friend was available to play. She asked if she could go check and I said “yes, but if she’s not home or not available, you come back”. I had to use the bathroom so I did. As I was on my way back to the porch my babysitter (who lives six doors away) comes into my house with my daughter and told me that she was just hanging around the front of her friend’s house. Her friend was not allowed to play that day. Later that evening when I went to pick up my daughter from the babysitter’s she said she wanted to discuss some “legal matters”. I asked what it was about and she told me that it was illegal for me to leave my 3 yo unsupervised. She threatened to call children’s aid for neglect. She said that I should not let my daughter play alone on the street (which was never done intentionally) or let 7 year olds supervise her. I was so upset that I couldn’t sleep that night. When she basically implied that I had to watch my daughter 24/7 I felt like my whole world was closing in on me. I’m a stay at home mom and being around my daughter all the time is a challenge for me. I’ve stopped using my babysitter’s services but she now has me questioning my own parenting choices. I know I’m not a lazy parent because I don’t sit at home watching tv while she’s out. I cook, clean, do laundry and house repairs. Today she asked if she could knock on her friend’s door (like she always does) and I didn’t know what to say. Now I’m living in fear, afraid that someone will take her (according to my babysitter) or that someone will call children’s aid (probably my babysitter). Funny thing is that her 16 year old son is a smoker and she knows it. I think that’s neglect. Any advice or feedback would be appreciated.

      • Lisa

        I feel bad that, that happened to you. And now all those horrible doubts have been put in your mind. The police are here to serve and protect, call them and confirm that it is not negligence to allow your daughter to walk 5 houses down the street. What the evil baby sitter said would have shaken my ideals too. Children need to learn independence and confidence. I guess the problem is (in this case) Plan B happened and a 3yo couldn’t figure out the correct course of action (come back home) Maybe if you give your daughter better directions, ie if your friend is not home then come straight home. And TALK to the 7 yo’s mom, about calling when your kid shows up at the door, whether or not her daughter can come out and play. Possibly better communication is the key here. And for heavens sake, never let your daughter near that baby sitter again, I’d be afraid of her. The flip side of this is my boss watching his 14 yo’s friend (boy) walk to the end of the corner, which I think is as silly as anything.

      • Karen

        Wendy,
        I would have to agree with the babysitter who told you it’s unwise to let your 3 yr old wander 5 doors down to see if her friend was home. I find it hard to believe I could be in the minority here. A 3 yr old is vulnerable to older children who are not mature, and also unable to make decisions about what is safe, etc. You have no idea what she might encounter on her trip down the street or into someone’s home. It’s not reasonable to expect a 3 yr old to come back 100% of the time, and not wander or get distracted, as children this age are naturally curious. They depend on adults to sense danger and keep them safe. She could literally be anywhere for hours before you discover her wherabouts. I think the babysitter was sincere in her concern for your daughter’s well being, as the vast majority of adults would be. If it is a challege being with your daughter all of the time, maybe you could take turns with a neighbor babysitting each other’s children. Or arrange for a friend or family member to give you a break when you need one.

  12. Tonya O.

    I have 3 children 20,12 and 4 months. I would have to say it is NOT as safe as when I was a kid, but on the other hand, I think people have gotten overboard about some things. I have never let my kids ‘spend the night’ with friends. Or at least very rarely, and I had to be close friends with the other family.
    Where we have lived has been a factor for sure about my kids playing with other kids. The 20 yr old spent her first 15 yrs out in the country. Her play friends were the horses and dogs. The 12 yr old hasn’t been as blessed. We just spent the last two years living in an area in which he didn’t leave our yard. The feeling was mutual. He never even asked to leave the yard. It was an uncomfortable place to live. Not bad. Just uncomfortable. We now live in a better town, and he has one friend. The minute that friend goes outside, so does my ds. One rule though…no playing inside the others home. That goes for both boys.
    I pray that by the time my 4 month old is big enough to play outside, we will be in the country again. I think he’d like horses and dogs as playmates!
    .-= Tonya O.´s last blog ..On-The-Go Picnic placemat set =-.

  13. Renee Seats

    I have 2 under the age of 3. So no I don’t let them play outside unsupervised, not only because I fear going to jail but because I fear they would get hurt. We live in the country in a very small town, but near a busy highway & even though the speed limit in front of our house is posted at 30 mph no one, not even the police, drive past here that slowly. Perhaps when they are older and have a better comprehesion of what is safe, etc. Then I’ll allow unsupervised outdoor play, I even look forward to the day perhaps I’ll be able to finally go to the bathroom by myself.

  14. Jaimie

    Mine are still small, so my answer might differ from that of some other moms. My oldest just turned four this weekend, and my youngest is 1 1/2. We live in the city (Montreal), on a busy side street. The kids play in the backyard, and they do what they want while I’m gardening, etc. The oldest can play in the backyard with her friends while our downstairs neighbor (a mother) is inside keeping her eye on them through the window. The baby is obviously too young. I don’t feel that my oldest is old enough to roam the neighborhood, particularly in a city environment.

    I don’t feel our outdoor environment is more or less safe. I think there were always dangers, and there always will be.

    I like to get to know as many of my neighbors as possible. I’m not one to just go to their doors and introduce myself because I’m a little too shy for that, but every opportunity I have to meet someone who happens to be outside, I take. I figure that it can only help to know the people around me, right?
    .-= Jaimie´s last blog ..Self Portrait Saturday #2–May 8th, 2010 =-.

  15. Kate

    We live on 27 acres in Australia, and I let the kids 2yo, 4yo, 5yo boys) play unsupervised outside all the time. We have boundaries – no going into the bush, no going down out the front gate. I do question myself on days like yesterday when my 5yo came face to face with a brown snake (v. venomous) when climbing an embankment near the house. He tried to get away, and eventually the vine his foot was caught in broke, and he slid down the bank to safety. Would not have been a nice Mother’s Day.
    We don’t have any dams on our property, so except for snakes, I think it is pretty safe. I think when they are older, I will let them go exploring in the bush (- staying on our property.) I think it is important not to try to protect our children from everything that might harm them. Isn’t getting hurt part of growing up? My boys have learnt quite a bit of safety sense from their mistakes. I must admit I am much more comfortable with the idea of dealing with risks in nature, than the risks involved with people.

    • Caressa

      Exactly my thoughts. 🙂

  16. KayTee

    My child is 12 and when he was around 10, I loosened up a little, letting him play outside without me. I’m extremely protective and I’d only let him play outside if I could actually see him. I’d tell him if he couldn’t see me (sometimes I’d be inside, in the kitchen at the PC where he could see me), then he knew he strayed too far.

    I’ve loosened up more, but he still isn’t allowed to play at anyone’s house I don’t know the parents – period. He is also not allowed to go into anyone’s house for any reason, unless I know first. I’m lucky enough to live in a community where I know almost all the parents of the kids my son plays with – but its because I make it a habit of introducing myself to his friends parents. I feel this is something that you HAVE to do.

    Also, when my son was 10, I made sure to put my cell phone in his pocket – so that he could always reach me and vice versa. Many of my friends said that was too young – but it was MY phone, and it made me feel better to have him outside with my phone, even if I could see him.

    At 12, he uses my extra cell phone … and I have signed up all numbers to a Locater service, so I can check online his whereabouts from time to time. Again, it may seem a bit much to some, but it works for me.

    Above all else, nothing beats getting to know the parents of your friends. I make sure they have my number and also the number of my extra cell phone that my son carries when he plays outside.
    .-= KayTee´s last blog ..A Season Of Artful Orange … =-.

  17. sewingirl

    My kids are mostly grown now, but we have lived in the country forever. We had a fenced play yard when they were younger, maybe until 5 or 6, and they had to stay inside it unless we parents were outside somewhere. They played all over our big yard, and later the farm fields. I don’t think rural people worry less about abductions etc., maybe more, there are much less people around to witness things. When the kids got old enough to be out of sight of the house, they had to go in pairs, and yes we did invest in some walkie talkies, they loved them, and we were more comfortable knowing what was going on. They didn’t sleep over unless we knew the other family, but I don’t remember that they even asked to very much. I did call around a few times to see if anyone I knew, also knew the other folks, if they got a good recommendation, I would call them directly, just to “double-check” the details. And I did have some parents come to the door with their kids, I was always very glad to see them, and I hope that I passed muster also!

  18. Jennifer Jo

    I just did a post on this last week! It was about letting my 8 and 10 year old kids ride their bikes on our country roads. (I did—they went three miles to my husband’s job and back.)

    My kids (4, 6, 8, 10) roam freely on our five acres (mostly fields, no water).

    Everyone has different tolerance-levels, but I think a lot of the reason why people are so nervous today is because they are so far removed from reality—cars, air-conditioning, all food from the grocery store, TV. Our society has lost a lot of practical skills and basic common sense, and this makes us scared and fretful and we take it out on our kids.
    .-= Jennifer Jo´s last blog ..Warts and all =-.

  19. renee @ FIMBY

    My kids are 11, 9 & 7. We live in an urban neighborhood in Maine (very low crime rate in the state overall). I let my children play unsupervised in our backyard, I’ve been doing that for only a couple years. Before that I wanted to be with them.. I also let them play unsupervised (as in, within earshot) in the Maine woods, which we spend a fair amount of time in.

    We live in a very urban spot and people are always walking on our street. Great neighborhood but I would never let my children roam freely from here. Way too risky.

    I am not so much concerned about physical harm, ie: all three jump together on the trampoline all the time (very unsafe according the powers-that-be) but I am very concerned about strangers, abductions etc… I could not live with myself if something like that ever happened to my children. I’d rather be overcautious in the city for that reason.

    But once we get into the woods (every weekend) we like to let them explore with minimal interference from us. Also, we go to our csa farm once a week all summer and they are “free-range” there.

    As city dwellers we need these weekly excursions for free, unsupervised play.

  20. LaToya

    My boys are 4 an 19 months old. I let them play freely in the fenced in backyard at our rental house. We are close to a busy street so I usually stand in the kitchen or sun room to keep an eye on them. I also don’t hover at the playgrounds either. I often wonder how far I’ll let them roam once they get a little older.
    .-= LaToya´s last blog ..Real Food on a Real Budget Giveaway @ Simple Mom =-.

  21. Fiddledeedee

    The gentleman who lived 3 doors down from us was recently jailed for molesting his step-daughter that lived in the house with he and his wife. That step-daughter is the same age as my oldest daughter.

    On the next street, an older grandfatherly type man was arrested for drugging and molesting two neighborhood boys.

    No, I don’t let my kids play outside in the neighborhood unsupervised. And I’d like to say to Ms. Skenazy that the danger is not in my head. But rather 3 doors down.

    I do, however, provide lots of outside play time with my kid’s friends. With safe and adequate supervision.
    .-= Fiddledeedee´s last blog ..A Mother of a Day =-.

  22. Cindy

    I have 4 kids (11, 9, 5, 3) and live in a neighborhood that has one entrance/exit plus our house is in a court. I feel safe letting the older 2 ride their bikes and walk around the neighboorhood without an adult present and I’m fine with letting the kids play out front with minimal supervision. The exception is if it’s only the 2 younger kids. In that case, I try to be outside too so that I can keep tabs on our youngest. Sometimes though if it’s for a short time period I’m okay with them playing our front alone…if the windows are open and I can hear them. Out in the fenced back yard they can definitely play alone.

    My oldest has been walking to the her friend’s house the next neighborhood over for over a year. My only requirement is that she phones when she gets there and calls before heading back home. She has also been staying home by herself during the day for a couple of hours here and there. This weekend, she stayed home with her youngest sibling for about 1 1/2 hours.

    My oldest 2 also walk to and from the bus stop by themselves on school days. It’s around the corner from our house so they are on their own until the bus comes.

    I agree with what Brandis said, “Crime may be lower, but no statistic in the world is going to make me feel better if my daughter was grabbed by someone, or run over on the sidewalk by a drunk driver.”. I want my children to be confident and independent but at the same time, they’re my babies and I don’t want anything bad to happen to them. I do keep tabs on the sex offender registry for our area. We did run into a situation where we had a sex offender living in our neighborhood for a few months. I was a little more watchful of the younger kids and had several discussions with the older 2 about wrongful touching, etc..

    One thing I find different about when I was a child is that there are less parents home during the day. In our neighborhood of approx. 100 houses there is only one other SAHM. Whereas I had other moms keeping an eye for me whether I was aware of it or not, during the work week my kids don’t have that. It makes summer time a little lonely for them too. Most of the other kids are in daycare or camps all summer long.

    While I find the idea of free-range children interesting, I don’t whole-heartedly agree with it. We had for a time a couple of siblings in our neighborhood that were allowed to free-range. I didn’t know their parents at all and they certainly didn’t know who I was or where I lived. Their kids (who were a 4 and 7) would show up at our doorstep around 10am in the morning and inform us that they didn’t have to be home until 6pm. Maybe I’m too strict, but my kids don’t go inside someone’s house to play unless I’ve met them.

    My take on free-range kids…yes, kids today need a bit more freedom and less structure. However, you still need to be aware of where they are and who they are with.

  23. Anon

    Is it weird I’m freaked enough about posting my kids playing habits I chose to do so anonymously?

    Anywho.

    I have two daughters. One will be three next week, the other is nearly 14 months. I let them in our fenced backyard together, but leave the door open and all of the window shades up so I can have the best view possible of them. Our neighborhood is a mixture of young families, but mostly older couples whose kids are in college. In general I would say that I’m more paranoid than most. I check out the windows at least every minute and my kids are still young enough that they check on me often too. Our fence is a privacy fence, but part is a picket fence, which has a lock on the gate.

    We live in a midwestern US suburb, similar, but a bigger city than where I grew up. I was able to play outside in the neighborhood up and down the street. That was the mid 1980’s. My kids won’t be playing in our front yard unsupervised, but I feel our backyard is enclosed enough to let them have a bit of freedom. I have considered buying alarm bracelets that they can wear to signal if they are a certain distance from me, for outside play time… not sure if I will, but I like the idea!

  24. Leslie

    I have 2 boys – 4 and 1 – and I let the 4 year old play in the backyard by himself, but that is about as far as I go. We have 8 and 6 year old neighbors that are allowed to roam a couple of streets over from their house – gone all day long if they like – playing at whomever’s house they chose. My hubs and I could not pick their parents out of a line up and their children have tried to come into our house. The 6 year old has been in our driveway until 8:30 p.m. This drives me crazy… and I don’t know what I can do about it {to help protect these kiddos} but my guess is the answer is nothing?
    .-= Leslie´s last blog ..Panama City Beach =-.

    • Christine

      I had the cops called on me for this lol! But it is REALLY uptight in the south. Everybody here thinks its their business how you parent your kids!

  25. caroline starr rose

    Here’s my take: I’m thirty-six and grew up in the era of Adam Walsh and After-School Specials. Mix this very early exposure to the evils of this world along with twenty-four hour news access, and we have created a world that is much more threatening to our children.

    Is this good? Bad? I don’t know. It makes me sad, though, that my children don’t have many of the freedoms and opportunities to grow (apart from parents, cell phone check ins, etc) as I did.
    .-= caroline starr rose´s last blog ..Do the Write Thing for Nashville =-.

    • Caroline Starr Rose

      A year later, I can say I work very hard to let my 8 and 10 year-old have more freedom. This is the year of the scooter in our household, and I’m letting the boys roam two streets up and two streets down from our house. While I’ll confess I’m partially nervous while they’re away, I strongly feel they need to have this room to play, explore, and grow without a hovering adult.

      They’ve asked to scoot down to the skate park without me (3/4 of a mile away). I’ve said no way.

      The boys are at a great age for pick up basketball and football in front of the house. We even have a few older boys that come knock on the door, looking for a game. This summer at my parents’ farm, the boys are getting a lot of time to explore on their own, creating memories and building dreams and being their grubby, precious selves.

  26. Catie

    I have an almost 4 year old that I have just now started to let play in the fenced backyard by himself for a very little while. I honestly don’t know why it makes me so nervous to let him do this. He is excellent at following rules and has always been very safe. Maybe when his brother is older (8 months now) and they can play outside together, I won’t feel as nervous. I think the uneasy thought right now is not that he is outside without a parent, but that he is outside completely alone.

  27. Fatima

    Growing up, I had run of our 700 acre farm. I was taught to respect dangers (old farm wells, snakes, cars on the road that ran through the middle) and expected to be smart about the risk I took. If it started storming, I knew to go in the barn for cover. I came home for supper and band-aids.
    Now, we live on 6 acres, just a little way off the state highway. My kids are ages 6, 4, 3, and 1. The six and four year old play outside, within the boundaries we have set with them. When they were younger (and now my three year old is learning), I taught them this rule to keep them out of trouble. “Stay in the grass (that’s our immediate yard area, not the field), don’t run away. If momma calls, answer right away.” I made them repeat the rhyme before going out the door, every time. The older two have had their boundaries increased as they show they are ready to venture farther. Now, they enjoy playing in the woods as well as the yard.
    I think it’s important for kids to “get in trouble” from time to time and have to work their way out of it. I try to control just how much trouble they can find, but I let them get in just over their heads from time to time. It builds their problem solving skills, makes them feel more independent, and gives them confidence.
    .-= Fatima´s last blog ..Thankful Thursday =-.

    • Fatima

      BTW, in the “old days” we always kept the windows open. I do the same for my kids. It’s a bit warmer in my house without using air conditioning, but I’m connected to the outdoors and my kids. I can hear if they get into trouble. They can easily come to me for help. I am excited about putting up a screen door on my front door this weekend. It will make it even easier for the kids to enjoy playing outside.
      .-= Fatima´s last blog ..Thankful Thursday =-.

  28. Jade

    My baby is only 10 mths., but I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. We live right in the middle of the city in New Orleans & have both a back & front yard (although small). We know all of our neighbors well & live in a low-crime community. The problem is that there is a bar on the corner (3 houses down) and it is starts getting customers pretty early in the day. This never bothered me until I had a baby. Now I have to carry her with me constantly, even if I’m going to turn on the hose or disassemble the stroller. I worry that some drunk will lose control of the car…

    We never considered moving out of the city a viable option for our family. Both my husband & I were raised in the suburbs and while we enjoyed the freedom it brought to our play time, we decided it was more important for us to have the cultural benefits of living in the city.

    As much as I wish my baby could have a little more independence as she grows, the trade-off may be worth it. We did take the street car into the French Quarter yesterday and spent the day listening to live music & eating some pretty awesome food. Hopefully your child develops a different much still valuable skill set from city-living?

  29. Melissa

    When my son was born, we lived on a beautiful mountain in a very small converted summer bungalow. Our back door opened up to a state park, and we were always outdoors – I would put him in the backpack and go hiking, or we would go for a stroller walk around the lake. I promised myself back then that I would never, ever do anything to limit his freedom.

    But things changed when we outgrew the little house and had to move to a larger one in a different state. Now, on a non-stop basis, I have 18 wheelers driving to the factory out back of my house, and a train that goes by all hours of the day and night. My neighbor’s one son is in jail for murder; their other son still lives with them. He is no prize and has even stolen from us on a number of occasions. He is an overall angry person. He drives too fast and I am scared of my son wandering into the alley and getting hit.

    So, needless to say, my whole approach is different now. I hate it, but I don’t know how else to keep him safe. I also have a seven month old daughter now, and it is a challenge to coordinate his outdoor play time with her feeding and changing schedule. Sometimes he’ll be asking me, “Can we please go outside?” It’s a beautiful day, but I’ll have to keep him in a little longer until I finish what I’m doing and am able to go out. I wish so much that it wasn’t like that. I will let him go outside without me if my husband is working out in the yard. What I desperately need is a fence, but my estimate is that – even if we installed it ourselves – it would cost about $5000, and that’s a big nut to crack.

  30. Elizabeth

    I think the neighborhood is key. We live in a townhome community where 90% of the families go to the same seminary that my husband attends. There are a ton of SAHMs and we know most of the people living here. My 2 yr old is allowed to play on our porch, in our carport, and in our side yard where I can hear and see her most of the time. Our 5 yr old is allowed to ride his bike in our cul de sac and to walk to the playgroud that is about 150 yards away from our house. When we move away from here I’m not sure how things will change.

  31. cagey (Kelli Oliver George)

    My oldest is 4.5 and my youngest is nearly 3 (in july) They are allowed to play outside by themselves, even in the front. For now, they have to stay in our front yard and I am pretty strict about the boundaries (As they get older and more cognizant of cars, they will get wider boundaries.) Primarily, the boundaries are in place because I simply worry about them being on the sidewalk, in the path of someone backing out of their driveway (a situation that nearly happened to a friend’s daughter while she was visiting – our next door teenaged neighbor nearly backed right over her and yes, it was truly frightening)

    I do keep a general eye on them, but for the most part they are on their own. My oldest has been playing in our backyard since he was 20 months old by himself. He has been playing in the front yard by himself since he was 3.5. We have a lot of windows in our yard and definitely last year, I was more nervous about him being in the front yard and would check in on him more frequently.

    You see, the fears are MINE and I had to navigate those carefully because I want a childhood for my children where they actually get to explore and participate in their world without my monitoring and scheduling every moment. Half the importance of childhood is having loads of free time, being bored with it and figuring out on your own when to do with it.
    .-= cagey (Kelli Oliver George)´s last blog ..Letting go. =-.

  32. Heather

    My kids are a 10 year old girl and and 3 year old boy. Like others they are both allowed to play in our fenced backyard unsupervised.

    My 10 year old is allowed much more freedom just because she is much more mature. She rides her scooter to school alone (of course we only live 3 houses away from the school). She can ride her bike to swim team, again only a few blocks away. She can ride around the block with her friends. Now we are about to let her ride her bike/scooter/or walk to friends houses in the neighborhood with one condition. We know which house she is going to and she must call when she arrives. Sortof a point A to point B kind of trust system.

    On visiting other people’s houses, I have to know the parents and have to be invited into their house for at least the first visit. You can just tell more about the vibe of the house if you visit for a while. Neither of my children are allowed to go into a stranger’s house, period.

    In addition, a few of our friends have formed a loose parenting group. Basically, my daughter has 5 friends who she has chosen on her own and now the 6 families have agreed to partner up on parenting the girls. If 2 or more of them are together then they get more freedom to do more things in the neighborhood like ride bikes, go to each others houses, etc. Our goal is to build up this trust between the girls and the parents to prepare them for middle school and beyond. That way we know they’ll stick together at dances, functions, and we’ll know whether they are truly sleeping over at so & so’s house.

    My son is 3, all boy and leaves a path of dirt and destruction. Therefore, he is occasionally allowed to be out of sight, but not out of hearing range (ie. the next room). Think Calvin and Hobbes. He is going to get more freedom when he is older, but for his and everyone else’s safety he is well supervised.

  33. Jenn

    I have two boys, 3 1/2 and 9 years old, and one girl, 12 years old. We live in a small rural town in Northwestern Minnesota (population about 1,000 with only 300 families in town). We moved here from a larger city in middle Tennessee about two years ago. We know all our neighbors here and our neighbors know us and the kids. I let my oldest play outside by himself, ride their bike around our block and visit with some of the neighbors BUT they are suppose to tell me before they leaves the yard.

    Obviously, my oldest has more freedoms than the youngest. My youngest doesn’t go outside unless my husband or me are with him. Our yard isn’t fenced in so I’m afraid of him wandering off and getting lost more than anything else! As he gets older, he will be allowed to play outside and do more things on his own but my nearly 4 year old still struggles with staying within boundaries.

    When we lived in middle Tennessee, we knew very few of our neighbors and the neighborhood was not know to be the safest place. My kids were not allowed to play outside unless my windows and doors were open and they stayed within eyeshot of the living room. They had a friend down the street but they could only walk to her house if I stood on the steps and watched them make it inside their friend’s house!

    I grew up in a larger city suburb where we were allowed to play at certain neighbor’s homes, and always in our own yard but mom had to know where we were and when we’d be back. We were allowed to ride our bikes to the dead end of the street and back. If we wanted to go anywhere else, we had to call home first and if mom yelled our name, then it was time to come home!

    I think the dangers are no more worse than they were when I was a child, I simply think they are presented differently: cyber bullying, online predators, etc. I think as a parent, you just have to be aware of what’s going on in your community. If you live in a high crime area then obviously you won’t let your kids go out alone but if you live in a low crime community then you can let them play and be free-ier!
    .-= Jenn´s last blog ..Archives.com #GIVEAWAY ($200 Value) =-.

  34. Kara

    Being in my early twenties, I do not have any children of my own, but I can give my perspective of my childhood.
    Growing up we (my sister and I) lived on 5 acres, which we were allowed to play unsupervised any time. We were also allowed to ride our bikes around the neighborhood to visit with the other kids (note, that all of the lots are 5 acres mostly, so there was a lot of distance). Of course, we always had to let mom know where we were going. Going into town on our own didn’t happen because we lived too far away, so no trips to pools.
    Visiting my grandmother’s town (where my parents grew up) we were allowed to walk all over town, up to the various parks and playgrounds. Again, we did need to notify the parents if we were going far (however, when less than a mile…we didn’t always remember to tell them…).
    Heck, I think my parents kept better tabs on us as teens because then we could barrow the car and actually get some distance from home. So, maybe we were more “free range” than some kids today. I don’t know, it was just normal for me.

  35. jill

    I have a 5 and 3 yr old, and we live in a small prairie town on a side street. My 3 yr old is allowed in the our back, fenced yard by himself, or in the front garden if I am in the living room or outside. When my 5 yr old is home, they are allowed to go two driveways on either side of our house on the sidewalk. Recently they have made friends with the neighbours across the street. After a few days of playing in each others’ front yards, the other mom and I have both decided to give them free range of our backyards, too. So we both keep our windows open and keep an eye on them when they are in our back yard. Its been great for my boys to have this freedom.

    Next fall we’re moving to an urban neighbourhood in a big city, so it may be a few years before they have this much freedom again — it will be a lot of more supervised time in parks, etc until they are a little older and more responsible. But we’ll also be closer to my husband’s brother, who has a few acres of woods, so we figure that the boys will get lots of outdoor nature time when we go to visit.
    .-= jill´s last blog ..Treehouse! =-.

  36. Melissa

    I do not let my kids play unsupervised! We just had in our neighborhood a girl almost get taken by some pervert! She was smart and got away She was six yrs old. We live in a nice neighborhood but these days no where is really safe from those who would take advantage of parents not watching out for there children. It really is not safe because pornography is so much more prevalent than when I was a child. It does change a persons brain chemistry and thinking until they act out their fantasies! A word to you all watch out for your children. You really do not want to be that one in however many that gets their child taken!

  37. Vanessa

    I have a 2 year old and 3 year old so being allowed to play outside alone has yet to become a venture for us. With where we live, while we are out in the country, the cars zoom by at incredible speeds and I’m not sure if they we’re older I’d allow them to play out front alone. I do know that the neighbors that I have seen, they have older children, are allowed to play outside alone but I never see them riding bikes or anything along the street. I’m assuming because of how fast our road is taken by car.

    When at the Grand parents, my 3 year old is allowed to play outside without an adult but only if both of her older cousins are out there with her (10 and 9). They live in the suburbs in a fairly quiet neighborhood and people who drive through are normally very cautious. Though the no front yard still applies. They are only allowed to play in the Grand Parents back yard or my brother’s (My Parent’s and brother live next door to each other).

  38. ami

    I am glad to read that things are really not more dangerous now than before – that our perceptions are a bit addled by news coverage and careless messaging.

    However, I do think there is one change that does impact the safety of our kids – which relates to the neighborliness issue we discussed last week. While our parents had a LOT of neighbors and friends nearby who would help out if the kids had a problem (or rat them out if they were behaving inappropriately) AND to whom the kids would feel comfortable going if they ran into a problem, we lack that comfort and closeness as a community that our parents had. This affects simple physical safety if the kids are playing in the street and get hurt – but also affects the kids’ ability to make good or bad decisions. If they know that every house contains an adult who won’t hesitate to step in or call their parents, kids will hesitate to make bad decisions, but if many of the neighbors are virtually strangers, then they may not have those same mental brakes.
    .-= ami´s last blog ..Spread your ideas – learn to speak in public =-.

  39. Intentionally Katie

    My oldest is almost 6 and I’ve thought about this a lot lately. I’m not overprotective in most cases, but I do have realistic concerns about distracted drivers. (ie talking on the phone, texting or in a hurry with our recently busy-busy-busy nation) Playing in the front yard isn’t my concern, but our yards are small in Phoenix and I realize playing would seep into the streets.

    I guess my job is to relentlessly instill in my kids to “looking both ways” like our parents did. Most kids are off in la-la-land nowadays because there’s no accountability. The helicopter moms don’t let kids have natural consequences, so it seems kids all feel invincible.
    .-= Intentionally Katie´s last blog ..‘Round Here =-.

  40. Jessica

    Wow. It seems I may be in the minority here. I let my 5 and 3 year old play outside by themselves (although we do have a big yard and a small house so they are always visible). I even let my 5 year old ride up and down our street on her bike (dead-end street). I think that it is much more important to teach children how to respond to danger rather than sheltering them from it. From infancy on I’ve taught them to respect cars and driveways, always be aware of their surroundings and how to recognize and respond to strangers. We always talk about different situations and how to handle them.

    I’ve recently started teaching them how to hike in the woods (follow trail blazes, stay away from poison ivy, etc.) to prepare them so they can run free in the trails behind our neighborhood in a couple of years.

    Here’s the thing I’ve noticed- if she knows I’m watching she does not pay as close attention to her surroundings as when she doesn’t think I’m watching. The more freedom I give my 5 year old the more responsible she is. And isn’t that the ultimate goal in childrearing – to raise responsible mature adults?

    • Kelsey

      I really love this, “Here’s the thing I’ve noticed- if she knows I’m watching she does not pay as close attention to her surroundings as when she doesn’t think I’m watching. The more freedom I give my 5 year old the more responsible she is. “

    • sbrOHio

      I feel the same! I have a six-year-old son who is allowed to play in the back yard unsupervised and in the front yard if I am aware that he’s going and he respects the perimeters (to the edges of each of our neighbors’ yards).

      If my son thinks I’m busy inside, he definitely seems to take more care to listen and observe. I LOVE catching him just laying in the yard, silent. I can see him easily from a large sliding glass door that leads to a sun porch, so he can’t as easily see me.

      The air conditioner is a game-changer. It blocks my ability to hear him, so I get a bit more vigilant about checking on him. When environmental sounds are few, I can go 30mins or so without needing to see him.

      The front yard limits are due to my concern that the high school kids coming and going will not notice him if he wanders too close to the street, or if they get distracted and drive into the yard. And, truthfully, I worry about snatchers and sexual predators.

      We speak often about what to do when you’re hurt or feel like you’re in danger. We discuss stranger danger, mostly focusing on never going anywhere with a person you don’t know. I want my son to be open to people he does not know, but I need him to understand that no one who cares about his safety would ask him to leave a space without his parents’ permission.

      I used to hover. I had to let go when I returned to work and grad school. My son was 4.5 at that time. It’s been good for him to be without me, but he certainly watches more television/plays with gaming systems much more now that his father and I are so busy.

  41. Trina

    My son just turned 3 a few weeks ago. He plays in our fenced backyard, unsupervised, with the pup (86 lbs of huskie/terrier mix) nearby. He is not allowed in the front yard alone — we live on a corner, and one street has recently been opened into a through-way to the next neighborhood. When we are at my parents’ (a couple hundred acres, garden, animals, the whole nine) he’s allowed to roam within reason. He loves to climb up on the tractors, but has recently learned that’s not such a great thing. He’s also tried to climb into pens with bull calves, which he also quickly learned is not a good thing.

    When we are home, I am admittedly over-protective. Both my husband and I are involved in the criminal justice system, and while crime rates have gone down nationally, they have risen dramatically in some areas (a product of growing communities). I am very aware of exactly who lives nearby and who drives by, what they’ve done and what they’re capable of doing. It’s a curse of my profession.

    That being said, we make certain that our son has the same opportunity to be independent and run around being a carefree child that we had growing up … even if it’s only on the weekends.
    .-= Trina´s last blog ..Menu Plan Monday: Quick Meals in 30 or Less =-.

  42. Briana

    We recently bought our first house, and we purposely chose one at the end of a cul-de-sac/dead end road and with a large, fully fenced in back yard, because I think unsupervised play is really important! My kids are 4 1/2 and 10 months old. My son goes out to ride his bike in the cul de sac with the neighbors all the time. There are lots of kids his age on our street, and I feel really safe having him out there, mostly unsupervised. I do keep an eye on him every few minutes and he knows not to ride past a certain point, or to go into anyone’s house without asking me first.
    All our neighbors are great and half the time they are out with their kids and we all keep an eye on each other’s kids. Its great!

    Our backyard is a complete mess right now, as that was how it came with the house, but eventually this will also be a fantastic spot to let the kids roam free. 🙂 Not everyone can do this, but I am really grateful for the opportunity to let my kids play free. For them and for me.
    .-= Briana´s last blog ..#4 =-.

  43. Alissa

    I let my almost 3 year old play in the front yard by himself for short periods of time. Mostly, I worry about what the neighbors are think when they see someone so tiny out by himself. =) This is one of the big reasons that I wish we had other families with kids around us, but it’s all empty nesters. Our old neighbors had two boys (8-10ish). If they were still around, I would have let my son play outside with them this summer. I’m looking forward to when the baby is older, so the two of them can play together – or the economy improves so we can move to a street with families!

    Thanks for these two recent posts about community and play! I’m getting inspired to organize a block party, so we can meet a larger range of neighbors. I know there is at least one family with kids in a nearby cul-de-sac (they have those “Slow – Kids at Play” signs), so maybe we can establish a friendship and casual playmates…
    .-= Alissa´s last blog ..I’ll be Watching You =-.

  44. Rachel

    I love this conversation!

    I have four children, 8, 7, 4, and 20 months. We live on a fenced acre in a neighborhood in the California high desert. I send them out to play out there every day, barring times of the day that reach the triple digits, and they are usually unsupervised unless I am out in the garden working.

    We have a weekly park day for our homeschool group, and during those couple of hours all the kids roam free about the park, and it’s a lot of fun (for kids and moms alike!). I check on them every now and then and make sure the baby doesn’t plunge from the top of the play structure.

    I had the run of my neigborhood when I was growing up. It was a small town in southern Oregon, and the neighbors knew each other and the kids played together. I wish I could have something more like that for my own kids.

  45. Windi Padia

    I grew up in the country – 400 acres for my sister and I. At around age 7 we were allowed to ride horses around our property unsupervised.

    My husband grew up in the country as well.

    We live in a subdivision. Have a 3 week old and a 3 1/2 year old. We constantly watch out for and supervise our 3 1/2 year old, but get him outside every day. I’ve found myself cringing when he steps in mud puddles, which is weird, because I spent my whole childhood dirty and happy.

    The time spent outdoors cannot be replaced by anything else. It is a unique part of my husband and I, and we’ll try our best to give it to our children. But we’ll probably watch them closely the whole time (we’ll see once they hit 7 years old or so).
    .-= Windi Padia ´s last blog ..My Mama =-.

  46. Kate

    I am currently expecting our first so no parental experience to share. However, we currently live on a small military base in the States and I have to say that I would have no problem letting my child wander the neighborhood once he/she gets to be around 5ish. Earlier than that, he/she would be free to stay in the small fenced backyard. I feel very safe in our current neighborhood and we frequently see school aged children playing/walking from the bus in the afternoons and weekends.

    As children (probably 6+), my siblings and I freely wandered my grandparents 50 acres (open fields and wooded areas includes two large ponds.) We would stuff our pockets with snacks and be gone all afternoon.

  47. Jennae @ Green Your Decor

    We let our older sons play outside alone (when they are here — they live out of state with their mom), but we never let our 4-year-old daughter play outside alone. Her brothers are 11, 10, and 8, and they generally all go out together. We live in an apartment complex near a very busy street, and we just don’t think she’s old enough yet. We do take her to the park and playground often and will give her free reign while she’s there, as long as we can see/hear her. And we’ll also let her play outside with older cousins and her brothers when we’re at family members’ homes who have a yard to play in. Maybe when she’s older we’ll let her venture out alone, but we’re not at a point where we are comfortable doing that yet.
    .-= Jennae @ Green Your Decor´s last blog ..Happy Patterns: Cloud 9 Fabrics’ Organic Collections =-.

  48. Helen

    My boys are 17 and 20 years old. I worked part time for many years. We live in a suburb of Boston, in a condo until they were 7 & 4. They had free range of the property, which had
    natural boundaries, but no fences.

    We moved to a house 13 years ago, on a somewhat quiet street (no sidewalks). The boys walked and biked in the immediate vicinity (no crossing busy streets).

    The older one was reliable – I knew where he was going and when. But the younger one was sneaky. He got into trouble – at school and in the neighborhood – and eventually became a couch potato playing computer games.

    How well do you think you know your neighbors? My older son was friends with people I wasn’t crazy about. I set limits around being at their house that I didn’t set for other neighbors. My son wasn’t crazy about that, but when they were 8th graders, the father died of a drug overdose (this is an upper middle class neighorhood).

    By all means set boundaries. Be thankful your children follow rules, but check up on them often. Talk to them about “what if…”. Children’s books are great resources for talking about every kind of situation without being alarmist.

    However, I wish all of you luck with your rules and cell phones! They can give you a false sense of security. We parents will never be 100% in control. You’ll have to judge what you can tolerate, knowing your child and your neighborhood. But remember, statistically the risk of injury to your child is higher riding in your car than playing in the yard.

    Increased traffic, I think, is a major factor in why our childhood experience was different. We didn’t drive everywhere, suburban areas had less traffic so kids could ride bikes, our day-to-day environment had fewer strangers. Times change; so can we.

  49. Dar

    My children are 8 and 6. We live in a safe, low-crime area in Orange County, CA. I know my neighbors, most are retired or have older high school children. I do not let my children play out front unattended. ( I have let the images of grieving parents of abducted children influence my decision.) Why take a chance when I can bring my lap top out front and be a watchful without interfering in their play.
    One family down our street is “Free- Range” but I find it interesting that her free range kids want to be at my house even though they could be anywhere in the neighborhood.
    I might add that my children go to the park daily where they are free to roam but once again I am watching from a far.

    • Anitra

      Dar,

      They probably want to be at your house because your children can actually play outside. Kids want to play with other kids.

  50. Pennie

    I have 2 girls, ages 6 and 4. We live in an apartment complex with private entrances, and I have a huge picture window looking outside (obviously). The apartments playground is right in front of our window, so they are allowed to go out there alone. We do live right on a busy street, so they have guidelines as to how far they are allowed to go (they can go farther out of my sight if they are playing with other kids), but they are only allowed to go behind the building we live in (there are two in the complex), because I can see them outside of my kitchen window. They can’t go into anyone’s apartment without letting me know, and they are not allowed to ride their bikes or scooters on the sidewalks by the street, only the ones lining our parking lot. They also can’t go down towards the other end of our building to play on the huge rock, unless the other neighborhood children are outside as well, because we live across from a trailer park, and there has been a lot of police activity over there.

    I’m pretty laid back about what I allow my children to do without me right next to them. My children are smart, and they are pretty good rule followers. I also pay attention, so I do know when they are breaking one of the rules, and then they have to come inside, which makes them mad. I always know where they are.

    My husband was outside with the kids recently, and while they were down at the above-mentioned rock (they could be there because daddy was outside), he had taken one of the scooters, and “raced” up to our door. The lady that lives next to us had just gotten home, and saw the girls down at the rock. She said “Sweetheart, I’d think twice about letting your girls play down there alone, the trailer park is there and there was the report of that van looking for kids.” My husband looked at her and said “Sweetheart, I’m outside with my kids and they’re fine,” and scootered away :-P.

  51. Elizabeth

    We live in a small town in the mid-west and our house is on a cul-de-sac. I have a 5 and 3 year old and I am probably more protective than most. I just started letting my 5 year old play outside with the neighbor’s kids (ages 5, 8, and 9) by herself, as long as she stays in our yard or their yard. I always go with my 3 year old whenever he plays outside. Our backyard is not fenced in and he does not understand boundaries. I am trying to teach him to stay in our yard, stay out of the street, etc. but he really needs supervision right now at his stage. I wish we had a fenced in backyard, then I would feel okay letting him play on his own.

  52. Melodie

    We live in a rural area with five neighbours and a forest next to our house. I used to not let the kids play outside unsupervised due to the worry of the rare animal who roams in the forest, but I hated being so fearful all the time so now I let them play unsupervised, although I can always see them out the window. They’re 3 and 5. The oldest climbs our plum tree and the youngest rides her tricycle on the road (we are the last house on the road so there is basically no traffic down here. We are going to be moving in a couple months to a house in an urban neighbourhood and I wonder if I will let them play as freely. I really want to but do find myself feeling slightly hesitant in the city. BUt the older they grow, the easier it will be I think.
    .-= Melodie´s last blog ..Their First Protest =-.

  53. Karen

    I’ve never commented before, but this blog struck a cord with me. I have 4 kids, three of whom are step-kids that live with us full time. Their ages are 14, 13 (bio-son), 11 and 9. I’ve read the book Free-Range Kids and agreed with a lot of the points. We live on the corner of a semi-busy street and a seldom used side street, across the street from our community recreation center and playground. Here’s is what I have done/allowed:
    Our three older kids are all in Junior High and the youngest is still in Elementary school. The older three are allowed to walk to/from school by themselves, but the youngest is not, even though the schools are the same distance from our house. I disagree with my husband on this as I believe the youngest is old enough to walk to/from school with friends.
    They are allowed to roam the neighborhood in pairs or more, unless they are with friends that I know – then they may go by themselves, with the friend. They are only allowed to go into friend’s houses that I know the parents. They are allowed to go to the community playground at any time (in pairs or more), but are not allowed at the recreation center after school (they have to have an ID to enter the rec center – which we’ve refused to get them).
    Not going to the recreation center after school has created much arguing with the Jr High kids as that is where a lot of their friends go after school until their parents pick them up 3-5 hours later (after work, I’m assuming). The problem is, there is anywhere from 100-200 kids there with only 5-10 (tops) rec center workers there. Any time there is a problem (like fights – which happen often enough to upset me), the police are called to sort it out. We’ve talked to the police and they have said they wouldn’t let their own kids hang out there after school because of the problems they have encountered – we’ve followed the same line of thought. We’ve explained this to the kids, but they are still not happy with our choice.
    The step-kids are allowed more freedom at their mom’s house. She lives in a trailer park and the kids roam the area freely. None of the kids in the area are allowed in anyone else’s trailer, but are all outside from dawn until dusk within the trailer park property (fenced off fields with cows are considered out of bounds but we know they break that rule all the time even though the kids deny it). Since the area is on a dead end street, there is only trailer park traffic (the roads are so bad that you go faster than 10 mph at the risk of damaging your vehicle). We have had instances of poison ivy and other ailments, but nothing so serious as to warrant true worry.

  54. Bryony Boxer

    I’m torn about this. I realize that statistically speaking it’s very safe, but then whenever I hear about another case of a kidnapped child, I become overprotective again.

  55. Meredith

    My son will be two this summer, so he’s at an age where he almost poses more of a threat to himself than other people do. However, as he gets older, I do not think I will allow him to play outside unsupervised. I am a stay-at-home-mom and am able to schedule our day so that I can get indoor chores done while he plays inside, and I can play with him outside or sit and watch him play. I realize not everyone has that luxury though. We live in a quiet, safe (as far as I know) neighborhood in the South, but it only takes one “crazy” person to ruin our lives. We don’t live in fear, but we feel very strongly that it is our responsibility to be cautious. My son doesn’t know we’re out there to protect him. He thinks were are just there because we love being with him (and we do). If it is safer now than it was thirty years ago, maybe it’s because people have started being so cautious.

  56. Meg

    I have 2 girls, 8 & 10. We live in a safe inner-ring suburb of Cleveland. I read Free Range Kids this winter and immediately began allowing my girls to walk the 5 blocks to and from school without me. They can play freely on our block, but have to let me know before they go into anyone’s house. They may only go “off-block” if they ask first. We do not give them cell-phones. I plan to install a large bell by our side door so that this summer they can come home when they hear it. (Less yelling for them by me!) There have been a few lapses in judgment that resulted in good discussions about what-if scenarios. I think we need to reclaim our neighborhoods and not be scared into isolating ourselves. I had a tremendous amout of freedom as a kid growing up in a small town and I learned to be self-sufficient, resourceful and responsible. If my kids can’t be trusted to use good judgement riding their bikes around our neighborhood, how will I ever trust them to drive a car?

  57. Heidi

    We live in an old neighborhood in a medium-sized city in Wisconsin. We have 6 children: 13,10,7,5,3 and 2 months. Our street is not busy, but there is a busyish street on the way to the park. All the kids may play in both our front and back yards unsupervised. When the older kids go farther afield, they just need to ask/let an adult know. We regularly send one of the 2 older kids to a nearby grocery store to buy milk etc. Our 2 oldest use their bikes both for recreation and transportation. The children attend a school that is not within walking distance, but if it were, I would have no problem sending a kindergartener out the door in the morning. The 7yo and 5yo may walk to the park together. The 3yo gets to go with one of 2 big kids.

    May sound confusing, but it’s pretty obvious to us when each individual kid is ready to take on more independence.

    In a nutshell I suppose we’re “Reserved Free-Range.”

    My husband and I grew up in the same small mid-western town where I used to spend hours toodling around the neighborhoods on my bike and my hubby’s mom used to lock the doors for an hour in the afternoon and say “Don’t ring the doorbell unless there’s blood.”

  58. Anitra

    My daughter is only 1 1/2. She’s good at following directions, but she’s an explorer… so I only will let her out of my sight for 2-3 minutes at a time (ie. run back into the house to get something). (My husband is appalled, but I’ve shown him that she really doesn’t need an adult there every second.)

    We have a registered sex offender living on our block, so I don’t think I would let her play totally alone for a long, long time.

    • Anitra

      A year later… now we have a little baby boy, too. He’s not really mobile yet, so he plays near me. 🙂

      At nearly 3 years old, I will let my daughter “out of sight” for a longer period of time, but still only within our backyard. I think in less than 2 years, I will probably be ok with letting both of my kids play together in the backyard unsupervised but within earshot. My oldest already does that at one friend’s house when we have playdates there (the kids there are almost-3 and 5, and the yard is big and set back from the street).

    • Erin OK @ it's OK

      My son is 14 months and I do the same. I let him play on the back patio while I’m inside, checking on him every few minutes. Usually I can hear him banging around and I run out if it gets quiet. It’s exciting for me to allow him these tiny bits of trust and independence.

  59. Michelle Potter

    I have 7 children, aged 1-12, and we live in a small neighborhood in the suburbs where everybody knows everybody. Most of my neighbors are retirees, and quite a few of them are busybodies. 😉 Sometimes it’s annoying, like when one old lady griped at my kids for playing in the grass of our own front yard. But I like knowing that if my kids get into mischief, someone will tell me! Once my sons walked right out behind a car backing down the driveway, and they were brought home by the constable. I was thankful that my neighbors are watching out!

    I let my children play “out front,” meaning outside of our fence, once they are at least 6 years old. I make them stay together, and they can’t go out of my sight (that is, they have to stay where I could see them if I stood on the corner of our lot) unless they ask permission. With permission they can go inside friends’ homes, to one of the neighborhood parks, or to the meadow. They have to tell me as soon as they come home, or ask permission to go somewhere else.

    I think my rules are a little strict, but I have a hard time letting go. I’m not very concerned that they’ll be abducted by strangers (I know that’s not as common as people think.) I’m concerned that my sons walk out behind cars that are backing up, and eat wild honeysuckle (I make a big deal about them having Daddy identify flowers and berries before they eat them), and tell me that they saw “snakes” in the creek (I’m pretty sure there are no real snakes, certainly not venomous ones). Worse, my husband is always telling them stories about HIS childhood, and his stories always involve science experiments that blow up, or falling off of home-made skateboard ramps, or accidents with nail guns while building those skateboard ramps! 🙁 I’m constantly reminding my kids of safety rules, and I’m signing them up for first aid classes! Thankfully we haven’t had more than the usual childhood bumps and bruises, but I can’t let go of the feeling that it’s only because of my nagging! 😉
    .-= Michelle Potter´s last blog ..Sunday Linky Love for May 09 =-.

  60. Clara S.

    Love this topic – it’s fun to read through everyone’s take on this. We live in the suburbs of a fairly large city and while most would consider our area of town the “bad part” we have had absolutely no problems. We live in a cul-de-sac which I think naturally draws children to play here. Just yesterday my oldest two kiddos (ages 6 and 4) spent literally all afternoon out in the front yard. They are allowed to play freely as long as they can see our house which has kind of been our boundary. I will say in our neighborhood there are a lot of different nationalities and a lot of working class people who work very long hours. We know the kids a lot better than the parents so my kids aren’t allowed to go in anyone else’s house but there is regularly a group of 4 – 6 kids playing in our street at any given time. (With at least 3 different languages being used – love it!) We also have a privacy fenced backyard and the 2 year old is allowed out there by herself or with her siblings. I usually allow this as soon as they can safely navigate the porch stairs.

  61. Sarah

    Awesome discussion today. I, for once, felt like I could actually contribute. I am a mom of 4 boys, who are pretty much free range after hockey season. I think that the world is probably slightly more dangerous, only due to the fact that while crime is down the crimes themselves are much more brutal, and the news is a scary thing most days. (Not that we watch it, No cable, only VHS… Gasp..) We are lucky to live in a large apartment complex with 100’s of neighbours, even more kids, a private playground and some swampy areas full of critters and bugs, so I don’t feel scared to let my kids go “do their thing” around here. They walk to and from school, and ride bikes, and go to the corner store, and I’m not afraid. It’s all in the planning. The have all taken safety workshops, like “Stranger Danger” and have child find cards, and most importantly, have to check in when they are going to change activities. But on a whole, I don’t worry much if I don’t see them for an hour or so. There are a ton of worms to be dug up and frogs to catch…. But as free as my kids are, I think some of my neighbours hate me just a little, because while their sons and daughters play in a small supervised area or go to piano or karate, my kids are outside, getting dirty and making noise, like my friends and I used too. Oh well, I kinda didn’t really want to be on the PTA anyway. LOL

  62. Rachel Hill

    Does anybody remember reading the books “On My Honor” and “Bridge to Terabithia” when we were kids? If I remember correctly, in the first book, a kid dies by falling out of a tree, and in the second, the girl dies when swinging from a tree across a creek. I must have been in late elementary when I read these books, but I remember them and the class discussions about them enough to remember that the purpose of reading books like those was to begin to have an understanding of death’s reality, how to work through it and how to deal with it. There was never any mention of, “Well, that little boy shouldn’t have been climbing a tree with no one around to see him fall” or “That little girl should never have been playing by herself.” It is very interesting to wonder, what has changed? Why all the concern now when we didn’t have it ourselves when we were kids. Frankly, it’s discouraging for a new parent.

    I have a 10 month old, and obviously I can’t leave him in the yard or at the park to play by himself, but I do do things that many parents would probably think I’m a bad mom for. For example, I leave him playing in our (well baby-proofed) living room while I go take a shower or start a load of laundry. I allow him to crawl after me into the (gated) courtyard of our apartment complex and let him out of my sight while I am starting laundry in the laundry room. Heck, I even left him with a stranger in a starbucks when he was just a few months old while I used the bathroom. I didn’t do these things because I’m too lazy to take him with me, because I have a death wish on my child, or because I want to be a bad mom. On the contrary, I want to be the best mom I can, and I believe that allowing my child to have the opportunity to play freely, by himself, without constant adult supervision and intervention is a great way to allow him to develop independence, learn responsible risk-taking, and learn how to solve his own problems.

    Frankly, the biggest problem I feel like I come upon is that when my child is older, if I allow him to play independently, will someone call the cops on me for neglect? Isn’t it sad that I worry about that as a more likely occurrence than a kidnapping? Frankly, my child has a WAY higher statistical likelihood of getting seriously injured in a car accident than any of the other many many many things that we are taught to fear as new parents. But no one suggests banning having children in cars…

    • Laurie

      I’m glad there’s someone out there like me! I have an 11 month old who pretty much has independent run of the house (though of course not outside yet). If I’m going to be very distracted for more than a few minutes I will let him play freely just in his bedroom. Frankly, this seems pretty paranoid to me but according to some moms I’m being quite permissive! In the long run, however, the helicopter mom mentality has some clear drawbacks. My stepdaughter’s mother will actually play with her most of the time and has her under constant supervision. The result? My almost 5 yo stepdaughter is unable/unwilling to play by herself (even when supervised) and has not learned (believe it or not) that she should not run out into the street! When I am taking care of her, I have to watch her more carefully than I do my son!

  63. Tina@RideonToys

    I grew up on a dairy farm and as kids we were allowed to play just about anywhere as long as we checked in and arrived on time for meals. There were strict rules as far as what areas we could play in but we commonly enjoyed the company of all of the neighboring kids. I do have concerns with my own kids as far as safety goes. Gone are the days when you knew all of your neighbors. Nowadays an unknown vehicle that’s parked by the curb can be cause for alarm. I think I’m a little more liberal with my kids than some of the other parents in my neighborhood but I think that comes from being very trusting of most people…my husband used to tell me that I was just too naive when it came to other people. My kids do play in the backyard but only if they abide by the limitations that I set.
    .-= Tina@RideonToys´s last blog ..The Power Wheels Little People Tot Rod Provides 2 Stage Learning =-.

  64. mdvlist

    My mom seems to me like the most paranoid person on earth, but she gave us a surprising amount of freedom in our youth. We lived on 10 acres in the country, and although we always had to be together (there were three of us kids), we road our bikes around on the dead-end roads, explored in the woods and the over-grown pasture (along the river . . .), climbed trees, etc. We never really knew or were allowed to trust any neighbors; we were just supposed to look out for ourselves and each other. I’m sure we weren’t allowed that level of freedom until we were at least 7 or 8, though, so we were certainly old enough to have learned to avoid unknown animals, rusty metal, potentially electric fences and oncoming traffic. My children are 3-going-on-4 and 1 1/2, and I can imagine giving them similar freedom eventually, as we still live in a fairly quiet rural area. The older one already knows where he is and isn’t allowed to go, so I will let him out in the side yard by himself where I can see him/hear him constantly. Since our yard isn’t fenced, I never allow the little one outside without me. That would be silly. Obviously. I don’t think we need to push “free range” living on children just for the sake of proving that we’re not over-protective parents. At this stage, they get the benefits of that approach just by being allowed to play upstairs by themselves while I’m working in the kitchen. There will be plenty of time for them to go adventuring when they are old enough to know what they’re doing and take care of one another. We will probably also get a big dog for them (another valuable part of my “free-range” childhood). Then again, I would be much more concerned about letting them out of my sight if other children were involved, especially older boys. I’m far more concerned about other people’s kids than I am about abduction.

  65. Anne

    I probably let my kids play quite freely without too much supervision. This was how I was raised. But they need to know the safety first.

  66. Laura

    Wow, there are a lot of comments for this post! And a lot of variances in the answers.

    Personally, I do let my kids play “free range” style, within certain limits. We live in a condo townhouse which has common play areas for the kids with paths connecting them. So my 11 year old can go anywhere within the confines of our small neighbourhood, and my 5 year old can play in front of our house or out back in the play area, but he has to stay close enough that I can see him out our second-story livingroom window.

    It’s a blessing that there are lots of kids in our neighbourhood, so my children always have a playmate and they spend hours and hours playing outside in almost any weather. I’m happy that they spend so much time in the outdoors, and I wouldn’t want to limit that.

    I myself remember playing outside for hours at a time with my sisters, and our favourite thing to do was explore the woods at the end of our cul-de-sac, or go for long bikerides along the Ottawa River (this was when I was about 10, my sister about 8). If we had had to stay within the confines of our back yard, we would have been very bored and surely would have spent most of our time inside, instead.

    It is very interesting to learn that crime was higher 30 years ago than it is today. I wouldn’t have thought that.
    .-= Laura´s last blog ..What does "simple living" mean to you? =-.

  67. Catherine

    I had the luxury of growing up in a small country town and then on a large farm and we were totally ‘free range’ (we also spent nearly all holidays at our grandparents farm and we were free range there too). We pretty much roamed all over that town (and farm) and just checked in for meals. We didn’t get up to mischief but we had a great time catching tadpoles, playing games in parks, riding our bikes around and just doing kid stuff. I am trying to think if maybe our neighbours would have viewed it differently! Maybe they would – there were 6 of us so maybe we annoyed someone – who knows? All I know is that I feel very resourceful and value the sense of independence it gave me. Having said that I feel sad my kids don’t get the same opportunity. We live in a large’ish city near a highway, don’t speak the language of our host country fluently, don’t know our neighbours etc. etc. We are lucky enough to have a big backyard though and my two (7 & 4) can play unsupervised for as long as they want to. In fact I wish they would do it more! But, on the street, I am more cautious. I would love to live in a more rural setting so they could have more freedom. I honestly believe it is very good for children. However, I think it would be a bit foolhardy to give it in a city setting where most people are out at work and neighbourhoods aren’t populated like they used to be (we knew people all over town when I was a kid). Most of the people above whose kids enjoy a more free range lifestyle nearly all come from a country/semi-rural setting. When I visit my parent’s farm though my kids enjoy a lot of freedom then. I don’t know about how safe/unsafe the world is now. I agree with others that a statistic wouldn’t make me feel better if my child was abducted. It is a tricky balance.
    .-= Catherine´s last blog ..Giveaway results! =-.

  68. Tracy

    I just finished reading Last Child in the Woods and my husband and I are struggling with this very issue right now. As kids we both had the run of our neighborhoods. I was allowed to go to the corner playground with my older brother, we played up and down our block, walked to school and rode our bikes all over the small city we lived in.

    I have a 5.5 year old son and an almost 3 year old daughter. Even though we live in a gated subdivision they are only allowed to play in the backyard by themselves. When in front or riding their bikes I go with them. This isn’t because of stranger danger, but because we are honestly fearful of them being hit by a car. People zoom through our neighborhood constantly. We live in a society where everyone is stressed out and plugged in. When I was a kid we rode our bikes and played tag in the street – we didn’t have to worry about being run over because people drove real slow and would stop to let us clear the street. But now, everyone is in a rush to get home after a too-long-day at work, or to get to work on time; they’re talking on the phone, texting, eating, putting on makeup and driving 15-20 miles over the speed limit in a gated neighborhood. A few of our neighbors put the please slow down kids at play signs up when their children play in the front and most of them have had their signs hit several times and instead of people being outraged by this fact, there were complaints about the signs!

    We would love to let our kids play more freely and are trying to figure out a solution, but honestly I don’t see it happening too soon. Even if we can find a solution to the speeding cars, we live in an area where children are so over-scheduled that we rarely see anyone playing outdoors even at the neighborhood pool in the summer – so they’ll only have each other.

  69. JenT

    I live on the edge of a mid-sized city in Central Europe and fortunately, we have a house and a yard (fenced in all around, our house is bang-smack in the middle). My kids are 2 and 4 and for the moment they can play in the yard as freely as they like. I usually do a little tour of the yard when they go out, just to be sure nothing dangerous is lying about, but otherwise, I have no worries. My son would love to bike on the street, but we don’t have a sidewalk and I do worry about cars – I think he is too young to really be careful enough (plus little sis has to do everything he does and she is definitely too young!). Living here I don’t sense any of the media scare aspect that folks talk about in the US, but interestingly most parents here seem even more protective the Americans! Perhaps this is a misconception on my part, but very few of our friends will let their kids play unattended and at the playgrounds mothers and fathers are always warning the kids of every potential danger. Yet I don’t get the impression that they are worried about kidnapping and such, just basic injuries.

  70. se7en

    Wow!!! Hot Topic!!! We live in Cape Town South Africa, where all homes are surrounded by high walls and electric fences and continuous neighborhood patrols. For all that we still have an insanely mad crime rate. We have a courtyard that is central to our home and garden so I can hear everyone where ever they are playing. Luckily we have a heap of kids so they do free-range on our property and they tend to travel in a pack – heaven help anyone that takes them on!!! Off our property no-one is free to be at all… within visual distance, if not arms reach, at all times, without exception. Never drive with windows even slightly open, never let a child out of sight… I am always looking for places for my kids to run free – always!!!
    .-= se7en´s last blog ..The Week that Was – 2.45 =-.

  71. Karen

    We live on a dead end road and have 1.5 acres, with a creek and no fence around our yard. We have a very safe neighborhood; our only concern, really, is our kids falling in the creek. There is a bridge, but still. Our kids aren’t allowed outside alone (i.e. no adult supervision) until they’re five. Even then we keep an eye from the window.

    When my son goes over to his friend’s house across the street, he takes a cell phone or a walkie talkie so he can contact us if there’s an emergency. The other week we went on a field trip and the older kids split up from the rest of the group for a hike…i was nervous about my son going without me, while I stayed behind with the younger ones, but it all ended well.

  72. Karen (scotland)

    These comments have been an eye-opener for me.
    I have four kids – 5, 4, 2.5 and NB. We live at the end of a dead-end street in a suburbian-type neighbourhood. Our street, bizarrely, has no pavement (sidewalk), so pedestrians have to walk on the road.
    Our street is full of kids the same age as mine but I seem to be the most protective of all the parents as everyone else seems to let their kids out from age 3 onwards. They claim to be watching from the windows but I often have parents up at my door asking if I’ve seen their kid (aged 4, or 5 max). I don’t know how they can cope with the stomach-churning fear of not knowing where their pre-schooler is.

    My kids can play in our back garden (surrounded by six foot fence) as much as they like. I’ll let other kids in to play with them whenever they want, providing that kid has gone back to their own house and told their parent(s) where they’ll be.

    If my kids want to play out front, then I HAVE to be there. It’s as simple as that. I don’t feel comfortable letting my five year old out of my sight but I feel that’s only natural.
    My concerns are, firstly, traffic – cars reversing out of driveways, non-neighbours flying around the bend down the bottom of the street, the kids wandering around to the “big road” (where I once saw the skid marks from a car driven by teens that had been speeding, mounted the pavement on one side, came down again to the road, mounted the pavement on this side and then knocked a bin 30 yards down the street…)

    Secondly, abduction. Yep, I know the stats say it’s unlikely to happen but imagine having to live with that.

    I was worried that I was over protective but the NSPCC (national charity for welfare/protection etc of children) recommends not letting children play unsupervised until they are 8 and I feel, looking at my son’s maturity (or lack of) and general savviness, that seems about right on schedule to me, tbh.

    This is way too long already so I’ll stop now!

    Karen (Scotland)

    • Karen (scotland)

      Should have pointed out that the bin that got knocked down the street wasn’t on wheels – it was a public bin cemented into the ground. (A bin is a trashcan, btw!)

  73. Sarah

    such a great topic to discuss. i didn’t realize it until i started reading these comments, but it appears i’m pretty protective! we live in a smallish city (100,000 people) in west texas in an established neighborhood with a few kids around, though i don’t see many out and about. i have a 3 year old girl and a 21-month-old boy. i have just recently started letting them play in the backyard by themselves as long as i’m in the kitchen and have the back door standing open so i can hear them. even then, i’m nervous that they’ll find a snake or a dead bird (there was one out there the other day) or play in some nasty water pooled somewhere and catch some terrible disease. there is no way in the world i would think to let them play in the front yard alone. i nearly have a heart attack when i’m putting one in the car because i’m imagining the other being in just the right place to be hit by a car that’s swerving into my driveway. i have never stopped to evaluate why i worry though. as a kid, we rode bikes all through our large neighborhood in a decent-sized suburb, played in construction sites, hung out at each other’s houses (as long as mom knew the people), and had to be home with the street lights came on. an extremely interesting topic that i will be pondering quite a bit more, i imagine.
    .-= Sarah´s last blog ..when did her legs get so long? =-.

  74. Kelli (USA)

    I have three children 10, 8, and 5. We’ve lived in our home for five years and I’ve grown progressively more comfortable with letting my kids have “free range” on our street, within some parameters, as I’ve gotten to know my neighbors and as the kids have gotten older. We live in the suburbs on a cul-de-sac with large yards and wooded back yards. We purposely chose this home because it seemed ideal for outside free play. There are lots of families with kids on our street.

    Our rules for the kids are as follows:
    1. Tell mom where you are going to be. If you decide to go to a different part of the street, check in with mom or dad.
    2. Be home at set time.
    3. Don’t play inside someone’s home without permission. (My kids rarely play inside someone else’s home, and if they do it’s a family I know well.)
    4. Tell mom before you ride your bike (only for my five year old).
    5. Stay on our street with bikes, scooters, etc. unless you have permission to go elsewhere (only my 10 and 8 year olds have the privilege of riding elsewhere.)

  75. Cathy

    We live in a small town in the Midwest. I am careful. My three year old would never be allowed outside without constant supervision, of course. My ten year old can go about a block away to her friend’s, but I can see her the whole time. However, if she wants to go to the park (which is half a block away), it is only with a friend or a big sis, not alone. She can ride her bike around the block. I suppose this is overprotective, but I also know that there are convicted child predators that live in the area. I am not taking chances. I grew up on a farm, where we could run to our hearts delight. I kind of wish for that freedom for my children some days. Yet, when I see children running around town, some from a young age, unsupervised, I get frustrated. It’s too easy to be complacent and then something happen.

  76. Michelle Meyer

    Ugh, I felt uncomfortable just reading this topic. My girls are only 3.5 and 4.5, so I do keep a very close eye on them when they are outside. The crime rate may be at a 30 year low but have you ever done a search of the registered sex offenders in your area? Even the “best” neighborhoods have some…and that is probably what freaks me out the most as a mom. My husband and I have also agreed that our girls will not attend slumber parties unless it is at someone’s house that we thoroughly know both parents and trust them completely. I do not know where my fears stem from…I was not molested as a child or anything like that and had a fairly idyllic upbringing, so not sure where this comes from in me. In either case, I would rather err on the side of caution. What is the real point of letting your kids play completely unsupervised, anyway? Is it too much of an inconvenience as a parent to watch over your kids or at least know where they are at all times?

      • Margaret

        Where does that fear come from? I feel the same way. I got nervous just reading about parents letting the kids out all day unsupervised rurally, or in the suburbs, or in the city. 🙂

    • Tsh

      “What is the real point of letting your kids play completely unsupervised, anyway? Is it too much of an inconvenience as a parent to watch over your kids or at least know where they are at all times?”

      It’s not so much the convenience or inconvenience of watching over your kids, because of course, parenting isn’t about us. Playing freely (and safely, of course) teaches life skills, develops character, and treats kids to experiences that they can’t always get in heavily supervised play. So much so, that Mr. Louv and others argue this is the real loss at stake in our kids’ generation. The threat is raising kids who are actually more at risk, not less, because they’re less apt to make wise decisions in real-life situations if they’re never given a chance to explore the world on their own.

      Of course, age, personality, and specific situations come into play, so I’m not referring to every single situation. But in general, they’re arguing that kids given the chance to play independently and unsupervised are given the gift of character building in a way that controlled environments, like a play date (or even a backyard) can’t always provide.

      Just my $.02. 🙂

  77. Malisa Johnson

    My daughter is 5 and I have twins that just turned a year old. We have a fenced in backyard, and I let them all play outside. I even walk in to start dinner and leave the twins out on a blanket playing where I can see them from the kitchen window. We feel our backyard is safe and contained, and I don’t worry when they’re back there.

    Our house is the first from the neighborhood entrance, so I don’t feel safe with them in the front yard without me. Our neighbors down the street live in a culdesac, so we often stroll down the road and play with them in front of their houses. The street is much safer to ride bikes down there, and the kids play in all of the front yards while the moms visit together.

    I wish we lived in a culdesac, but I’m so thankful for friends down the road who share theirs!

    I think statistically our world is safer from crime, however, I wonder about other things that we as moms tend to over-obsess about such as varying parenting strategies from our neighbors. I think this causes some parents to be leery of their children playing freely outside as well.

  78. momstheword

    My kids are now 17 and 21, but when they were little they were closely supervised. They were allowed to play in the backyard at a young age, as long as one of us were out there (at that time, our backyard was open to a public area that anyone could come up to the fence, so we never let them be out alone).

    As my son (and eventually his brother) got older he was eventually allowed to play in the backyard or front yard by himself. I had the windows open and he was instructed to run inside if a stranger approached him. I kept checking on him, and he also had the dog with him.

    As he got older still, he was given boundaries by the driveways of neighbors. He could play “this many” driveways away. By this time, I felt much more comfortable with him (them) being outside, but they still had boundaries.

    Eventually he was allowed to ride his bike further in the neighborhood, or even go for a walk, etc. I never allowed them to go into homes of people I didn’t know, even though they would meet kids in the neighborhood who had much more freedom than they did.

    We used to have some neighbors who seemed to have trouble watching their preschool aged kids. These three and four year old kids were all over the neighborhood, making us all a nervous wreck sometimes! One of them got in his dad’s car and “drove” it down the hill and crashed into a neighbor’s yard. Another time the two year old was walking down a very busy street until a neighbor saw him and brought him home.
    .-= momstheword´s last blog ..MAKING YOUR HOME SING: BE INTENTIONAL =-.

  79. Britiney

    We live in a SUPER safe neighborhood and I do let my kids (ages 10, 8, and 5) play outside free-range style. Even my 5 year old is really pretty good at letting me know where he is and there’s a “herd” of kids who all roam the neighborhood together and have a blast. They build forts and go on adventures and this weekend my 5 year old came in covered in red “stuff” and said he’d been “painting with berries” behind the neighbor’s house. Apparently they were picking berries off the trees and “painting” with them on the rocks. Having them all enjoy playing out side together so much reminds me of the stories my dad tells of when he was a child and roamed the neighborhood with his friends looking for adventure. I’m the chair-person of our neighborhood watch group, so I know most of the neighbors pretty well. We all look out for each other and all of the neighborhood kids.

  80. Lori

    I live in a suburban neighborhood, on a quiet cul-de-sac. It would be quiet. But there are always hordes of children wandering the street. Mine – a 7 year-old – is among them. She is only allowed to go into the homes of people we actually know. She is not allowed to go into the next cul-de-sac unless I am watching from the front window. She has to tell us when she moves to another location – sometimes I give her a walkie-talkie to keep in touch. I can hear the madness from in anyone’s yard on our street from my house. As long as I can hear the gang and can be reasonably sure that she is among them, I’m OK. When it gets quiet for more than 5 minutes – cause let’s face it, quiet children are far more dangerous than loud ones – I give her a yell. She always yells back.
    .-= Lori´s last blog ..Today’s Rant =-.

  81. Renee

    Moanna is about to turn three, and if she is outside we are right by her side. At the play ground we are no more than 10 feet away. She is a quick little thing and in a blink of an eye could dart towards the road.

    I grew up being sent outside on my own and given boundaries and times to be home.
    .-= Renee´s last blog ..A Cocktail of Emotions =-.

  82. tacy

    I’m not sure if this has been said, but here are my two cents on this…. I think there’s a difference between hovering/micromanaging your child’s behavior and having loose supervision while they bound about indoors, outdoors, at the park/playground, etc. I think we as parents can model engagement in something even just making a to-do list while they play on the slide, or showing friendliness with fellow Moms to model that friendliness for the kids (even though they’re usually better at that than we are).
    .-= tacy´s last blog ..Self Defeating Habits: What Are They and How Do They Make Us Unproductive? =-.

  83. tacy

    Oh but let me clarify that— I do not recommend “loose supervision “when it comes to things like playing near the road or deep water, by they way. I saw a little girl fall off a public dock while feeding ducks recently- fortunately she could swim and her Mom reached right into get her, but it sure scared everyone around.
    .-= tacy´s last blog ..Self Defeating Habits: What Are They and How Do They Make Us Unproductive? =-.

  84. Brittany

    When I read “Last Child in the Woods” we were living temporarily overseas in Wales and my kids (5, 3, and <1 at the time) and I spent a lot of time in the public parks situated around the city center. Richard Louv's book helped me loosen up a bit and give my older children (my oldest, in particular) more freedom. I let them roam further from me as long as I could see them and – although it was a bit nerve racking – let them play in ways that made me nervous (i.e. climbing up tall playground equipment, tree climbing, etc. without me hovering). It was very freeing for all of us.

    Now that we're back in the states my kids (6, 5, 2) can play in our fenced backyard without my supervision. We live in a cul-de-sac where we are surrounded my many other young children who often play unsupervised outside. While I sometimes allow my oldest child to join them, more often than not I am outside someplace nearby. Sometimes this is about safety in the sense that many have written about here, but more often than not, it is about the kids themselves. We have many wonderful children and neighbors, but we also have several bullies who live here and they are almost always unsupervised. Based upon the ages and temperaments of my children, they are sometimes targets for bullying behavior. My presence, and my willingness to put an end to inappropriate behavior, is usually a sufficient deterrent (it helps that I have made a deliberate effort for the past 18 months or so to get to know ALL of the kids, even those I wouldn't choose to have my children play with if we didn't live here).

    I agree that kids need to be given freedom to be kids, but I also feel we need to provide a safe framework for them to do so. Letting them – at these young ages – roam freely and without adult supervision through the neighborhood with older kids who would victimize them and on streets where cars being driven by teenagers go too fast is just not something that I am willing to do.

    • Annie

      I agree with you. Kids need some sense of freedom, but they also need help and guidance. There is more than just kidnappers to be concerned about.
      .-= Annie´s last blog ..Family Meals: Increase The Value =-.

  85. Breeder

    My sons are nearly two (next month!) and nearly eight (in two months!). I let them play together outside in our fenced in yard without me and the big guy has been playing alone in our yard since he was just over five.

    I’m actually much more permissive than my parents were. I remember my mom always being outside with us all the way through elementary and some of middle school.

  86. MemeGRL

    Such a big question, isn’t it? I tell myself I don’t want the kids (6 & 4) playing on our street because while it is short and usually quiet, there is a blind curve in the middle and it is often used as a cut-through, and even my well-trained kids sometimes forget and run after a ball, or coast the scooter all the way down the driveway in to the street. I love the days when it is warm and a mom on the other end of the curve is out in her yard and I am in mine so we can each keep an eye on our part of the street. The traffic increase really makes a difference.
    But so do the scary stories, which is why in my heart of hearts I prefer they play in the back yard, and ask that they stay within yelling distance. I am so glad they answer right away when I call. I want them to play outside on their own. I think it’s so important. But so is keeping them safe, from themselves and others.
    .-= MemeGRL´s last blog ..MPM–Back to Reality =-.

  87. Cori

    Wow – a million comments! My kids are 8, 6, 3, and 8 mo. The older three play outside alone all the time. Once they’re 2 I send them out with their siblings without me. They know to stay out of the road and out of the pond. The three year old plays outside alone sometimes. The oldest two get to roam in our woods and take walks up the road together. They like to bring my cell phone in case they get lost. The farthest they’ve gone (that I know of!!) is about 2 miles. It is very rural here and not many cars, but once in a while a few speed demons go by. We have quite a bit of land of our own and then beyond that are hay fields.
    The only time anyone had a really bad experience playing without me was when my 3 yo was puddle stomping in the driveway while I unloaded groceries and a woman stopped her car to tell my daughter to go inside. She came in howling about the mean lady!
    .-= Cori´s last blog ..who is this kid anyway? =-.

  88. Annie

    I am more concerned about the influences of other children than about kidnapping. If it just my girls, ages 7 and 2, I let them play in the yard unsupervised, but we also live in a country setting. I let my older one run around our country property and climb trees, but, believe it or not, it’s when the neighbor kids get involved that I decide to go out and supervise. I just remember running all over the neighborhood as a kid and getting into a whole lot of mischief, playing truth or dare, and kissing boys (real kissing) at age 9. I don’t want that for my kids. When kids get together, I think, there is more reason to worry than when your kids are alone with eachother only.
    .-= Annie ´s last blog ..Family Meals: Increase The Value =-.

    • Mandi @ Organizing Your Way

      This makes sense to me, Annie, and I think I agree completely. As horrible as it sounds, we hold our breath every time a family with children looks at the home for sale in our neighborhood because not having other kids here works for us!
      .-= Mandi @ Organizing Your Way´s last blog ..Spring Cleaning Carnival: Get Pesticides Out =-.

      • B-mama

        I think you made an excellent point. We’ve recently restricted our son’s boundaries somewhat because we witnessed some of the older boys, in the pack, exagerating too much (creative lying) and playing manipulative games to try and control the younger boys in their group (read: Peer Pressure). It can be difficult to find a balance between the free range play and safe, healthy play.

        • se7en

          Amen to this, neighboring kids have been a real problem to us as they clamber over our walls and assume our home is their home… why would we notice a couple of extra kids playing in our home!!! Well we had to clamp down straight away and set limits and keep our doors and windows shut nearly all day to avoid invasion!!! They moved and we sighed with relief. There are no other kids living on our street right now and much as I would like my kids to have neighborhood playmates they will have to rely on each other because I am not comfortable with other kids who have no manners, no discipline and no idea how to play with a wide age-range of kids (skills my kids have because that is their life…) invading our home when they are finished at school for the day – everyday!!!!
          .-= se7en´s last blog ..The Week that Was – 2.45 =-.

  89. Tsh

    Very interesting comments today. I have mixed feelings about the topic, to be honest, and I can’t imagine any parent being “okay’ with the whole abduction, sex offenders thing.

    To those of you who are genuinely concerned about child abductions, I really recommend reading the Free Range Kids site and learning more about the statistics behind those. When you realize that most of them happen with people you already know, and that there’s a greater chance of your child getting struck by lightning than there is a total stranger driving by and swooping them up, then it’s a little easier to at least see the perspective of those parents who let their kids roam more freely.

    And as far as those who are commenting that they don’t see the benefit outweighing the risk to letting kids play free-range, Richard Louv (and perhaps Lenore Skenazy, I’m not sure) argues that when you don’t ever let your kids play independently, out of your sight, then you’re endangering them more than if you watched them at all times, even at a distance. Someone commented about how their daughter actually is more cautious when she knows her mom isn’t watching, and this is pretty true for most kids. When we don’t let our kids have any experiences on their own at all, we’re not giving them the chance to learn life skills that can only be learned through experience. As Last Child in the Woods reveals, we’re raising up a generation who doesn’t know how to fend for themselves in the real world when we don’t give them the chance to learn at all.

    Now, the debate here can be about at what age this happens… And this is where it varies. I doubt most parents here have the intention of raising up overly-dependent kids. There are many variables — living situation, family history, the child’s personality, etc. etc.

    But overall… Statistics show that the world really is much safer than the media and the culture would have us believe. Yes, there are exceptions. But those are rare — that’s why they’re exceptions. 🙂

    I’m loving everyone’s insight… Please continue.

    • Jennyct

      Guess I’m an anomaly… I was approached 2x by dirty talking weirdo at age 9 and then again at age 17. At age 16, a man threatened me with a gun at a bus stop. I turned and ran. How’d you all manage to roam the streets with no repercussions?

  90. Kelly

    I live in a city of 85,000 in British Columbia Canada. We live on a busy 4 lane road. I have a 15 yo daughter and a 12 yo son. Both are allowed out alone. Their favorite activity is to ride bikes. They have a perimeter that they are to stay in, I’d guess its 4km long and 3 blocks wide.

    They are not usually allowed to cross the main road as people routinely speed and dont watch closely enough. Any time they go out to play, they are given a time to be home, and that is strictly enforced.

    When they were younger, we lived further away from the 4 lane road, but the river was over an embankment at the end of our street. I would allow my youngest out on our one block when he was 4 or 5, stressing that he never go near the river bank. I would often check on him, and once or twice I was a little worried, but we never had any major incidents.

    I grew up in a neighborhood where kids roamed free until dark, and while I wouldnt give my kids that much rein, I try to push myself, so that I am not shrinking their universe and leaving them unprepared for when they enter real world.

  91. Jill T

    Love this post! I’ve struggled alot w/ this teetering back and forth through my almost 7 years of parenting. But the Book, ‘Free Range Kids’ kind of was the final push for me to go w/ my gut…Im definatly more of a free ranger but because if their ages: 6,5,4…it’s not to great lengths! I do let them all outside (suburbia) and play by themselves out of my sight and into the next door neighboors yard.
    I was raised ‘free range’ taking hikes in the woods w/ my cousins, riding a bike accoss town- and I am so happy that I was- those were some of my greatest adventures 🙂
    I want my kids to have that freedom too…the key is you have to trust your kids.
    I highly recommend that book!

  92. Elle M.

    Two things:

    1. The kids in our suburban neighborhood who play unsupervised tend to be inconsiderate/rude/disrespectful (especially in terms of noise), and the little ones (preschool age, sometimes even toddlers) that tag along with them are put in unsafe situations, in close proximity to cars and other hazards, and often past any kind of healthy bedtime.

    2. I grew up with lots of unsupervised play, and for the most part, it was more damaging than helpful. I was experienced and was exposed to things I shouldn’t have been (by other kids) and there were some definite near misses with creepy strangers and even vicious dogs. There were also needless injuries. I wish that my parents would have been more present during my free time, rather than letting me roam the neighborhood. Perhaps if I had grown up in Mayberry instead of Haight-Ashbury (not really, but just across the bay in hippie yuppie Marin), I would feel differently, but I would still agree with the earlier commenter who asked why shouldn’t parents watch over their children? As they grow older, our protection will shift, but it should be gradual, not premature…and certainly not just to give us “a break.” As a homeschooling mom, I know all about needing time without the kids, but there are more responsible ways to create that.
    .-= Elle M.´s last blog ..Mini Review of Seasons of a Mother’s Heart =-.

    • Mandi @ Organizing Your Way

      I think maybe there are two different situations at play here.

      I never send my kids outside so that I can get a break. In fact, I’m pretty sure it takes more work to get 3 kids lathered with sunscreen, get up to check on them every 15 minutes or so, deal with the mess when they come in, etc.

      Free range to me means setting boundaries and then giving children freedom within those boundaries to discover and explore.

      Perhaps it’s because we live in a rural area, versus a suburban neighborhood, and they play together but not with other kids, but my girls are complimented all the time for their behavior and manners and they rarely put each other in unsafe situations. Instead, they look out for each other and come running if one of their sisters is doing something unsafe or too difficult.
      .-= Mandi @ Organizing Your Way´s last blog ..Spring Cleaning Carnival: Get Pesticides Out =-.

  93. Ruth

    I live in a suburb of Jerusalem, Israel. I have 3 daughters, aged 6, 4, and 3.

    My eldest daughter comes home from school a couple of times a week on the bus by herself, as she finishes at the same time as my younger 2 finish nursery, on the days I don’t have the car.

    We live in a small pedestrianised area, and have a front yard that they all play in, unsupervised, and they wander round the pedestrianised areas unsupervised. They are in and out their friends’ houses, and their friends pop in and out here without their parents knowing where they are.

  94. Sandi

    I have two boys 6 and 7. I let them out on our dead end culdesac. There is a group of about 5 from school who are out every evening. I think they feel they have freedom even though I pop outside to check on them about every 10 minutes. I don’t tell them I’m checking and I don’t interrupt their games. I feel a bit overbearing as the other parents never seem to check on their children, but I still feel they are too little to be left for long periods without a little adult checking.
    .-= Sandi´s last blog ..Happy American Mother’s Day =-.

  95. Fran

    My husband and I disagree on this topic, but since I’m the one home with them, my parenting style usually wins out. When we lived in a townhouse complex where the units were very small and we were wall-to-wall with neighbors, I had no problem letting the kids play outside in the common areas of the complex. I tried to have them stay within earshot so I could find them quickly, but they would sometimes go a little further than I liked. To tell the truth, I worried more about them getting too much sun exposure than being abducted or injured! 🙂
    .-= Fran´s last blog ..Do You Really Need A Changing Table? =-.

  96. Ulrike

    I have three kids, 15 years, 10 years and 4 years old. We live in a village neighbourhood, not much car traffic, many kids. My ten year old daughter rides her bike and goes to her friends alone, they all live in a 10 minute-range. She takes the train to her school everyday with her friends; if they are in a group, they are allowed to go into the woods that begin behind our street together, no cell phone at all, but with watches, and I insist on her being at home in time (this is always discussed very heatedly).
    My four year old rides his bike up and down the street, meets his friends there, goes to the playground down the street, all the smaller kids play together on the street and in the gardens of the neighborhood. I walk him to kindergarten and fetch him there, but he expands his range every season. If I don’t hear him playing outside for a longer , I check where he is and what he’s doing. So we raise our kids pretty much in the free range style, with helpful neighbors (both with kids and without) have an eye on them, too. I experienced some moments where I was anxious, though.

  97. Jennifer B

    Great topic! We are fortunate enough to live in the neighborhood my husband grew up in, my in-laws live 2 houses behind us and all the neighbors have lived here for years. We have 1.25 acre ,and my kids can explore the field and ride their power wheels around freely, although we arealways outside on the periphery. We also let them walk to my in laws as we watch from the backyard and the in laws wait by the street for them. They are 4.5 and 2.5 and just in the last few months have we let them do this. We also grew up in the mid/late 80’s and rode bikes EVERYWHERE, only going home to eat and when the streetlights came on, will I let my kids do this too??? Maybe when they are O9 or 10, for now, I think they have enough freedom for their ages.

  98. Jennifer B

    I shouls also add that we live in Florida on a dead end street, no other children in our neighborhood.

  99. maryann

    My boys are 9 & 12. I have to let them walk home from school two days a week, necessity not choice. That’s enough for me. We live in a busy suburb outside NYC.

    The 9 yo has a friend 3 houses away. The little ones are allowed to run/ play/ bike only between our two houses & the other parents have the same rules.
    The 12 yo is not allowed to wander the neighborhood. He has be be somewhere that I know the parents. Wandering leads to Trouble.

    I’m sure I am over-protective & I don’t care. They will have many years out on their own. My motto is : NOT ON MY WATCH. 🙂

  100. Karen Hayward

    Great topic! It’s interesting how so many parents have such strong feelings on both sides. I have 2 daughters. 10 and 7 yrs old. They have a fair amount of freedom. They walk to school and back (together) and freely play up and down our street and in an open field (well….dry mud field….we live in a new subdivision in Southern Ontario). I think I am lucky because they like to play together a lot and have mutual friends so they tend to stick together, with my older daughter looking being responsible for the younger one. My big issue is accountability. If they are out of my sight from the front door, they must wear a watch and be back at a set time. ( an hour is usually the limit).
    For parents of younger children, who are wanting to allow some freedom…but nervous about it, I suggest getting to know a few 10 year olds. My daughter LOVES being the older “watchful” mother’s helper. And takes it all very seriously, when she can play with a 3 year old. She pulls out a backpak full of babysitting items…books, toys, etc. for them and comes back home after thrilled and full of confidence in herself and her budding responsibility.
    I think these days, with added traffic concerns, a lack of other children playing, and generally less neighbourhood people around as a extra safety net, it makes it a harder decision on how free we can be with our children’s freedom, but I still think it is an important part of growing up and try to allow as much I can. And it is not easy. I am more nervous then them when I allow a new freedom….and must admit to spying on them occasionally at first to see how they are handling it all! I just try to use common sense and think ahead in a few years and know that I do want to have responsible teenagers who can handle themselves and all the issues that are ahead of them. I do think that if we are protective for too long, we may create a learned helplessness or a rash recklessness in our children who as a result may not have learned to differenciate between what is a real danger and what isn’t. Going from no freedom to almost total freedom as a teenager or young adult is a scary idea. I myself prefer a more gradual approach that starts earlier.

  101. Katie ~ Simple Organic

    We live in a pretty rough neighborhood (according to the stats from the local police reports) and our street is rather busy because it’ s a “cut-through” to another part of the neighborhood. In addition, we have a large number of registered sex offenders in the neighborhood. My daughter is almost 3 and we play together outside in the front yard. She can play unsupervised in the back yard, which is secured, and she does a great job. We go other places in order for her to have more unsupervised play, such as large parks and playgrounds. As she gets older, who knows what will happen and where we’ll live. I want to give her as much freedom as is wise.
    .-= Katie ~ Simple Organic´s last blog ..Homemade Strawberry Freezer Jam =-.

    • Denise

      We have a 4yo and a 2yo and when we moved here I checked online for registered sex offenders and what I found horrified me. Suffice it to say, I am not comfortable letting them out of my sight when we’re out walking in the evenings. We’ve made our church our community so that the kids feel like they have somewhere safe that they know.
      This is vastly different from how we were raised, but we live in a much more metropolitan area.
      None the less, I think we’ll always take precautions to make sure that our kids at any age are not left alone, one-on-one, with any adults, no matter how trusted. That’s usually when abuse tends to occur unfortunately. We’ll also make sure to have a talk with them as they get a little bit older about what inappropriate adult actions are so that they know what the boundaries are.

  102. Mandi @ Organizing Your Way

    I love this question, and I’m enjoying reading everyone’s answers.

    One of the things I love about our home is that we are at the end of a cul-de-sac on 2.5 acres in the boonies. Our 2, 4 and 5 year old have pretty much free reign outside (although the 2 year old is only allowed outside with a parent if her sisters are out there). We always keep the windows open when they’re outside (even if it’s 50 degrees out) so that we can listen for them, and we check on them often if we can’t see or hear them.

    I read a study about Swiss playgrounds and how they don’t have fences but children simply mind the natural boundaries, and that’s so true for us too. Rarely do we have to tell one of our kids they’ve gone too far (really, I can only think of once in the last year).

    And our only rule is that they must come to the porch *immediately* if a car is coming down the road. This really has more to do with my fear of them getting hit by a car in the driveway (I’ve read enough stories to know it happens too often) than fear of abduction, though.

    There are many, many benefits of this free-range lifestyle, in my opinion. My girls rarely fight when they’re outside. They spend hours using their imaginations. They help and encourage each other more. They try new things that they would ask us to do for them if we were with them.

  103. Heather of WA State

    Our neighborhood is full of children and they do play outside and roam pretty freely. The biggest danger on our street is a young man who lives up the road with his degenerate parents. This guy likes to speed 50mph through the residential streets, swerving up onto the sidewalks and lawns in his monster truck to scare the kids. He thinks it’s funny, but he’s going to kill someone one day. The parents act as if the whole world is “picking on” their “innocent” son, even though they know full well what a terror he is. The police come all the time, but so far can’t keep the guy from getting behind the wheel, despite all the tickets he receives. His parents just pay his fines and he keeps driving. So again, I think the biggest threat to kids in our neighborhood is simply playing in the front yard or riding a bike on the sidewalk, because you never know when this punk is going to come at you with his monster truck, laughing maniacally as you run for cover.

  104. Rachel P.

    I have two children, both boys, ages six years and nineteen months. Obviously, I don’t let the nineteen month old play outside by himself due to the fact that he has not learned to mind the rules set for him by us, his parents, to keep him safe and doesn’t have the logic to make wise decisions. The six year old is allowed to play in the grassy area out back of our apartment by himself, yet we do not allow him to play on the play ground without supervision. This is because of our neighborhood. We live in low-income housing and even though we want to minister to those round us what little we have learned about those in our nearest vicinity has left us wary. When I do supervise my children’s play I let them roam free within my sight and only watch to see to their well being, not to interfere with their play. It drives my mother crazy!

  105. Beth H.

    After reading lots of these comments I am sensing the theme that neighborhood and knowing your neighbors is one key to how much freedom we give our kids. We moved to our current dead end street in a quiet suburb/town in New England when my daughter was 7 the summer before 2nd grade. There are tons of kids on the street and they were all outside playing whenever the weather was good. The older kids would play basketball or hang out on someones front lawn and the smaller kids would ride bikes and scooters. Our rule was and still is that my daughter can play outside on the street or in the front yard of any neighbors house, but has to ask before going into a friends house or into a friends backyard — mostly because I can see her if she is out front, but not if she goes into a back yard. The older kids also often play with the younger kids and help them out. She is 10 now and I also let her walk to and home from the bus stop around the corner. I would let her walk to her best friends house — around the corner and across a fairly busy (though only two lanes) street since there is a crosswalk and cars do stop, but her Mom’s friends would definitely not approve and won’t let her daughter walk to our house alone. Her other best friends parents are less protective and will let their kids and Emma ride bikes on the bike path that runs through our town on their own.
    .-= Beth H.´s last blog ..A Fitness Journal layout and resolution inspired by @CathyZielske =-.

  106. sunnypdx

    We live in a suburb of Portland, Oregon. Our neighborhood has one way in/out, 17 houses and a culd-a-sac, we back to green-space. My oldest boy is almost 10 and can be anywhere in our neighborhood that he would like as long as he stays outside. My three and one half year old daughter can play in the front or backyard (the back is privacy fenced) in our yard if she chooses. I also have a one and one half year old, but I am always supervising him 🙂 We know 90% of our neighbors, they know the children’s names, so I feel safe. My son has a cell phone and he carries it with him, most of the time. We also allow him to walk the mile to school with a friend. I feel safe in our community which is why we chose it. I constantly chat with our kids about safety and to listen to their gut, to pay attention to their surroundings. I feel like it is important to have the opportunity to make some decisions when you are young. It works for us!

  107. Sarah

    I have been thinking about this topic a lot. I have 2 boys (5yr and almost 3yr) and we live in a small southern US town. I don’t worry about abductions at all. What I think about is the way people drive like crazy on our road, and how this small town has absolutely no sidewalks. I want my boys to be more free-range but I really wonder at how safe it is with no sidewalks and the way people drive (fast, on the phone, etc.).

    My boys play outside in our fenced back yard as much as they want. They freely go in and out and I consider it completely safe. When we go to the park/playground the only boundary I have is that they have to be able to see me. Otherwise they have the run of the place. My 5 yr old just learned to ride his 2 wheel bike and it makes me sad that I can’t just let him ride on our street.

    I grew up as a missionary kid in Nigeria and then in Amsterdam. We were completely free-range and totally safe. I learned so many important life lessons by being with other kids and learning to get a long together without constant adult supervision. I hope my boys can have a similar experience.

    • Ashley

      Crazy drivers are my biggest concern, too. The speed limit on our road is 35, and we live near the corner. Only problem is that most people are already up to 40 or 45mph by the time they reach our house. And, we’ve seen people not paying attention take out our neighbor’s mailbox multiple times… the kids are NOT allowed to play in the front yard because of the crazy drivers!
      .-= Ashley´s last blog ..Starting a series… =-.

  108. Karen Hayward

    It is interesing how there are two very strongly divided opinions on this topic. I have 2 daughters; ages 10 and 7 and they are allowed a fair amount of freedom around the neighbourhood. They walk to school on their own and roam around our street (It’s a small street) as well as the empty field beyond our street (It’s a new development that has not been started yet.) They are to let me know if they want to go somewhere beyond my sight or voice range and must wear a watch and be back at the appointed time. So far this has worked out well. The age difference works well, as the older child is responsible for the younger, and they feel better knowing they have each other.
    My older daughter has also taken great delight in playing with younger kids in our neighbourhood. She looks at it like she is a mother’s helper and loves the responsibility of it all, and the mothers are just inside the house if she needs them. So if any of you have younger children that you are wanting to give a bit of freedom to but not yet ready to leave them in the yard on their own; get to know some 10 year olds!
    These days with added traffic worries, the lack of other children playing outside and not as many neighbours around to act as an additional safety net, it is more challanging to give children the freedom they need. I think common sense is the best answer. Parents need to look for ways to give their children some freedom whenever it’s possible. It also helps to look ahead a few years. Knowing my older daughter will be in high school in just over 3 years, makes me realise that I have to let go at some point and I would rather it be a gradual process rather than a forced one. I also think that by doing it gradually and earlier, the children learn better about true responsibility and feel more confident in their decisions, knowing by experience what things are important. I think it makes approaching adulthood less daunting and they are less likely to act rashly because of ignorance.

  109. Charis

    I love, love, love kids, and I personally want to let my kids explore the world around them in their own way. But, I have a little experience with “kids gone wild” too and I feel like I have some cautionary advice to give.

    I worked as a children’s librarian and there was a band kids who would come into the library unattended, and were disrespectful, destructive, and hurtful to library facilities, workers and other patrons. They were actually banned from the library for a period of time and after their ban was lifted their negative behavior continued. One of the boys happened to live two doors down from me, and I spoke with his parents once (not about his behavior at the library but in the neighborhood and in my yard) and they were completely blind to his and his friends’ attitudes and behavior. They actually hinted in another conversation that it was my fault that the children were climbing in my trees.

    That said, Parents, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE make sure that your kids are capable of being respectful to people, animals and environments that they encounter, before you let them out of your sight. And be sure that you are willing to admit that they are not capable if in fact they are not. I’m sure most of the moms who read this site are “aware”, but many parents live in denial about their children’s behavior.

  110. Jamie

    I live in Panama and have 2 boys – 3 and 4. We spend lots of time outdoors and I am usually with them. I do let them play alone on our patio while I am either in the kitchen with the door open or at the kitchen table on the conputer. Always within hearing distance. We live on a street where there are entirely too many taxis and public busses in a hurry so I try not to give them much free reign at this time. However, where we live it is not umcommon to see 15 or so kids playing together with no parents or nanny in sight. I imagine I will let mine do the same, with boundries, as they get older. And it is not uncommon for other people’s children to wander on over to my house unattended – even kids as young as 18 months old have been discovered on my swingset at 6 AM! I live in a fantastic international community which is rather reminiscent of the 60s or 70s in that I know if I am not close, the neighbors are keeping an eye out.

  111. Ashley

    We live on 5 acres off a busy road. Only 1.5 acres are mowed. My 3yo is allowed to play behind the house by herself, whereas my 19mo has to have supervision in the yard. They are both allowed to play on the deck (gated w/o locks) without supervision. Nobody is allowed to play in the front yard w/o supervision.

  112. Mrs. Bick

    This is such a timely discussion. I’ve been wondering about this myself.

    We have met a number of neighbors on our street, fortunately. But I feel I know more of the kids than I do the parents. Which leads to problems. I don’t feel as if I know their standards. I don’t feel as if I really should allow my children into their homes to play when I don’t know the characters that might be there, influencing my children.

    I feel so strongly that it is my responsibility to keep my children safe, that I need to put limits on their play in the form of physical boundaries. They currently aren’t allowed to go in friends houses without my express permission. (We are also working on the concept of “being invited vs. inviting oneself”.) They are limited in how far down the street they can go. I know that some of our boundaries will change with time, maturity and familiarity, but for me, right now, this is what we are doing.

    OH! Did I mention that 2 of our 3 kids we suspect have Asperger’s Syndrome? (The easiest way to explain AS to people is to describe it as a Social Skills learning disability. ) Part of the reason behind our boundaries is due to the nature and needs of the kids, and the high likelihood that they will need more of our support in these “free-style” play situations.

    As to letting my kids play outside in the backyard with minimal supervision…the copperhead snake found out there last August put the kibosh on that real quick! No thanks! (And add to it that my 4 year old is an escape artist and won’t stay put in the back yard if the front sounds more appealing!)

  113. Karla Bond

    I remember growing up in a small town were we didn’t even lock our doors when we left. We would run the neighborhood for hours. Times have changed, my son is 2 so obviously he doesn’t go out alone, but I don’t know at what age I will let him. If he goes to friends house I think I will need to know the family and meet them. I would rather be safe than sorry.
    .-= Karla Bond´s last blog ..Eco-Friendly Laundry =-.

  114. Chris

    At not quite two years old, my daughter isn’t allowed to play unsupervised out front, and only limitedly out back (long enough to go the restroom or quick chores, etc.) As she gets older though, I have no problem letting her play out front unsupervised within some boundaries, assuming I still feel comfortable with the other children that are around. I had that freedom (we always lived at a cul-de-sac, so that was my boundary) and it’s never scarred me. In fact, that’s how I made my best friend in elementary and we would have great times out there. For a child like me who would gladly do art all day, it was good my parents encouraged me to get outside, supervised or unsupervised.
    That said, I think it’s important to know the other children in the area. We occasionally go out front in the evenings now and I see the other children on the street playing. There are three main groups that play together, and I’ve seen very few problems in any of them. They’re all considerate not only of us, but of each other too. The family across from us has from pre-schoolers to high-schoolers and I regularly see the youngest outside with his older brothers. They are wonderful about watching out for him and I’ve watched him learn to also be aware of his own safety over time from them. All the children are wonderful about watching out for our daughter, and will remind each other too, when she decides to run around in the street with them (usually on their bikes).
    I agree with others too, that location certainly plays a factor. We are fortunate to live on a non-through street with a cul-de-sac corner at the intersection. All of the children seem to follow the same boundary rules, and since we are all accustomed to the kids being out there in the afternoons and evenings, we all tend to drive slower at that time of day.
    .-= Chris´s last blog ..Hold on tight =-.

  115. Mike Lanza

    I’ve pretty much devoted my life over the last two years to finding a solution to the problem of children’s lack of outdoor play. I blog at Playborhood.com.

    My central message is that, absolutely, you can and should give your kids a life of free neighborhood play. My writing is all about how I and others have made this happen in our neighborhoods, and how other parents can do this in their neighborhoods.

    For instance, I’ve recently written articles on running a neighborhood summer camp, the boundaries of “home” for kids, and my attempt to make my front yard into an outdoor family room.

  116. Kelly Cook

    My son is just 4, and we live on a busy highway, with a creek on the opposite border. I’d LOVE to let him out to play alone, but I can’t be sure he won’t go to the street or creek. Our fenced backyard is small, and he goes out there whenever he wants to-unsupervised. I like to spend time outside, so we’ll go out in the “open” together. He says, “mom, let’s go out and joy the sun”!
    I’m 43 and when I grew up I’m not even sure I had to have permission to go outside. I think if I was leaving our street I had to tell my mom where I was going. You’ll love this one-we had AN UNFENCED POOL! We knew we weren’t allowed to go in it if my parents weren’t home and we were smart enough not to fall in.
    I think the world is LESS safe today, too many crafty predators looking to do harm to innocent children. I will, however, teach my son how to tell the difference and allow him some age appropriate freedom.
    .-= Kelly Cook´s last blog ..Tuesday Tidbits =-.

  117. Betsy

    Get a dog you trust and a fence! My children (4, 3, 3) play outside all the time in our backyard by themselves; they’ve been playing unattended since they could walk. I’ve actually tried to cultivate some independence, squashing down worries they might get sick from eating something weird or picking up a poisonous spider. What are the odds, really? (To date, they’ve consumed some unknown berries and been reprimanded, eaten dog poop and not died, and handled all sorts of weird bugs.) I’m not worried about strangers because our big, 100-pound dogs will take care of that long before I could (and more effectively, I might add). We also know our neighbors quite well, so I’m not worried about privacy issues (our fence is chainlink). I leave a window open so I can hear if someone starts crying. When they want to come inside, I now say something inspiring like “Go find a worm!” or “Go play”. Our street is too busy and hilly for them to play on, but I do let them have free range a bit when we’re out in nature. I keep a sharp lookout at the park, but try not to interfere with their play as much as I can beyond pushing someone on a swing. I think kids need to be kids, solve their own small problems when they can, and learn to enjoy and soak up this beautiful creation our God has given us! I was really struck by the assertion in LCintheW that the actual stats of kidnapping and other safety issues are actually no different than they used to be–just more publicly known. Very thought-provoking.
    .-= Betsy´s last blog ..Derby Day and Tradition =-.

  118. Beth

    I feel as though the older our children get the more freedom they should receive. It is also important to know your neighbors in case anything ever does happen to your children.

  119. Kristy J

    We love our neighbors and have them over every month. One of them is an older single lady, another is a retired couple and the other is a family with seven kids. We have nine acres outside of a smaller town. My kids are 3 years old and 23 month old twin boys. I let them play in our fenced backyard by themselves and check on them every few minutes. We have creek that runs through our property so it was important to have an area fenced off. My 3 year old daughter plays all around the barn and under our hazelnut orchard in the afternoons by herself when the boys are napping.

  120. Lindsey

    Sorry, but unless I know the person really well, I don’t trust just them to watch after my kid. I see so many examples of unsafe child-rearing habits on a daily basis (while teaching, at the mall, in my neighborhood, etc) and I just can’t believe that these people will look out for my kid in a way that keeps her safe.

    Also, I think it depends so much on where you live. We live in a heavily-populated area just north of LA and I do NOT trust the people around here. I’m sure crime is at a 30-year low for some places, but it’s pretty scary here. I don’t even walk by myself when it’s dark, it’s just not safe.

    I see the value in free-play, but this is not the time or place for it in my daughter’s life. When we move to a better place, it will be a different matter entirely.
    .-= Lindsey´s last blog ..FABRIC!!! =-.

  121. Susan

    It all goes with the age of the children and the business of the street I think. My kids get progressively more freedom as they get older and are more aware and responsible. It is a rare (and crazy IMO) person who truly lets a 3 year old free range. A 10 year old is another story. My kids range from 5 to 10 and are allowed to play in both front and back yards of our suburban home as long as they are together or with a friend. They can ride their bikes up and down the length of our block as well. With permission, they can ride around the block or to the next block to visit their friends. The older 2 get stuck with a tagalong little one quite often, but that is the price they pay for the freedom! 🙂

  122. lolo

    I totally agree that it is important that our children grow up a little “street smart” and with the feeling of independence…what an important .grounding feeling for them to have! It seems to me that so many “maybe dangers” are in the news and current child rearing, that not many people are talking about the dangers that WILL happen by keeping our children under constant supervision, with underlying fears of people and places guiding their every move. A feeling of fragility, of not knowing how to handle themselves, of not knowing were is safe, who is safe, and not knowing an adventurous spirit and life, especially for our boys, will shape such different adults in years to come!!!.. I see so much fear in mothers when children want to climb, run or ride a bike as fast as possible, try daring tricks…the fear is “what if they get hurt”? “what if they break a bone or need stitches?” How about “What if they never know challenging a fear, overcoming hesitancy, being courageous, or knowing that WONDERFUL feeling that comes right after conquering your fear? Of course they WILL get hurt, maybe break a bone or need some stitches…didnt that used to feel like wearing a badge of courage during our childhoods? We give so much for our children…the healthiest foods, the best homeschooling, read the best books and truly enjoy our times together…how about we also give them the freedom to feel the best they can with adventure,confidence,a healthy fear that does not stop them from living and that real feeling of chaleenging themselves, playing hard and even survivng without their moms watching every single move? Ther is more danger everytime we get into our car to drive somewhere than actual real danger for the average child in their neighborhood. Each child is individual, each home is different, we know them…we can each work with our situations where we are at..I am just suggesting that maybe if we stopped worrying so much about the maybe’s in this life we might not feel so paralyized.

  123. Cherie

    Great Topic! I have 3 kids (8, 6, & 13 months) and we live in a pretty close subdivision in Utah. In my subdivision of 90+ houses, I know probably 80 of them personally… I have let my older two children run around the subdivision (we have two parks in our subdivision) since they were 4 & 6.

    They have and know the rules. They have to use the buddy system – they must be together or with a friend at all times. They must let mom know where they are – if they say they are going to be at the park, they better be at the park! If they go into a friend’s house – they better ask me first or call and ask permission…

    We also are constantly going over stranger safety (and my kids know that it includes people they know also). We talk about it at least monthly.

    I feel like I am a pretty relaxed mom and allow my kids free-range (more than a lot of my neighbors) but I also don’t allow sleepovers of any kind (even though I know the parents really well) because I feel that they can just get you into trouble!
    .-= Cherie´s last blog ..My First Blog Award! – Happy 101 =-.

  124. Tina

    Just a thought…maybe crime is lower because parents have become more cautious.

  125. Karyn

    I have one child – a 3 year old son – and we are just starting to experiment with letting him play outside by himself. We live in a nice neighborhood in a nice city, houses all pretty close together, and we don’t really know our neighbors, though we’ll occasionally say hi and chat with the family across the street when they’re outside. Couldn’t tell you their names, though.

    The rule for our son is to stay where he can see the back door, so we can also see him if we glance outside. Of course, being three, he doesn’t always, because he just forgets, but he’s also a pretty good 3 year old so it just takes a quick “I can’t see you!” out the door for him to come back. We still keep a pretty close eye on him, though, because, I mean, he’s three, he just spaces out sometimes. Mostly, though, he just likes to be outside, and will play with his slide or toy grill on the back porch or ride his tricycle around the garage.

    Once we move, our house will have a fenced in back yard. I’m sure we’ll be fine with letting him play outside on his own, there, as soon as the Do Not Leave The Back Yard Without Asking rule sets in.
    .-= Karyn´s last blog ..How it happens. =-.

  126. Emily

    Interesting topic, one I know is hard no matter who you are or where you live. Our two boys are 8 and 5 this year – and we have tightened up their reins because of an incident a couple summers ago. They were playing in the trees at the playground; not an unusual occurrence, they both liked to play spy back there. But an allegation of inappropriate behavior was raised while one of our children and a bunch of others were in there, and since we couldn’t know for sure what happened, we decided we were being too lax. Schools with older children in buildings alongside younger ones can be places for them to pick up “bad” behavior – and mine both have at one point or another – as well as neighbor kids who don’t have strict parents, or those with older siblings, or (as is the case with some friends of ours) kids whose parents are newly single and they know a lot more about the birds & bees than our kids do!

    I do agree that kids need alone playtime to figure out problem-solving skills on their own, and group dynamics, and things like that; but it’s tough to balance that with not picking up bad behavoirs and not doing things just because “Well, they’re doing it”.

    We live in a small town in the midwest, with my folks right here in town. It’s not a huge crime area, but we have had murders and drugs, as well as sex offenders, in our neighborhood or nearby. It does scare me a little, to think what life is like now for our kids and if it will be worse for theirs….

  127. CN

    We live on a street that mostly pretty quiet, except for a bit of heavier than I would like traffic around school starting and ending. My eight year old has his boundaries, but can do whatever within those boundariesw. They are from our house to the left 2 houses down and then an empty field that is edged by a creek. So he can go from my house to the creek. His best friend lives across from the field and he can also go there. He can’t go to his buddy’s house without letting me know. I know and am very friendly with all of the neighbors whose yards he crosses, and he is very comfortable with them. I’m usually in and out of the house while he is playing and can see him almost always, depending on where he is in the creek. The creek also only has about 4 inches of water usually, so he’s not swimming alone or anything, just tromping around in rain boots pretending to be an indian or a soldier.
    My two year old can play in our fenced backyard some by himself. I can see him from the kitchen window and like to let him experience some indepence by letting him feel like he’s unsupervised. He never actually is though. I will let him play out front if the street is quiet with just my older son long enough for me run inside for just a second, like to stir dinner or something really fast. He is just to little to be alone right now, really. Probably around 3 or 4 he can be in the backyard by himself, depending on his ability to follow directions.

    Also-on spending the night. I’ve never had a problem with the oldest spending the night with a friend that we know well and are comfortable with the parents. It’s a treasured experience from my own childhood that I wouldn’t deprive him of. He’s been spending the night with friends since he was 4. (They were our good friends and lived 2 doors down, the boys were practically brothers.) If it’s a good enough friend for spending the night with, I would already know the parents pretty well, from haning out during parties and play dates and such. Not at a strangers house though, but thats just silly.

    My thought with letting my kids some level of freedoms , is that
    I don’t want to hand them the car keys at 16 and them drive away and that be the first time they are out of my sight. We have to work up to that. My oldest child and I have talked all the time about strangers and what to do if anything happens. They have to be prepared.

    In a book that I really liked “The Blessing of a Skinned Knee” the author talks about going by neighborhood standards. If there is a street full of kids whose parent’s are ok with them doing certain things, your kids are probably ok doing those things, like walking to the park down the street with a group. If your kids are the only ones roaming the streets, or the only kids not allowed out of a parent’s sight for an instant, you are probably being extreme.

  128. Megan Fey

    I’m a little different because I’m a nanny and don’t have children of my own
    (yet 🙂 ).

    Well, I can remember many days growing up here in the suburbs of Chicago riding my bike up and down trails and knowing that I had to be home at a certain time. My parents let us “free play” but we had to prove ourselves responsible and earn our parent’s trust from day to day, and if we didn’t comply, we had consequences. Those were some of my best memories I have of just exploring the world on my own (and with friends), knowing that I/we had freedom!

    I find it’s so important, especially in these days of structured activities, structured school time to let our kids explore the world and create and imagine on their own. We are instilling value in them when we encourage free play and intervening less. I think maybe we fear we are neglecting our children when we let them play on their own. Yet, I have found it’s quite the opposite.. we’re fostering independence in a very healthy way.

    I have nannied for families where kids ask me every couple minutes, “what’s next?” or “I want YOU to play with me!” And most of the time I rather play with them! .. but I know the value of letting them create and explore on their own, or with their siblings and friends. I have found that when I respond to a child by being by their side throughout the day, I have trained them to need me. It may not be intentional, but I have created it. Just some of my own ramblings 😉
    I can’t wait to read, “Free Range Kids” !!

  129. marissa c

    I have a 13 yr old daughter and I am outraged at the comments that I see on this site I never let her outside in the front yard unsupervised under the age of 10 how lazy are you people? Your children are at risk not only from other predators but also from just basic accidents how hard is it to sit out in the front yard and watch them. Don’t have kids if you don’t want to or can’t watch them.

    • Tsh

      I’m pretty sure it’s not an issue of laziness. It’s not with me, anyway.

  130. 1sttimemomma

    My two year old dd is not allowed to play in the front or the back yard by herself. We live in a fairly safe community, with only one other houseful of kids. My back yard has an ungated pool so the doors are locked and she can’t go back there alone. The front yard is gated, but not locked, so I prefer to sit out there with her. I suppose as she gets older I won’t mind her playing alone. My neighbors have young children and let them just run amuck. They run up and down the street in and out of the house, and even over to my house. They are sweet kids, but when mom over there offers for my dd to go over to play I always decline or accompany her…I just don’t trust that she’s being supervised well enough.

  131. Courtney

    I have a 6, 4 and 1 year old. I wonder if I am a bit too permissive at times when it comes to my back yard ..not for the older ones as much as my one year old who LOVES to play outside with his brothers. They are free to come and go at will, with the understanding that no one breaches the fence. If my littlest one is outside I tend to watch more carefully, but the kid rolls and tumbles just like his brothers.

    The front yard is another matter – I do let them ride bikes and things within two houses in either direction. Partly, because I know the neighbors. We do not allow the kids to go inside anyone’s house, no matter where they are on the street. I figure that on the street and close enough to holler at is fine, but inside people’s homes is a place where things could happen that I have no control over.

    I know that my kids dont understand the dangers that could be there, and so they have to have some mommy-controlled boundaries. I know too, that especially with boys they need to feel like they can be trusted to explore a bit. We create looser boundaries when we can ..for instance, when mom and dad are outside they can go all the way to the end of teh street and back (Outside my line of sight, a sense of freedom, but still in yelling distance! :).

  132. Brinete

    I’m surprised to see not that many city commentators on here. I’m actually fourteen and I live in Los Angeles, CA in the Culver City area. I live on a busy street and there is entertainment (Movies, Restaurants, etc.) a block from my apartment complex so usually there are lots of people walking around. When I was little I didn’t play outside at all. It just wasn’t safe enough. Sometimes we say Hi to our neighbors when we walk past each other on our way in/out but we don’t know their names, nor have any sort of relationship. There are some kids who play inside the building in an outside area. If I wanted to ride my scooter I had to do so in the underground parking lot. I’ve spoken once to a girl aged twelve but we go to different schools, and for the most part that’s the case down here in LA. You most likely don’t go to the same school as your neighbors. Now that I’m older, I walk around the city and I just love my neighborhood and it’s vibrant night life. I can go to movies, walk around the historic buildings, eat fro-yo, or grab a bite, and I just love it and wouldn’t trade it for anything. I see my best friend probably 3 times a week as our mothers are best friends and we went to the same private school in elementary. We jog around my neighborhood or her’s usually at 7 and that’s my form of “neighborhood-ish play” which I would never exchange for a life in the ‘burbs. I simply love the type of life I’m able to lead here in the city and yet, experience a type of “neighborhood-ish” play.

  133. Kristen

    We live in one of the “best” neighborhoods in our small city for children (at last count 58 kids under 18 years old). Most of my neighbors allow their school age children to roam in packs. My kids (3 and 5) are on the cusp of that age but I do not yet feel comfortable doing it. My kids are undeniably sheltered having not yet attended public school (which starts here at 3!), but instead a small, cozy Montessori. Although I am actively trying to teach them about stranger danger and good touch/bad touch, they don’t get it. They have never met anyone mean. They have never been hurt. Everyone is their friend. They are also very out-going. Until they develop a little fear, I think they will stay playing in our fenced-in backyard. Yet I am not a cruise director. I do not come up with endless activities for them to do. For the most part, they play unsupervised either in the house or in the fence-in backyard. That will have to be good enough free-ranging for now.

  134. michelle

    i have twin twelve-year-old boys who are active and outside year-round despite what the weather may be for the day. we live in a townhouse community (in pennsylvania) and i do not worry about them playing outside day/night, walking over to a friend’s house, or riding their bikes throughout the development. the parents of the children with whom they play with are supportive and we all look out for each others children (the kids all vary in ages). i don’t feel that i have to patrol them 24/7, and there are times i ask them to take a cell phone with them so we can connect with each other if need be.

    we did go with some friends to a local pool in a state park last week and my sons and their friend asked if they could walk the trail down to the creek. my friend and i allowed them to do so, but when an hour rolled by and they had not returned yet we started to get concerned but not panicked. so she walked the trail but did not see them. we spoke to the lifeguard on duty who had us speak to his boss and while we were discussing about walking the trail again or getting a park ranger involved the boys came strolling back to the pool. i know my boys and their friend know what to do in case there is an emergency, but we let them go without at least one of them carrying a cell phone, which i would not allow to happen again.

    they do ride and/or bike to school occasionally throughout the school year, but i’m not as much concerned about them as i am with the traffic and lack of sidewalk available on a certain portion of the road.

    last year i allowed them to venture out more by themselves (riding together to the library last summer and or the local smoothie shop), and now have added letting them bike to a nearby friend’s house and riding the local path (“loop”) around the hospital/schools. i still feel uncomfortable with them going into town by themselves and have not allowed that to be done yet.

    i tend to think that it was safer when i was a child/teen than it is today. my mother had no problem with letting us bike into town, over to a friend’s house, and/or come and go at night whether walking or biking. some of the things i did as a kid i would not allow my boys to do today because i don’t think it’s safe.

  135. Rhonda S

    Balance, I hope I am finding balance. In our neighborhood, in this time, and with my children only being 8, we are not able to let them run as we would like or as we would do if we lived on a cul de sac on 2.5 acres in the boonies. But where I try to compensate is in that they do have run of the yard (and our German Shepherd is always outside with them), and they can ride their bikes in our back alley (a cul de sac that services our garages) without me hovering. I do send them to a summer playground program for 4 hours most weekdays where the children severely outnumber the counselors and where my children have loads of unsupervised time with their peers.

    I think if you are going to allow your children to be alone and have to make decisions on their own that you MUST give them the tools to make those decisions, you cannot rely on experience they don’t have. For example, while I don’t sit outside and watch my children ride their bikes in the alley, I have taught them how to ride bikes safely in town, which side of the road to ride on, where to ride around the two blind curves in the alley and so on. And when I have checked on them, they have been using those lessons. And when I almost hit a neighbor’s unsupervised, un-helmeted granddaughter last week on one of those blind curves, my children immediately told me why her riding was unsafe.

    Our lifestyle is a little different in that we homeschool and we don’t watch much tv, we don’t even have cable but watch netflix together on occasion as a family. So when our children have friends over I notice how the other kids need “entertained”, how they can’t make up a fun game or become easily bored with imaginative play. While mine are screaming to release the Crakin (sp?) the other kids are coming in and asking me if they can play video games.

    So while they aren’t roaming around this small town with it’s lack of sidewalks and numerous sexual offenders they aren’t sequestered inside and hidden away from society either. Trust me when I tell you, that I have sometimes re-evaluated the benefits of all that free time at the summer park program versus the attitude and language skills that my children come home with, lol.

    • Tsh

      Yes! Very good thoughts. I’ve found similar things with other children as well…

  136. Tash

    I have mixed feelings on this subject. I want children that are outdoor lovers, but there are serious issues. My sister-in-law was saved from a couple of men trying to get her into their car from her front lawn in El Paso when she was only 4. So, we don’t take this lightly. My children, twins, 9 years old, spent the majority of their lives overseas, and we began letting them roam around our neighborhood at the age of 6-7. However, our rules were strict. They had to stay together, (safety in numbers), meaning if one wanted to come in for a drink of water, they both had to come. This would cause the occasional argument, but it was swiftly hushed by a comment such as, “Okay, well I suppose this means you are not yet ready for outside play.” They had to stay within the range that I could easily see from my balcony, or get to quickly. We had small walkie-talkie’s that we used for Mom to check-in on them. They feel very comfortable playing outdoors, and have become outside kids. I think helping them become aware of possible dangers, and setting boundaries is very helpful.

  137. Kristine S.

    I have a four year old son, 2 1/2 yo and 3 month old daughters. I have always been a worrier and ALWAYS feel like I need to have an eye on my kids. I do feel like I don’t give them the space they need but feel so worried about everything I hear going on these days. We live in a “sketchy” part of town right off a main street and I don’t let them go over to the neighbors house but let the neighbor kids come over to our house. I am constantly thinking about sex trafficking, abduction, etc. and was shocked to hear crime is at a 30 year low!

  138. Evie

    My kids 3, 5, and 8 are have always been encouraged to go and play. We’ve lived in the developing world and in north america, in town and on a farm. I’ve set down limits for going inside people’s houses (they need to ask, and I need to know the family), and for dangerous areas (roads, water, animals). We’ve had conversations about sticking together and why there are restrictions. In general, though, I prefer to think of the world as a friendly place, rather than a malevolent one, and that most people don’t have violent intentions towards children. I think this is healthy and good for my attitude towards “the world out there”, for my childrens’ attitudes, and for their development as people. It’s important to teach them to keep their heads up and their eyes open, what to do when they need help, how to use good judgement – but it can’t just be talk. At some point they need to be able to practice these things.

    • Evie

      I should add, though, that we’ve had Grandpa and Grandma living on the farm with us, and there was always someone around. When we were in the developing world, we found people were extremely child friendly and we all looked out for each others’ kids and there was definitely more of a culture of letting your children all run in a herd together – and people (adults) were out and about more even during the day. We’re not stupid – our three year old sticks closer and doesn’t have as much freedom, and we all keep an ear out for the kids, and check in with them occasionally.

  139. Christine

    The problem with crime statistics is that they don’t tell the whole story. It depends on what is considered a crime. For example, crime has gone down since abortion was legalized (it started going down 18 years after those who would have been born in 1973) but many (myself included) consider abortion a type of crime.

    Also, we live in a area of the country with a high rate of child abuse. Not everyone does this course, but there is a general lack of respect for children. And I want to witness many of interactions that my kids have with adults while they’re young.

    I would not let my kids (ages 8 and under) play in the front yard alone or up and down the street. If they’re too young to stay home alone, I think they’re too young to play in these places alone.

    I think it is very important for them to be outside. The vitamin D is important and sunlight before noon helps them sleep at night. They’re in the backyard every morning (and throughout the day, when its not so hot). We go to nature parks often. I wish we lived closer to nature, but land (and property tax) is expensive.

  140. Jonah Lisa

    Thanks Tsh. Very interesteing to see how different Moms around the world handle this. We are free rangers, but it’s worth mentioning that we live in a rural area in the western mountains. There are about 20 homes in the canyon we live in. Partially due to the weather (you NEED your neighbors up here) and partially due to the lifestyle people who live here want, we know all our neighbors–names, phone numbers, where they work, when they have visitors in town, or are having health issue. Lots of people work from home out here so there are always people around during the day.

    I have a 5.5 yo and a 2.5 yo and they are allowed to play outside unsupervised. The 5 yo has free range of the entire 3 acre property. He has to tell me first, but he’s also allowed to walk up the 1/8 mile trails to our 2 closest neighbors houses and the 1/4 mile to the mailboxes. I do prefer that he take the dog along–he got tuck in a snowbank this spring and the dog came home alone and told us something was wrong. My little one is allowed out under her brother’s supervision and can walk to the neighbors house with her brother though I keep a tighter watch and call up to the house when she goes along. She’s also allowed outside by herself. I try to give her the sense of playing alone but I keep close tabs on her from the windows, deck & patio.

    Nature is my main concern here, not people.

  141. Heather

    I think it really does depend on how well you know your neighbors, the type of neighborhood you live in and if your kids will follow the rules you have set for them. We have five kids 7, 5, 3, 2, and 5months and I let the oldest four play outside alone. But I know all of my neighbors and there are always other little kids outside. The kids all have boundaries and they follow them very well. The older 2 have a little more freedom and can go all the way up and down our street on their bikes and they can cross the street. The little two can only go two houses up and one house down from ours and not go in the street. They all have to come and ask if they can go in to a friends house. And I don’t let the little girls out if the older two kids aren’t outside. Most of the time all the kids in the neighborhood end up playing in my driveway because it is huge and we live in the middle of the street. We live in a smallish town in Utah and everyone looks out for everyone else. We used to live in Las Vegas, NV and there was no way my kids would have been playing out front alone. I didn’t even let them in the backyard most of the time alone. Like I said I think it all depends on where you are and what you are comfortable with.

  142. Jenny

    I’m 31 and when I was a kid we did play outside without supervision. However, there were several of us. I had to ask before going to anyone’s house, but we could play.

    My daughter is 7 and I really don’t let her out of my sight. We do live in a nice neighborhood here in MO, but anything can happen anywhere. The likelihood my be rather small, but I don’t want my daughter to be the statistic.

  143. Courtney

    I would have to say that after reading through most of the comments I am much more generous with my 2yo (27months) freedom. We live in a row house (in Norway but we’re American) and have a small back garden that has a short fence that my child can climb over on her own. She can go out to the garden and play while I am in the house so long as I know she is going, sometimes she ends up in our neighbor’s garden. Just last night we were at some friend’s house and they have 3 girls, age 4,6,8 and all of them including my 2 year old were outside in the front/back/street pushing a baby doll pram around and kicking a ball for about 2 hours. I did check on her whereabouts maybe 5 times during that. We are the norm here, children age 3ish are often allowed to walk to the neighborhood park on their own. I think that children have to be presented with real problems to learn real problem solving and having parents constantly hover right next to their side can’t teach them anything but that they can’t do for themselves.

    • Tsh

      Having lived abroad as well, I think there’s a difference in “free ranging” in other countries vs. here in America. I know it’s not a stereotype across the board, of course, but I’ve heard from many people that this seems to be the case. Interesting.

  144. Jennifer@A Blog of My Very Own!

    My son is not allowed to play outside by himself. He is 3, and we live in the country, so there is a danger with snakes, scorpions, the odd free-range ram wandering through. No fences around our yard yet. We have been here for a while, but have not gotten to know our neighbors. I don’t know if we lived in an urban setting with a fenced yard if I would be more open to him playing freely in the back yard. I know I would not let him play freely near roads at this stage in his life.

  145. Rhonda35

    We have one child – an outgoing, energetic, LOUD 11-yr-old boy. We live in a small Midlantic town that very much reminds me of a modern day version of Andy Griffith’s “Mayberry.” Everyone knows everyone and, within a 4-block radius of our house, there are close to a dozen boys for my son to hang out with. We know most of our neighbors and the house next-door is almost like my son’s second home (as is our house for their children.) The back alley is used for basketball, “manhunt” and street hockey and the front yard is where the goals are for soccer and lacrosse. A neighbor has ramps for jumping bikes and skateboards and another neighbor has a trampoline that she monitors pretty closely. It’s a young boy’s dream world on our block!

    Having said that, we have taken our time with giving our son free range – mostly dependent upon his own abilities to follow rules and be safe. When he was 7, he was only allowed outside alone in our fenced backyard. Bike riding was just back and forth on the front sidewalk of the block. As he and his friends have grown, we’ve expanded the range from home. Now, he is pretty much allowed to go anywhere within a 3 or 4 block radius as long as he tells me first and reports in with the parent at whichever house he ends up at. If he goes alone, he must call as soon as he gets there. If he wants to go to the Y, the park or the middle school (where he and his friends practice lacrosse), he must go with a friend and they have to stick together. We are trying to keep him cell-phone-free, yet I know he is going to want to ride his bike around town with his friends in another year or two and I guess we will climb that hill when we get to it!

    I work hard to have an open-door policy at the house. Sometimes the noise and activity drive me crazy, but I want his friends to feel comfortable and safe here – mostly for selfish reasons – if my house is the house with good food and some freedom (without TOO MUCH freedom), then the kids will want to hang out here – which means I will know where my child is, what he is doing and who he is with. So far, it’s working out. We have controls on the tv and computers, safety and behavior rules, but I try to let them have real boy fun – for example, if the boys want to spray each other with the hose all day or run through the house from front to back to avoid a Nerf attack, I let them go for it. My house can be pristine and perfect in 7 more too-short years, when our son is off to college and we’re left wondering where his childhood went.

    We feel very fortunate to have such a wonderful community to live in and to have a son who has surrounded himself with lovely friends. Fingers crossed we can keep it that way!!

  146. Joey Espinosa

    We used to live in a cul-de-sac, with lots of kids around. We’d let our older kids (even as young as 6) a pretty good amount of freedom to play outside. One rule was that they had to be within view and/or earshot of our house (so, no going inside neighbors houses or to their backyards without permission).

    Now we live in an impoverished area (http://differentway4kids.blogspot.com/p/mission-allendale.html). We are a little more cautious, but not overly so. We live in a pretty decent area, and next to a group home for mentally-disabled men. Our kids know and recognize one of the men that walks on the sidewalk smoking cigars. It really doesn’t make us nervous.

    Maybe we need to be more protective, but we feel we are close to how protective we need to be.

  147. Katie

    If we take away choices and subsequent consequences from our children, how are they ever supposed to learn to be responsible and independent? I love my children deeply. They are the greatest creations God ever designed, in my book. But look around you. Look at the generations being bred. Both parents and society are rapidly taking away more and more consequences for decisions… or taking away choice altogether. If you make a bad decision, don’t worry- there are dozens of social welfare programs to bail you out. What does this teach our society? I know I’m on a soap box right now, but the truth is humans cannot learn from mistakes if they never have to clean up their own mess- if they never feel the consequences. I don’t know about you, but this is not the society I want to live in; these are not the values I wish to proliferate.

    I let my children play outside by themselves. I let them make mistakes. I do not, of course, allow them to put themselves into life-threatening situations. When my two year-old was playing in the back of the truck and went to try and stand up on the side of the truck bed, I stopped him and told him that he couldn’t do that because he could hurt himself severely. But if he wants to climb up on a rock and jump from it to the grass I simply say, “Be careful, baby. That could hurt.” And then let him learn for himself. If my 8 year-old wants to ride her motor-scooter up and down our 1 1/2 miles of dirt driveway by herself, she can. Michael Jordan once said, “I’ve missed more than nine thousand shots in my career. I’ve lost almost three hundred games. Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

    We cannot be too afraid to allow our children to make mistakes… how else will they learn?

    • Tsh

      Well said.

  148. Keri Tidwell

    We are actually in the process of looking for several acres so our kids can roam freely in a safe space of our own. Right now, our children are very young, but we have some neighborhood children who want to play with them and we do not allow it because (1) they are considerably older and (2) because we don’t approve of the way they live and are being raised. I would say that I am more concerned about the world that my children are growing up in today than the world in the 1980s where I grew up. Still, my parents would not allow me to play with neighbor kids who they didn’t approve of because they sought to protect us. I think it’s fine for my kids to play by themselves in our yard, but I am always in sight.

    I love this post though because it is making me think harder about how I want to raise my children. I don’t want them to live in fear; I do want them to roam and explore the world freely but safety always comes first.

  149. Kathryn

    I live in South Africa and here crime is quite high on our list of concerns… I do have a walled back garden with a jungle gym, swing and trampoline which I would love to be utilised more by my oldest child age 5 but he seems to not enjoy being outside on his own… I have been making a concerted effort to get him out there more often but I worry that my concerns about safety have affected him, or it might just be that he doesn’t have a neighbourhood friend to pop over and play with like I grew up with? He always wants me to sit outside with him. I am hoping as he gets older he will be able to connect with the kids living near by and ride bikes to each other. We live in a great neighbourhood with lots of kids but I think it takes everyone to start to relax a bit more about letting kids have some freedom so that all our kids can enjoy the type of lifestyle we grew up with.

  150. Sharon

    This topic last year had an impact on me and I began to give much more thought about the importance of giving my children the same type of freedom I had growing up. We began camping last October 2010 and have been camping 4 times since then. While I still don’t let the kids take off on their own around our neighborhood, yet. When we go camping our kids each have a walkies talkie and a whistle they wear around their neck. This gives them a degree of independence to explore the campground and walk to the restrooms at the campsites. We have a walkie talkies as well and can touch base often as we like.
    I have read “Last Child in the Woods” and agree with much of what the author has to say. Also had the fortune of hearing him interviewed on our local NPR radio station back in May, 2011.

    We are still a work in progress and tend to hover probably too much, but hopefully in time we will feel more confident in giving them some of the same freedom we had as kids.

  151. Emily

    Even if DS were a bit older (4.5) I wouldn’t let him “free range.” There is literally a registered sex offender in every neighborhood. Once we are on a rural homestead, it will be much different.

    • Joey Espinosa

      “Literally” one in every neighborhood? Maybe a bit extreme of a statement.

      • Emily

        Well, maybe, but one being on the neighboring street from ours and another being a few blocks away, across from the neighborhood playground, my mind can make the stretch.

  152. Ren

    I just recently began permitting my 5 (6 next month) y/o to play directly unsupervised in our yard after we moved to a smaller Colorado town from a busy LA townhouse. Our new house actually has a complete security surveillance system that monitors several angles of the front and back yard, along with the side where the driveway is. This will allow me to get work done, while she has the freedom to explore independently without feeling suffocated. I should note, my child has high functioning autism and we spent the last 3 years working on safety awareness with licensed clinicians, along with independent skills. Therefore, I feel confident she can manage many of the necessary skills for limited supervised play now that she has graduated her program. In fact, it was the recommendation of her clinical team that I allow more freedom and the ability to make independent choices. It was scary for me, but something I also learned from the therapy was that I had to allow her to develop independently if I was placing these demands on her. Hovering and constraining her ability to experience things on her own will only hinder her development and not permit her to learn by way of natural consequence. I have to let her fall to let her learn how to land b/c I cannot always be there to catch her. I was raised by an overly protective mother and even as an adult I still feel suffocated by her. Overreacting about every small thing like a scraped knee or a loud bang like someone just started WW3 in our living room and she must bunker down to protect her family. It resulted in my lashing out and fighting back in the extreme. I never learned how to be independent either, nor did my brother. He still depends greatly on my mother. I broke free, but still fight the dependency and had to teach myself to be my own woman. My generation, and many that have followed, are so dependent on their parents and I believe this was as a direct result of the babyboomer generations parenting style. There was a shift back then in society with crime and general environmental dangers that parents felt they needed to pull in the reigns. I think parents nowadays are so overwhelmed with fear that it restricts their child’s ability to experience life. It requires a delicate balance of being protector, while also permitting nature to take its course. It’s sad that there are people that will inflict pain on others, but it’s also a fact. However, we cannot live in fear. That’s not living at all. I hope to break this cycle with my daughter b/c I want her to be independently successful and feel empowered that she can depend on me, but more importantly, herself!

  153. Alana of Taylor Made Home

    My son is 2 and a half. I watch him play outside. I let him play but I’m afraid he’ll get stung by a bee or bite by a snake. So, I try not to interfere too much but always keep my eyes open for safety reasons. I live in Alabama.

    • Joey Espinosa

      I think at age 2.5 you are absolutely right to watch him play outside. Much too young to “free range.”

  154. Annie Page

    I have three kids, they can freely play in the back yard with no supervision. If my four year old goes out she takes the dog. He’s sort of like the nanny in Peter Pan. They play in the front and ride bikes across the street on the sidewalk together. Generally I like the boys (at least one) to be with their younger sister, that isn’t to say she doesn’t ride her bike on the driveway by herself. We know all the neighbor kids and in the summer at night they play ghost in the grave yard or flashlight tag between all the neighbors backyards. I don’t worry – they are together and safe. The only thing that I worry about is the street and fast drivers not paying attention. Other than that – I feel like they are safe to move about and I do not helicopter. We moved to our house so I don’t have to helicopter. We have a dog so I don’t have to helicopter. My kids also know what is acceptable and I trust them. I think that’s key.

  155. Kelly

    We have 2 foster teenagers who are relatively social & responsible. We taught them how to use the bus, and then we let them take the bus on their own. Next year, our local school system was considering eliminating school buses in the city & making kids take public transportation and we were all about it. We choose to live in the part of town with high taxes because there’s great bus service, and feel that by high school, they should be able to ride the bus successfully. In most cities in the world, 14 year olds would be old enough to have a job & take themselves around town without supervision. But I was so surprised to hear how many parents were ‘afraid’ of their teenagers on the bus.

  156. Juliette

    my husband and I discuss this as well. We try to not let fear dominate our decision making with regard to our children. It is a hard balance I have to admit between what is a real or made up fear. There are alot of “what if’s” your head can think up if you let it. At some point you have to allow some freedoms. My children are 8,7,4,and 3. We live in a quiet neighborhood with older kids. We are in Texas. I do let them play in the front yard unsupervised. The younger can only play in the front yard if one of the older ones are out there. They have been instructed about what to do if a stranger approaches. I have never had cause for worry. I do not let them ride their bikes in the street unless I am out there and they can’t walk around the neighborhood without me. Most of this is because of age not because I am worried of any potential dangers in our area. I am comfortable that in a few years my older two will be able to ride their bikes around the neighborhood more. I think someone made a correct comment about their being free play within boundaries. I do also think people can take this too far and be too restrictive and planned. You just have to experiment and find the balance between freedom and boundaries that works for you.

  157. Kelli

    We live in the midwest on a cul-de-sac. Although we live in a decent-sized city, were more on the outskirts – not near any highways. We have a 2.5 year old son and an 8-month old daughter. Our kids are too little to be unsupervised right now. Our son actually plays with the older kids in our neighborhood (ages 5-8) but they all come to our house because we have a swing set. 🙂

    However, I’ve given a lot of thought to the idea of free-range parenting. My husband was childhood friend’s with a boy that was abducted while riding his bike – he was never found. While I know the chances of it happening to our family are unlikely, I err on the side of caution. However, I do try to be a free-range parent while still supervising my son (my daughter comes with me wherever I go). Is that possible? I know it’s not quite what’s intended by free-range parenting, but I try to let my son have new experiences on his own or work out disagreements with friends on his own when I know he’s well-equipped to do so. Even if I’m sitting near him and he’s struggling over sharing (or whatever it might be) I let him deal with it for a while to see if he can figure it out.

    We let him wander on his own, but never out of sight. He doesn’t always know that we’re watching, so in that way I feel like it’s a little free-range-ish.

    Today we were at a beach and we were all in the water. Our son wanted a chip from our picnic basket. Our towels were set up quite a ways from where we were in the water but we let him go up on his own while keeping an eye on him. I guess I feel like it’s a good middle ground between being completely free-range and helicopter-parenting.

  158. Tara@riceandbeanslife

    I have no issue with appropriate play and freedom for appropriate ages. But frankly, I was raised by a family of cops, firefighters and nurses. Thanksgiving conversations in our house often had the element of some of the tragedies these members of our families saw because of inappropriate safety measures or lack of supervision when it was still necessary for child safety. I was given plenty of freedom at appropriate ages. I grew up in a small town and often rode miles into the country or walked to the library on my own. But even in a small town I did not do this until I was at least 11 years old. My brothers played outside for hours building tree houses and running in the orchards near our house. What I find the most concerning is that many parents seem to wrongly estimate at what age appropriate freedoms should be given. I have seen 2 year olds wander into the street in my town on “safe” streets-no parents in sight. I have, myself, while driving very slowly come close to having an unsupervised 4 year old almost steer her bicycle into my car-not in front of my car-but into my car. My issue is that it seems many people have lost all common sense about when and what is appropriate at what age. Back when I was a kid, there was no seat belt law (dating myself yes) and we could sit on the back tailgate of a pick up truck going down the road. We now live in a time when children have drowned in pools of homes that were foreclosed on which was unheard of when I was a child. Do I fret over these things? No. Am I aware of it and does it influence my decisions-Yes. Some things stay the same. Some things change. I think the responsible thing to do is find the balance for the time you live in and have realistic and appropriate expectations of your child’s age.

  159. Cindy

    Crime may be down in the last 30 years but I don’t want to be the one in 10,000 or whatever it is that looses a child. My granddaughter is 5 and when we are in a public place she is never out of sight. She is allowed to play freely in the backyard.

  160. Iva @ This Side of Perfect

    I have two kids, a boy who is 13 and a girl who is 9. I’ve slowly given them more free range. For example, last Christmas, I left my 13 year old son at home with my daughter overnight, while my husband and I went to a Christmas party two hours away. I was nervous, but deep down, I knew they’d be perfectly alright.

    Now, my son is asking to ride his bike to school (2 miles away) and my daughter is asking to ride the bus home from school and wait until I get home from work (about an hour). Every fiber of my being is telling me that since they are asking these questions, they might just be ready to take the next step. Still, I have reservations.

  161. Janet Hughes

    It’s so interesting to read everyone’s responses. I was a very overprotected child/teenager/young adult and this type of love (and I do believe parents do it out of love) did not prepare me at all for adulthood. By being helicopter parents my mom and dad taught me that I was incapable of taking care of myself and making choices. They taught me to be fearful of the world, new experiences, and living outside their well defined lines of what is “safe.” Several years of therapy and hard work have helped me overcome a lot of these negative messages, and I refuse to recreate the cycle with my own children. I love Free Range Kids and Last Child in the Woods, and I blogged about them both last summer (June and July) at octobermom.wordpress.com

  162. Katelyn

    I have an 11 1/2 month old. He is not allowed out of my sight outside. He has free roam of much of the house (babyproofed part.) As he gets older, it will depend on the type of setting we live in and my assessment of his capabilities as to what he’s allowed to do unsupervised.
    I was allowed to play on my street (bikes) growing up and within the houses of the neighbors on each side of us. But we knew those neighbors very well. I don’t know my neighbors here very well. We are moving soon and I hope to get to know my next neighborhood better since we’ll be there several years.

  163. andie

    having lived in 2 different countries (with 2 very different cultures) this topic is very interesting to me. of course, my kids are still pretty little (3 and 5) so i’m not letting them ride bikes up and down the street b/c i don’t want to have to run a mile to kiss a boo boo. but i know i have them on a much shorter leash in america than i did overseas. when we were abroad, there was such a bigger sense of community and i knew if my kids weren’t in my sight, they were fine. and chances were, some sweet old man was leading them by the hand to get some cotton candy (which would be creepy and alarming in the states. not so there, at all). i was much more laid back. as we reentered the states i strained to make them understand “you can’t run away from me, you have to hold my hand, you should always stay in my sight, etc.” it grieved me that i had to give this impression to my kids of their home country. overseas, anyone and everyone would’ve reached out and helped my kids for anything. people will do that here, but not before most people had passed them by. now, i’m probably much more paranoid in the states than i need to be. but as my kids grow, i want to teach them to make safe choices, so they can exist outside the box of the play-date.

  164. Mike Lanza

    This is the best online conversation I’ve seen on this topic in years! I’ve done a lot of innovative things to make my neighborhood more play-friendly for kids, and I’ve researched many other innovative neighborhoods in this regard throughout the US. I’ve written hundreds of articles on this topic at my blog, Playborhood.com. I’m sorry that all these articles are a bit difficult to wade through – I’ll be publishing a book on this topic early next year.

  165. Margarete

    Great job i li8ke the article its really amazing,i let my kids play after there work done i just let them play until they are tired…me and my husband are very supportive when it become to sports.After they play i always prepare there snack i like to see them they are enjoy plying ….thanks.

  166. Willo

    My kids (3 and 5) play outside on their own in our 2 acre wooded yard all the time. We try to be very free range with our kids and our biggest problem has been the reaction of others (moms and in-laws, mainly) to our parenting style.

  167. aly

    I let my 2 yr old play outside on his own daily. For now he has to stay in the back yard. My mother is the one who is paranoid about someone being horrible but she tends to live her life in fear. I tend to relax about things but have been teaching my son about safety etc. We also have a couple of neighbors who are great and a few that aren’t. So ds stays away from the mean neighbors and regularly visits the nice ones.

  168. Amy G.

    My 9 yr old can play in the backyard and in the front patio by herself. She can walk next door to her friends by herself. That is about it. The difference I feel is that when I was growing up the neighbors were all involved. They all knew eachother and knew the kids. If you were playing and got hurt, you would just ring the closest doorbell and get a bandaid. You can’t do that anymore. I have lived in the same house for 10 years and only know a handful of neighbors. Everyone is so closed off and not very social anymore, no neighborhood parties or BBQ’s. So Sad.

  169. Melissa L.

    We’re all going to have some things that worry us more than others. I attribute the lack of free range play to more than just busyness. First, so many more parents raise there children in neighborhoods that are new to to them – they don’t know they neighbors or the area intimately. I think things are more dangerous today, mainly because in the places I have lived the populations have grown so much. I grew up in a Brooklyn, NY neighborhood in the 1980’s. We played outside, but were quite old before we were left unsupervised. We kids could easily walk to our friends’ homes; they were on the same block. Now I live in a suburb, and to visit a friend requires a trip in the car, there’s little or no public transportation, so parents are usually along for the “play date.” I miss the informality of friendships as they were when I was a kid. However, my job is to raise my kids to adulthood. Currently they are 4 and 2, so no one expects me to let them roam the neighborhood. I think in terms of managed risk. I let them get dirty. I let them run and fall down. I let them sort out their disagreements themselves. I am sending my son to camp this summer. I won’t let them be in a house with gun in it (one moment can ruin two family’s lives) and I am not going to let them sleep over at a friend’s house unless I completely trust the adult, such as one of my long-time friends. I guess I choose to worry about their safety but not to make them know I worry.

  170. EV

    I’m on the tail end of Free Range Parenting. My children are 13 and 14. I am reaping the benefit of teaching them to be independent.

    This summer my 13 year old isn’t spending tons of time outside because he is wanting to become better at working with circuits. I chose the book (Make Magazine’s Electronics) but he went into RadioShack with his list of supplies and purchased what he needed.

    However, the 14 year old rides eight miles from our home to downtown Charleston once each week for a Bible study. He shocks his high school friends because he does this. They both have opted to take some classes in “primitive skills” over the past couple of years. This summer, the 13 year-old is taking a class in finding clay, making pottery, and open and pit firing the pottery he makes. It will also involve rock hunting and flint knapping. The 14 year-old is taking a class in making a forge, bellows, and a bowl carving gouge. He decided on this class because he wants to intern with the instructor next year to build post and beam buildings.

    I wouldn’t change a thing in our Free Range life.

  171. Connie

    I have three girls, ages 7, 4, and 7 months. We live in a city right outside of Cleveland OH, called Lakewood. I let the kids play in the backyard without me and even ride their bikes out front as long as I am in the living room where I can hear them. But that is about it. Our neighborhood doesn’t have kids for them to play with and the cars tend to fly down our street so I am pretty close by in case of an emergency. If we lived in a neighborhood with more kids or safer streets I would probably allow a lot more freedom.

  172. Jenn

    We just recently started letting our 9 year old daughter ride her bike around the neighborhood instead of just up and down our block. We live in Coral Gables, FL near some fairly busy streets but she stays on the not so travelled area. She is doing great. She knows to stay on the sidewalk, wear her helmet and closed toe shoes. She loves the freedom and we noticed a difference in her attitude – it improved. Unfortunately there aren’t many kids in the neighborhood but that’s okay – she likes to visit all the cats. She has proven to be pretty responsible and we like giving her some freedom to roam and not be so structured.

  173. Amy

    I grew up in Lafayette, Indiana on a small street. Each family (except for one) all had kids around the same age. We had picnics, camp outs, and we spent summer in and out of everyone’s house. I think what I had is very unique because my husband (who grew up in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada) did not have this. We’ve lived here (Oregon) for five years and I have prayed for neighbor friends since we moved here (most of my social circle comes from church and a moms group I attend). We don’t know hardly any of our neighbors and I think most are over 60. We have houses for sale all over our street and I kind of wonder if some of the seniors are moving to old age homes and young families will replace them. One thing we’re trying is visiting our Neighborhood Association Meetings (which are once a month) and figure out what some of the needs are, how we can get more involved, and maybe form some community friendships. I kind of think is the way you have to go this day in age if you want to start somewhere.

  174. Michelle

    I’m 43 years old and live in the far western suburbs of Chicago, IL. The town I live in has more of a small town atmosphere than a suburb. The neighborhood we currently live in has lots of children and is a few blocks away from the school my grade school aged children attend. My kids are 14, 9 and 8. I grew up in a small town in Illinois further west of where I currently live. It was the type of town that you could leave your doors unlocked at night to let the breeze come through the screen door (no AC) and we often did. Growing up we were allowed to freely roam the neighborhood and ride bikes all over the place. I always wanted that environment for my children and we have found it where we currently live. I believe in Responsible Free Range parenting. The amount of freedom my kids has depends on my children and what they can handle as well as the neighborhood. Currently my kids are allowed to be outside alone and run around the neighborhood alone. They can go to the homes of their neighborhood friends as long as they let me know where they will be. I also open my home to their friends. I was raised in a large Italian family with the philosophy that everyone is always welcome. Often the kids have friends eat over and vice versa. The kids go back and forth between homes, the yards and the cul-de-sac. They ride their bikes on the streets around our area, as well as scooters and skateboards. This is all without adult supervision, but with the parents knowing where our kids are and what they are doing. We’ve developed this comfort level in the neighborhood because we know our neighbors and we all socialize together and we all take turns having the kids over and providing snacks, meals and supervision. We talk to our neighbors often and gather together to celebrate birthdays. My kids have sleepovers often as well. My 14 year old has a bit more freedom in that he can ride his bike into town by himself or to a friend’s home further away.

    The neighborhood and saftety of our town have a lot to do with our kids being outside unsupervised, as well as the current ages of our kids. When my kids were younger I supervised them outside and then they moved up to being in the fenced in yard alone to now running our neighborhood alone. I am comfortable with my kids and our neighborhood to allow them to do this and I enjoy the fact that they are experiencing what I had as a child.

  175. Kathryn

    My children are still too young to do much “free range” play (4 yrs. and 1 yrs.), but I’ve pondered this question a lot. I was very blessed to grow up in a midwest suburb where I was safe to roam the streets at night with my friends when I was in middle school. I could ride my bike all over town whenever I wanted. I only wish my children could have that kind of freedom.

    Now I live in central california. I totally agree with letting kids have freedom, but frankly I just don’t know if I could trust my neighbors enough to let my children run free around the neighborhood. We don’t live in a bad neighborhood, but there are a few registered sex offenders living within a mile of our home. I guess it’s the “one bad apple spoils the whole barrel” principle that would prevent me from letting my kids run free. I do feel that our backyard is very safe, though. It’s completely fenced and the gates have locks, so I don’t have a problem letting my 4 yr. old play there while I watch from the kitchen window.

    I don’t know if the world is safer now or not. It seems we are so overwhelmed with crime TV, I can’t help but be a little paranoid.

  176. TheActorsWife

    We’re moving forward with a “free-range kids” philosophy. Yes, safety comes first, but my husband and I were raised in homes that valued autonomy, creativity, imagination and independence. If I hadn’t been allowed to really explore my surroundings, I never would have created the worlds that defined my childhood. I want no less for my little guy.

  177. Pippi

    We live in a big city in an apartment so I’m not comfortable letting my 3-year-old roam. There’s way too much traffic, she’s too short, and she doesn’t have the judgement necessary to cross the street safely. But I try to step back. There are lots of kids in my building and we all know each other. A few weeks ago all the kids aged 3 (my daughter) to 11 were playing a game running around the outside of my building. My daughter wanted to play so I sent her off with the 11-year-old who I know is responsible. I think it’s a lot easier to let your kids go “free-range” when there are older kids in the mix.

  178. M. Cochran

    I guess it all depends where you live. My sons grew up in a country setting in southern Monterey County, California. The nearest neighbor is about 100 acres away. When they were toddlers, I supervised them in our fenced backyard. When they were 5 years old and up, I let them explore a little farther-unfenced front yard was included! Around 8 years old, they could play on the five acres surrounding our home (we have 44 acres). Middle school-they were roaming the 44 acres. Positive aspect: they are two years apart and became great friends. Negative aspect: They had no friends close by!

  179. AmyM

    I live in Washington DC and my kids are 5 and 6. They play in the backyard alone, but are otherwise supervised although I try to keep my distance as much as I can. We stay on the playground after school or go out to various nature centers where they can play in a creek or in the woods. They ride bike or scooters all over the city and I allow them to go ahead but they have to stop and wait for me at each intersection- or other established intervals. When we are in the Midwest visiting family they play outside alone in the unfenced front or back yard and run around at family events supervised by older children and teens. Some families have begun to do sleepovers, but we will not until they are at least 8. We do play dates, but only when I have had some interaction with the parents. Typically, I have gone with the kids for at least the first play date with someone new. If we host a play date with someone I don’t know well, we usually play at the play ground at school at least a couple of times before inviting the child home. I think this will get more difficult as they get older, but 12 seems to be the earliest age at which people here allow their children to go about on their own.

  180. Liz .

    This is a great question and one that my husband and I struggle with on an (almost) daily basis. We have two boys, one almost 3 yrs and a 6 month old. We live in a pretty affluent suburb in northern california, but near a very busy street (with no streetlights), and we have no back or front yard. I try to take my boys to the park every day so that the oldest can burn off some energy and I usually keep my distance, unless he’s climbing the very tall play structure (meant for 5+ year olds), since nearly everyone I know has seen some child or another fall off from it. I also schedule playdates with other kids his age, but they are always supervised.

    I grew up in a working class suburb of LA, in a pretty poor neighborhood. My sisters and I were allowed to run free so long as we remained in the vicinity of our apartment “complex.” My parents knew all of our neighbors since we’d lived there since I was a baby, but that didn’t stop one of them from molesting one of my sisters during several of our unsupervised afternoons. Also, I desperately wanted to have a sleepover at my best friend’s house when I was 8-10 yrs old, but my mom never allowed me to, for which I am thankful – I found out later that my best friend’s uncle also lived with her family, and that he had been molesting her for years. Throughout my life, many of my close friends and family have shared stories of similar experiences with me and it has made me wonder whether the sexual predation (sic?) of children is a growing silent epidemic.

    My husband and I don’t let our oldest play anywhere unsupervised, but whereas I try not to take my eyes off of him, my husband is a little more lax and assumes he’ll be fine. I wish I didn’t feel so anxious about their safety and would love to just let my boys play and explore on their own as they get older, but more than that, I want them to grow up (period – I want them to be alive and healthy) and I want to spare them the years of emotional suffering that I and many of my loved ones have had to deal with as a result of sexual predators taking advantage of young children. I hope we can find some balance as they grow, that they may know the exhiliration of unsupervised free play while remaining reasonably safe from some of the more sinister threats to their well-being.

  181. Kimtllp

    When I was a kid i would walk to the store which was about 6 blocks away from my house. I was 9 and my friend was 8 and it wasn’t uncommon to see little kids roaming around without their parents. I also lived down the street from a park and we would go over there for hours unsupervised. Nowadays it just isn’t safe. My daughter has never played out front alone and she never will. It only takes a second for her to be kidnapped so I am always outside when she plays. just look up Megans law and she how many sex offenders live in your area Its just not safe!!!

  182. Megan Bagwell

    I have started to let my girls (4 and 6) play outside without me… I prefer for them to be together, esp. the 4 year old with her sister (but I’ll let the 6 year old be out there alone). I check on them every few minutes and I PREFER to be able to see them from the front porch, windows or from the back slider doors while I’m in the kitchen or my bedroom. They will run a few houses down to neighbors and I let them do that when I KNOW about it, otherwise they have to stay in the front or back yard. I will let my 2 year old play in the back yard alone as long as I can see him constantly from the back slider doors from the kitchen. I don’t let him out of my sight yet, but I think it’s important for him to know how to play alone in the back. Playing alone outside is when they get to THINK and become creative and innovative. That’s how I became ME, and I feel I have a lot more creativity and innovation in the way I think because I was given freedom as as child. I think it’s critically important! I want my kids to be “out of the box” thinkers and this cannot happen unless they get time to explore and have some solo mind clearing time outside! Of course they end up playing with 7 other neighbor kids and that’s important social time, too. I don’t watch the news becaues I won’t let my mind be focused on fear. I pray for my children’s safety and check on them and listen for them and just believe that God loves them more than I do and that he is keeping them safe which frees my mind from having to worry constantly. But I don’t let them just run off and do whatever they want and trust that everything will be OK…there is a good balance. 🙂

  183. S B

    I have an 8 year old girl and a 10 year old boy. We live in a complex with a quite large community green and open space between all areas. I let my boy roam where he pleases, so long as he tells me where he’s going. Next year when he’s 11 I’m going to allow him to go out of the complex so long as he tells me where he’s going and when he’ll be back because that is what the sheriff who lives in our complex did/does with his son at the same age.

    My daughter is different. I’ve encountered multiple young boys who have been exposed to sex play by their family environment. Therefore she can only play in the open front area, and is not allowed to go out of sight of my front door unless she tells me where she is going and is accompanied by her brother, who is aware of his responsibilities. If she wants to play at a trusted neighbor’s house she must ask my permission first, and any neighbors out of sight of my front door she must be walked to.

    She has actually less free roam than I did her age, but I never met sexualized young boys when I was her age, I was a tom boy and all the boys who were my best friends were nice nice wholesome boys we play pretended and rode bikes together. It was very shocking to encounter boys being raised sexualized from such a young age, and they will stay far far away from my daughter even if that means her freedom is curtailed.

  184. Melissa

    I grew up in Kingston Ontario, and i’m 26, I totally remember wandering around barefoot galavanting around my friends houses with in my neighbourhood untill dark or even beyond and not having a fear in the world… I was aware of the road rules and whatnot but I was allowed to do as I pleased mostly… It was great though I did get into trouble one time I remember playing on the playground and falling from the top, an onlooking mom totally ignored that I could hardly breath so I had to trek home a few blocks alone which was scary..

    I have 2 children 5(almost 6) and 3… Only untill this year I was VERY protective and would not let me kids play alone outside… I now live in Quebec Canada on a military base with row housing and my 5 year old has some local friends that I allow her to play with as long as I know where they are and in a group of them. I am slowly building the courage to let them “free play” through a friend of mine who allows her children to play outdoors alone. And I really believe it does help the children grow its soo hard to let your babies play without you around, for that fear of the kids being scooped up by strangers..

  185. Sandra

    My daughter is 10 and she has a horse the we board at a nearby farm. This week she’s on Christmas break. While I’m able to take some time off, I do have to work (to pay the board for said horse). So, she’s dropped off at the farm before I go to work and I stop out there for lunch and then pick her up at 5 p.m. While there, she helps with feeding the horses, providing them hay as needed in the cold weather, she grooms and exercises those that are on restrictions due to injuries, plays with the foals and of course, rides her horse. Today she’ll be sweeping the barn, mucking all the stalls and oiling her tack. Yes, there are adults and teenagers who come and go and she has a cell phone if she needs me. So far, she hasn’t.

  186. Aubrey

    My kids are still very young (6 months and 18 months). I let my son, the older kid, run around in our yard under supervision while my daughter plays on a blanket. He’s not yet old enough to know which plants are dangerous (we have cactus, yucca, briar, and poison oak on 17 acres of land), so I watch him all the time.

    When they are older, I would love to let them play in the woods like I did. We ranged far enough away that only my mother’s piercing whistle was loud enough to call us back, building forts, finding fossils, riding horses. It was a blessing and brings back many fond memories.

    But one thing does give me pause: as a child I was molested by a cousin. It persisted for five years in part because of the freedom allowed us by our parents. So my perspective is that the freedom I had as a child led me into a bad situation, but it also gave me the basis of confidence to deal with it.

  187. Megan

    Experience has taught me that it’s better to take more of my time and watch my kids when they’re in the front yard in our suburban neighborhood rather than think they’ll just be fine. I let our kids play in the backyard (locked gates) by themselves, though. I just wish we lived in the country. Where I grew up it was sort of in-between suburbia and country. We’d get scrapes and stuff (a few broken arms and the like) from being out in the wild areas – nothing big though. It’s *people* I don’t trust.

    • Megan

      By people, I don’t mean my kids. My kids seem to have some pretty good common sense. Honestly I’ll probably relax a little when they get older, but right now the ones that play outside are only 3 and 5.

  188. Jessica Sliman

    What a great topic! I am new to your blog and just found this one off to the side. I have a 2 1/2 year old and a 10 month year old – so this is something we’re not really tackling yet. We do let our 2 1/2 year old play in our small back yard if we’re sitting in our family room (where we can see her). I imagine, as my girls get older, we will give them freedom with specific boundaries. I think it’s important for the girls to have freedom within the structure that we set up as comfortable for our family.

  189. MomWithaDot

    I’ve been trying to find ‘street friends’ for my kids, especially my 7 yr old son for 4 yrs now and unsuccessfully so. Not sure what the problem / issue is. But certainly a sad state of affairs. Also sad is the fact that not once have any of our neighbors ever looked us up and said, “Hey guys, how’re you doing ? Welcome to the neighborhood.” I belong to India, and have decided to live in the US for good. It is a developed nation alright, but the thick (intangible) walls between neighbors make it a very uncomfortable ‘home’. Not to mention three yrs of bullying my son faced in three diff schools. BTW, in my previous neighborhood, I went to every new home occupant who came in into the subdivision after we did and welcomed them with a box of chocolate. Karma anyone ??

  190. Sarah

    I have a 4yr, 3yr, 2yr, and 1yr old. We live in a very typical suburb, on a cul de sac, with good neighbors. We have a large fenced in back yard that I let the older 3 play in alone all the time. I don’t let them out front just yet but that has nothing to do with their safety and more to do with them helping themselves into others peoples things. I know my kids are safe. I have zero fear of “strangers”. Why? Because strangers are everywhere you go. If I was nervous about people and my kids I would walk around in constant fear all the time, and I do not want to pass that kind of thinking to my kids. The world is different than when we were little absolutely because of media. Creepy people, that would have been creepy 100yrs ago, have a massive outlet to find creepy ideas etc. Horrible things that happen are understood to be everyday common occurrence. While things do happen every single day, that has always been the case, we just never had the pleasure of being able to read/hear about it the second it happened. I am also a strong believer that if the media kept out of certain situations, they would be copycatted the way they are today. School shootings… how many of these senseless acts have been repeated because some angry teen sat and watched the media onslaught and thought “there’s my ticket to attention!”. I am proud to be raising free range kids (to a degree) and in no way plan to conform to this ridiculous notion of hovering that so many do today.

  191. Amy Forgey

    Mine are 1, 3.5, just6 boys. I live in a small town about 5 blocks to a main hwy. but we are up on a hill and our street doesn’t go through to the hwy. I know the neighbors next door to me and behind me, but the 2 lots across the street are all vacant. I know the first names of about 1/3 of the people in my 2 block neighborhood, but in the other direction, is a large apartment complex across from a neighborhood of well-worn rentals and I know only a handful of people over there anymore (the more babies I have the less I have time/energy to meet new people?). We are one house down from the intersection that both neighborhoods use to walk or drive into town so a lot of the people over there end up walking one house away from mine at all hours of the day or night. There have been 3 times in the last 8 years since we moved here that I’ve noticed someone has been quite high and doing something unsafe in the street. One time it was a man all hopped up on meth (the only meth house I know for sure about has been torn down, but it sounds like there is always another one in this area) anyway, he was quite high and wandering the streets yelling at the top of his lungs and singing with his ipod. I finally called the police when he laid down in the middle of the street in front of my house sobbing!
    All this to say I only let my kids play in the back yard (it is small and highly exposed to the house windows and fenced and protected in many ways) without me outside. When they want to be in the front they have to wait until I can be there with them. I am hoping to save up for a laptop, so Ican coupon plan outside there with them this summer. I just go back adn forth. My mother in law thinks I’m crazy, but I’ve seen what drunk/high people are capable of and I don’t want that to happen to my kids. My oldest is incredibly friendly- he talks to grownups all the time in the grocery store so it has been hard for him to hear about being careful about strangers.
    Sometimes, during the day I’m the only one home in the neighborhood. There is one other kid that looks close to my kids’ ages that I just spotted yesterday so maybe we will meet his family?
    I hate feeling so judged but I cannot just let them go out there unsupervised yet. We talk about moving, because I often wonder if they are getting enough time in actual nature instead of our postage stamp lot. My 6 year old looks so big in this yard! We decided we would try to take them camping once a month instead and see if that meets the need better. I would love for them to have a bigger, safer area to free range but I guess my bottom line is that we don’t have a range for them at this point. And we kind of feel like we’re just supposed to make this house work for now.

    • Amy Forgey

      I’m totally embarassed my post was so long…sorry! I barely got to talk to any grownups today!

  192. Meg

    I have a 9 year old boy and 7 year old girl. I have always tried to let them spread their wings and figure things out for themselves. I would say when my son was about 4 and my daughter was 2 I would let them stay in the backyard by themselves for short periods of time. The backyard is not fenced in and our property backs up against about 75 acres of woods. We live in a small town of 5000 people outside a medium-sized city in the southeast US. Yes, my son ate leaves. My daughter tore worms in half and put crickets in her pocket. They both rolled in mud puddles and do you know what? I let them.

    Now we let them go around the block by themselves. My son rode his friend home the other day and she lives in a different neighborhood. They walk to their friends’ houses and I basically let them go where they want up and down our street. If they are going to someone’s house, they need to tell me first. They go in the woods by themselves and will play in there for hours. I can’t think of a better way to enjoy childhood than to use your imagination in the woods. My daughter has a friend who lives on a small farm and they will stay outside playing from morning till night with all of her animals. Every 1/2 hour or so I just kind of look around to see where they are, then I leave them be. Watching the pure joy and happiness on my kids’ faces when they are outside, all dirty and having the time of their lives, is the best feeling in the world.

    Teach your children what to watch out for and when to come home; whether it is a strange person trying to talk to them, they see a poisonous snake, or they find a live wire that has fallen down – we can’t always be there to do the thinking for them. We have to teach them so theu’ll know what to do. Obviously, this is all within reason and everyone has to take their own situation into account.

    I used to be nervous about leting my kids go, but then the voice of my mother-in-law pops into my head. She raised 6 kids in the middle of a big city. She taught her kids how to be fiercly independent. They were walking to the store at 5 years old to pick up groceries for her. Think about one little trip by themselves taught those kids about life: how to count money, follow directions, how to read street signs and how to walk in traffic (or should I say, not walk in traffic). I think it is amazing, and watching her with the grandchildren makes me not want to be one of those crazy “helicopter parents” everyone is talking about.

  193. Kate

    My kids are 2 and 4, and I never let them play unsupervised, but not because of crime, but the real danger of our outdoor public courtyard being flanked by a parking lot (with fast approaching cars that you can’t see coming) on one side and a steep drop leading to a retention pond lined with boulders on the other. Even when I’m outside with them, they run carelessly in opposite directions and I’m often grabbing them from running towards speeding cars or rolling down the hill toward the rocks and water. It’s not in my head, they will DEFINATELY get injured, and quite potentially fatally if I’m not right there, and they don’t learn after repeated mistakes and accidents. So, part physical environment, part temperament of my kids.

  194. Julia

    Im am 13 I live in an city/ suburban area. I live in queens, NYC. Ive been basically allowed to go wherever I want, whenever I want, provided I am home by dark. I just tell my mom that am leaving and she makes sure I have my phone on me. I’ve been doing this since I was 11. Before that I basically stayed in a 7ish block area around my house. And back when I was 6 yrs to 8 yrs old I was only allowed to go around my block ( no crossing streets…) my friends definitely do not have as much freedom as I do, and they are not very happy about it… I’m always careful when I cross streets and I don’t talk to strangers and stuff like that.

  195. kdal

    It’s not just about how “safe” I think my neighborhood is or isn’t it’s about community perception too. If you live in certain urban/suburban communities where fear mentality has taken over, letting your kid play outside freely can result in a call to CPS. I lived in a relatively safe urban neighborhood, low crime, low traffic street with a park within view of my kitchen window. I didn’t fear my son would get hurt (any more than the bumps and scrapes he racks up even when I am supervising). I did fear that my generally childless and over-cautious neighbors would consider me “unfit” if he were ever more got than 10 feet from my reach. I moved, new neighborhood has same basic characteristics, maybe slightly higher crime rate, but with other kids on the street, and other moms with a more relaxed sense caution, it works out a lot better. He’s having more fun and so am I, given the attitude shift, I actually prefer to go hang out outside with him, not to overanalyze his every move, but because his friends parents are cool people to talk to.

  196. Laura

    Okay so I am a ten year old and I am aloud on the bus without my mam but with a friend or two and I am aloud as far as my local shopping centres(about 5 miles from where I live and I hang around wherever I feel like but as long as I have my phone I’m fine.don’t know what you lot are worried about but nothing ever happens unless your out after dark.

  197. Rachel

    I am so glad you are keeping this discussion going. I follow Lenore’s blog and got to see her speak last summer. It’s really encouraging to see how many like-minded parents there are out there. Our lives would be so much simpler if we could let our kids “go out and play” the way we did. And in many areas, there’s no reason why that shouldn’t be the case.

  198. Deirdre

    We also go to the park regularly where they have a little more room to run around. We live in California.

  199. Claire Westmond

    There isn’t going to be a wrong or right answer. I think the important thing is that all parents seek wisdom, which considers all things. Everyone’s situation is different. I grew up in the country and roamed our neighborhood, and later the entire town, on foot with no phone or money. I would be done from dawn to dusk everyday in the summer. In and out of every kids house, playing in ponds, rivers, forest, field and the like. We hiked, fished, swam, hunted, played… everything unattended. We looked after one another. My husband grew up 10 minutes from where we now live, in the #1 city in the nation for kidnapping and human trafficking. My husband stared his to-be kidnapper right in the face at 10 years old, praise God his watchful father rescued him before he was taken. He was walking THREE houses down the road, his father watching from the end of their drive way. at the half way point a van drove up next to him and the door flung open, he was grabbed but his father was fast enough. Simply put, it depends on your circumstance. But to answer the question, no my kids do not go outside without me. it’s not ideal but this isn’t a morally ideal world.

  200. Christine

    I have 3 boys. Ages 17, 13 and 8. I waited until each was in 2nd grade to allow them to leave my yard. Not once were my older two kidnapped or abused. They bounced from house to house all summer playing with kids they rode the bus with and went to school with. I do not believe kids should be inside playing video games, watching TV and surfing the internet. However I will tell you this. One of my neighbors called the police on my son because they were concerned that he was not supervised. I am a stay at home mom and have been since 1995. I got a divorce a year ago and of course my ex found out about it and drug me to court to try and prove me unfit. He pays child support and alimony and I have been unable to get employment because I was out of the work force for almost 2 decades. He used it against me and it cost me thousands of dollars in legal fees. Now I have had to tell my 8 year old he has to stay inside the rest of the summer. And he can hear the kids on that street playing! But he cant go because one of my neigbors decided he was too young to leave my sight.

  201. anneyim

    I was so glad to find this blog discussion, as I am struggling with boundaries for my 10-year old boy. His older sister has a best friend on our block and they have been allowed freedom to roam within certain boundaries for over a year together, never alone. My daughter (now 14) has also walked alone during daylight hours on a specified route to her dance classes, about 6 blocks away. She has generally proved more responsible than our son and can be trusted. The 10-year old is sneaky, however.
    I experienced a lot of freedom and rode all over town, like others have described, in the 80’s in a small town near a military base, along the interstate. I long for my kids to be able to have the kind of adventures I did, but am fearful for their safety. We live on a city block in a town of about 300,000 and there are registered sex offenders in the area. We know people right on our block, but not further. There is a busy street at one end from which cars turn too fast onto ours. Another main artery separates us from the elementary school and we have a small university 2 blocks down, with student traffic. There is no park within our neighborhood and no safe route to the bike trails from here. Until a couple of weeks ago, our 10-year old wasn’t allowed off of our street…he could ride his bike corner to corner on our side. With permission, he was allowed to walk to the other side and a few houses down to play with a younger boy whose family we trust.
    We also have a five-year old whose boundaries are even smaller…driveway to driveway on either side of us with an adult watching. They have had lots of unsupervised adventure and play in our fenced back yard, with tons of scrapes, cuts and bruises. We are always giving safety warnings, but they are so active, I decided that they would need to learn from natural consequences because there was too much stress involved with my over-protectiveness. You have to pick your battles.
    The problem is that we increased the 10-year-old’s bike boundaries recently to one block east and west and one block south. We felt he should have a little more freedom and those aren’t busy streets. The problem is that he has violated his boundaries twice in two weeks, even after the bike privilege was completely removed for a week with the first infraction! He has crossed the busy streets in his explorations, been spotted by his brother near the school (5-year old was in kindergarten round-up before school started) and then by good friends today who live beyond the school. We took away his bike again, but he wasn’t a bit remorseful. In fact, he yelled at his dad for asking, “Why?”
    It’s nerve-wracking thinking about what we might be in for as he gets older. What’s worse is that the 5-year old takes his cues from his brother. He left the fence with his bike yesterday and left our street looking for his brother! Walking them home from school today, he showed me where he had gone and it was beyond the 1-block radius of his brother’s boundary. Ay-yay-yay!

  202. Kids Ride On Vehicles

    Often a hot topic. I had free range (in suburbs of city approx 1 million combined). I’m more a fan of free play for our boys BUT within reason.

    There were several kids in my extended neighborhood & we were usually roaming around, at someone’s house / yard, riding bikes or racing go karts, playing street hockey or explorers or game of the day somewhere, at local parks or building forts in some of the bushes nearby. The parents could have used GPS / tracking devices to keep track of us .. LOL. However, was always as least a few & usually more of us.

    In summer we dashed out after breakfast hopped on bikes, go karts, cruise neighborhood, etc to make some fun. Rule was provide idea of plans for day (although changed 15 mins later) then back by dinner & if not back for lunch call.

    Had a scare one summar day (9 yrs old?). Bike riding with a classmate in trails in a forested ravine nearby but not super close. Got confronted by two guys who had escaped the jail nearby. Freaked us out but with some quick thinking we “escaped” OK.

    Fast forward … parents have to be smarter today with what the world throws at us. BUT … are kids being over protected / controlled and coddled too much that it is putting independence, critical judgement, decision making, social and personal development skills at risk? Many kids are effectively sheltered from situations or opportunities to analyze, make decisions, learn and grow. Yes they need to be protected but if most of their decisions are made for them and can only go places if parents drive them due to ramped up limitations and boundaries, will rational independence and social adjustment prevail? If so, when and how?

    So many kids have faces or fingers glued to cell phones. Well with all they aren’t now permitted freely to do or create own spontaneous fun or interactions is it possible cells / texting have become a “safe surrogate”? With parents consciously or not have allowed it? Now new issues are emerging with today’s youth. History suggests that the solution for the issue of the day often has consequences in due time. History repeats itself.

    If the proverbial pendulum has swung too far, we may need to jump on it and bring more balance before it results in a coccooned world like we could have never imagined.

    Apologies for the mini essay …. that was not intended 🙂

    DC

  203. Irish Rawlinsc

    I think these days, with added traffic concerns, a lack of other children playing, and generally less neighbourhood people around as a extra safety net, it makes it a harder decision on how free we can be with our children’s freedom, but I still think it is an important part of growing up and try to allow as much I can.

  204. Nat

    I have to be honest: it really does not matter what I would like to allow my kids (5 and 3) to do in our back yard, it’s our crazy society that will call the Social Services on me if they someone may think the kids are not supervised, and I am serious. I grew up in the USSR (Russia) roaming freely by nowadays standards, like everyone else I know who’s my age. I’ve read 2 stories on a Russian forum, posted by the involved parents: (Midwest) neighbors called the DSS on a mother, when they saw her allowing her toddler to play by himself on an enclosed deck with a locked gate (she was inside in the kitchen keeping an eye on the child), they could see in because their yard was higher than hers. And, a really bad case (the East Coast) when the mother was truly into the “Free-Range Kids” philosophy (she had posted about this book before the incident) and she allowed her 6 y.o. to play by himself in a play room of their apartment complex located directly across from her apartment (she was checking on him often). Someone called the DSS, they took away the child, the parents had to hire a lawyer, could not disclose much detail, it was tragic, I do not know about the final outcome. I once was reprimanded by a woman in a store parking lot when I put my toddler in and went to return the cart literally one car space away from my car!

  205. Nickie Buck

    I live in a cul de sac with 13 homes, most of us have small children and we stand outside with our kids as they play on their bikes (with helmets). Are biggest fears is we have one neighbor Bruce Gora and his family that do not slow down to the 15 mph as posted even when kids are visible. So we are afraid he will hit one of our children with no remorse. He has already threatened us with running over our slow down sign, and has told us that are kids should not be out there on their bikes, that they should be riding their bikes in our yard. Now any time the kids are outside on one section of road (dead end) he sets off his car alarm over and over until we take the kids in. The sad thing is, is he is not an old guy and he has two teenage daughters. How do you feel safe with your kids being kids and playing outside with people like this in the world, either they are kidnapping them or threating to run them down with their vehicles and there is nothing we can do as parents. I have two older children one all grown up, one a new teen and a toodler and I have seen the changes in people and how selfish and mean they are and I dont understand it. What ever happened to, the kids need to get out side and play and run off some energy… Now they are being diognosed left and right with ADHD and a lot of times I think it is from being couped up inside from parents fears of danagers, we need to take back our kids rights but we have no one to support us.

  206. Anthony B

    I grew up on the southside of Chicago, and although I was allowed to roam the streets at ungodly hours I was always with my friends. I live in Virginia now in a nice neighborhood, but times have changed and I don’t feel as comfortable letting my 11 year old roam the neighborhood. Truth be told my mother would have been put in jail today if she allowed me to roam as much as i did at my childs age. I only know the neighbors with kids because they want to know me, and I like that. There are a lot of things going on nowadays, but I like him to get his play time outside and not behind a screen. I’m a little paranoid while his outside, but as a dad I have to allow him that exploratiion time that all boys need. I’m still watching though!

Get our weekly email called
5 Quick Things,

where we share new stuff from the blog and podcast—that way you’ll never miss a thing. Tsh also shares other goodness from around the web... It can be read in under a minute, pinky-swear.

(You’ll also get her quick list of her 10 favorite essays and podcast episodes from around here, helping you wade through a decade of content.)