How freely do you let your kids play?

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by Tsh

Tsh is the founder of this blog and lives in Bend, Oregon with her husband and 3 kids. Her latest book is Notes From a Blue Bike, and believes a passport is one of the world's greatest textbooks.

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.

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Comments

  1. 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 =-.

    • 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.

  2. 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.

  3. avatar
    Heather of WA State says:

    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.

  4. avatar
    Rachel P. says:

    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!

  5. 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 =-.

  6. avatar
    sunnypdx says:

    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!

  7. 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.

    • 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… =-.

  8. avatar
    Karen Hayward says:

    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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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!)

  13. 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 =-.

  14. 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 =-.

  15. 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.

  16. 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 =-.

  17. 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 =-.

  18. 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.

  19. avatar
    Kristy J says:

    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.

  20. 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!!! =-.

  21. 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! :)

  22. 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.

  23. 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 =-.

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

  25. 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. =-.

  26. 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….

  27. 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.

  28. 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” !!

  29. avatar
    marissa c says:

    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.

  30. avatar
    1sttimemomma says:

    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.

  31. 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! :).

  32. avatar
    Brinete says:

    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.

  33. avatar
    Kristen says:

    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.

  34. avatar
    michelle says:

    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.

  35. avatar
    Rhonda S says:

    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.

  36. 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.

  37. avatar
    Kristine S. says:

    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!

  38. 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.

    • 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.

  39. avatar
    Christine says:

    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.

  40. 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.

  41. avatar
    Heather says:

    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.

  42. 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.

  43. 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.

    • 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.

  44. 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.

  45. avatar
    Rhonda35 says:

    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!!

  46. 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.

  47. 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?

  48. 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.

  49. 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.

  50. 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.

  51. 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.

  52. 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!

  53. 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.

  54. 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.

  55. 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.

  56. avatar
    Juliette says:

    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.

  57. 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.

  58. 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.

  59. 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.

  60. 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.

  61. avatar
    Janet Hughes says:

    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

  62. avatar
    Katelyn says:

    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.

  63. 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.

  64. 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.

  65. avatar
    Margarete says:

    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.

  66. 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.

  67. 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.

  68. 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.

  69. avatar
    Melissa L. says:

    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.

  70. 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.

  71. 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.

  72. 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.

  73. 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.

  74. avatar
    Michelle says:

    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.

  75. avatar
    Kathryn says:

    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.

  76. 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.

  77. 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.

  78. avatar
    M. Cochran says:

    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!

  79. This topic is near and dear to me, as I had a delightfully free-range childhood on a 200-acre, heavily wooded farm, and it breaks my heart to see today’s kids so restricted. I read Free-Range Kids, found it very thought-provoking, and blogged about it here: http://thepocketchronicles.blogspot.com/2011/03/free-range-kids.html

  80. 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.

  81. 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.

  82. 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!!!

  83. avatar
    Megan Bagwell says:

    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. :)

  84. 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.

  85. 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..

  86. 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.

  87. 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.

  88. 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.

    • 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.

  89. 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.

  90. 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 ??

  91. 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.

  92. avatar
    Amy Forgey says:

    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.

  93. 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.

  94. 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.

  95. 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.

  96. 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.

  97. 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.

  98. 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.

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

  100. avatar
    Claire Westmond says:

    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.

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