General Question

tranquilsea's avatar

Letting your kids explore their world unsupervised?

Asked by tranquilsea (17758points) June 1st, 2010

My kids are a bit older now but when they were younger I used to get a lot of grief from other parents because I encouraged the kids to play in the neighbourhood school park on their own. Age appropriately, of course. I view it as my responsibility to allow and encourage the kids to explore their neighbourhood as soon as they can do so safely.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how paranoid parents are today. The speed that news travels and how news organizations capitalize on sensational stories haven’t helped.

As I have let the kids go out and explore I felt massive feelings of wondering if I was doing the right thing…thinking about how I would toss myself off a bridge if anything ever happened to them as I would feel guilty. It has been quite an inner struggle at times.

Then I read about Free Range Kids. I am happy that someone is taking a broader stand. With rates of child obesity skyrocketing we really need to reverse how cocoon’ish” we are.

How comfortable do you feel in letting your kids explore their surroundings without having you right behind or beside them? How important do you think it is?

An aside: I was at a park with a bunch of parents last year when one of the moms stated that she had told her daughter that if she was ever grabbed then the only thing she could do is pray to Jesus to help her get out of it. My mouth hit the ground and I told her that there were a bunch of things her daughter could do. I then had to suppress the urge to go and give her daughter a safety lesson.

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45 Answers

Cruiser's avatar

Better yet make if free range kids and parents! Get everybody out of the house playing and having fun! I have been guilty of that stranger danger mentality but if more kids were out together they could “police” the playgrounds themselves like we did as kids. Nobody dared mess with us on our playground, we would KTA big time if they wanted to interfere with our fun! Our parents had to drag us home from the playground kicking and screaming.

osullivanbr's avatar

We do the exact same thing with our daughter. She spends most of her days playing out with her friends in the park around or house. While i agree I would never be able to deal with it if something horrible was to happen, it is in my opinion a key part of childhood and their development. They need independence.

On the crazy story side. There is a mother living up the road from us who has told her kids that there are kidnappers in the bushes a bit away from their house. it was to stop them going to far away from the house. I mean seriously, she is doing damage to the kids if you were to ask me. This cocoon’ish behavior as you put it is ridiculous.

janbb's avatar

I’m with you – this notion of cocooning kids is one of my soapbox issues but I’m too tired and hot to bloviate today. I tried to give my kids plenty of room to explore and grow even though I had fears. I don’t think are so different today than they were 15 years ago and I think that paranoia and protectionism are running rampant.

Val123's avatar

That was the biggest reason I moved out of the city to this small town…so I could turn the kids loose.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

One should take a balanced view on this issue, I think. My kids live in an urban setting, a setting that isn’t always safe for children – so while I am not a hovering parent, I don’t let my 4 year old wonder out and about without my supervision.

tranquilsea's avatar

I live on one of he youngest cities in Canada and it is tremendously sad to see how empty the playgrounds are.

I was a kid during the 70s and 80s and we were outside all the time, even when it was raining. My mom used to shout, “you aren’t made of sugar” when we complained about going out in the rain. After being flashed a couple of times, my sister and I learned what we needed to do. The third time it happened my sister quipped, “Is that all you have?” and we remembered what he looked like and called the cops. The forth time it happened we got the guy’s plate number and gave it to the cops. My mom always made sure we were paired up (there are six of us).

tranquilsea's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir I agree and I didn’t let my 4 year old wander off without me with him. But once he got to six I started letting him go further and further from the house and he had to make sure he checked back with me at regular intervals.

janbb's avatar

@tranquilsea My mom used to say, “You won’t melt.” Pissed me off at the time, but I think it’s not a bad lesson to learn! And I learned to take care of myself with flashers and catcallers as a young teen too.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@tranquilsea I guess we’ll just have to wait and see how I respond to this issue when they’re older.

Val123's avatar

I don’t think any parent in their right mind would let a 4 year old run loose outside of the house!

tranquilsea's avatar

@janbb There were a LOT of perverts where we lived as children. Those situations happened when we were under 11. I think I was 8 or 9. Terrible hey?

CMaz's avatar

Growing up in the 70’s we were all “Free Range Kids”. But then again, the neighborhood was full of stay at home Moms.

Raising a child in the 90’s, as much as I gave him intensive to get out and play. Times have changed, and we made sure we were close.

tranquilsea's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir That’s what I mean when I mentioned in my op about feeling torn. The first time I let him walk around the block I think I sat on the front step and every moment I had visions of him being scooped off and away. It isn’t an easy feeling at all.

It is important to know your child. Some are ok with a bit more responsibility and some aren’t. Only you can decide.

JLeslie's avatar

I think there is a happy medium. Of course if you live in a city, it is different than living in the country. Second, it has been demonstrated over and over again that all too often young children will go off with strangers, even if their parents have told them not to. I think I would let my kids play outside, but not alone, they would have to be with at minimum one other friend or a sibling. I agree that the media overblows the dangers out there. As long as there is a buddy system I feel more comfortable.

Seek's avatar

Kids are pack animals. You get enough of them in one place, and watch them. They correct each other, watch out for the little kids, oh, there’s the ice cream truck everyone get out of the road!

One kid playing alone in the park isn’t very safe. 16 kids in the same park, and half of them with baseball bats? no one is messing with them.

tranquilsea's avatar

@Seek_Kolinahr I have found that when there are a lot of kids it is very hard for anyone to keep and eye on the smaller ones. I think an ideal group size is a max of 4 or 5 who are all looking out for one another.

aprilsimnel's avatar

Kid of the 70s-80s, here. I wasn’t allowed to go farther than our front and back yards until I was 7, but after that, as long as I stayed on the street our house was on, I was OK. Once I was 11, then I was allowed to go past our street.

I think as long as it’s age appropriate, kids should be encouraged to explore. Otherwise, you’re just teaching them to be afraid of exploring and taking risks, and that’s not right.

tranquilsea's avatar

I’ve also had a secret word with my kids just in case someone tries to tell them that they need to go with them because I asked then to pick them up.

Neizvestnaya's avatar

Depending on the neighborhood then I completely agree kids should be booted out to explore, mingle exercise. Having traveled about since my own childhood though, I’ve seen a lot of areas I wouldn’t turn my kid loose in. I think the childhood I took for granted was and is a rareity where kids could roll out on bikes and skateboards along sidewalks and taking a risk meant sneaking off to a corner store on a major blvd.

JLeslie's avatar

@tranquilsea That is a good idea. My mom never let us wear our names. She thought if a stranger came up and called us by name we would get suckered into going with them, even though supposedly we knew better. I think she thought if a kid wore his name it made him/her a more likely target.

Val123's avatar

We were NEVER inside when I was growing up.

Dr_Dredd's avatar

@aprilsimnel and @JLeslie My mother did exactly those things, too. I was also a kid of the early 80’s.

I remember playing outside with a friend of mine and his brother when I was about 6. My friend was the Joker, I was Batgirl, and the brother was Batman. We were running around and chasing each other, when a policecar drove up. Turned out it was there to investigate the crazy teenagers who drove across our lawn one night, but we kept on teasing my friend that they were there to arrest the “Joker.”

JLeslie's avatar

One thing we are not talking about is just being able to rely on kids to be safe, even when there is not a stranger lurking. A very close friend of mine was walking home, she was in elementary school, I think 5th grade if my memory is right, with two other friends. The other two stepped into the street to cross the road, my girlfriend reached out and was able to grab the other girl, but the boy was too far had and—bam—hit by a car right in front of them and killed. The next day my girlfriend walked to school again. I think today everyone would freak out and not let their children walk alone again to school.

Draconess25's avatar

When I was in high school, my mom wouldn’t let me leave the block. She didn’t trust me to defend myself until I beat up 4 football players in one year. Then she yelled at me to get as far away from the house as possible, so she couldn’t hear the sirens whe I got arrested. Unfortunately, I still have trouble crossing the street alone. I’m deathly afraid of cars.

Val123's avatar

@JLeslie That’s sad….but cars and streets are the most important thing that a parent needs to teach their child about, just like a child in the jungle needs to be taught which animals are dangerous and which aren’t. Too many parents seem to think their kid will just automatically understand how dangerous it can be.

Dr_Dredd's avatar

@Draconess25 How old was that? :-)

JLeslie's avatar

@Val123 I agree. My mom let me walk to the store by myself when I was 6. It was just across the street though. Once I was around 9 I think we were allowed to play all day outside by ourselves with little supervision.

hearkat's avatar

My son just turned 19. We live in a suburban neighborhood with a whole bunch of kids. At 6–7, he could go to the neighbors’ houses and ride his bike up and down our street unsupervised. At 8, I’d let him go within a couple blocks’ radius. By 10, he had full run if the neighborhood and we got those walkie-talkies with a 2 mile radius (the diameter of our neighborhood is about 2 miles). At 12, he had a cell phone with restrictions, and was allowed to ride his bike beyond the neighborhood – but only with at least one other kid.

My mom got him a nice swingset for the fenced-in backyard when he was 5, so he was told to go out and play from around that age. My attitude was that no one has more energy or imagination than a young kid… it seems criminal to coop them up and/or give them electrical toys and gadgets. I don’t understand why kids even want those battery-powered cars they ride in that go so slow, when they can go so much faster and have more fun with riding toys they push with their feet or a big wheel.

Kids are being trained to be passive observers and consumers, rather than active participants and creators. It’s sad.

casheroo's avatar

I don’t know what it is, but it gives me a near heart attack when I can’t see my son. (well, he’s not even three so I’m allowed to be protective like this!)
When I was younger, we road our bikes, played tag, or cops&robbers all over the neighborhood..we never went too far because everyone lived pretty close together. I never see kids out like we used to play.
I took my son to two different playgrounds today, and there was no one at the first, and the second got crowded with a kindergarten get together, and the parents definitely were hovering.

When he’s older, I’ll let him play outside on his own. We live in a complex with kids around who seem to play together often…I’m hoping other kids live here too for him to play with, I just haven’t seen them yet.
What I hate about his age now, is I have to watch him because kids are learning at this age. Like, today he accidentally kicked sand towards a girls face, so I have to go over and make him apologize and not look like a parent that lets him do whatever he wants.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

Free Range Kids? That’s a hoot! Upon these words shall you be quoted!

YARNLADY's avatar

A good balance is desirable. My grandson loves to explore our back yard. He goes into the wilderness behind the barn with the dog, then comes back to where I am sitting on the patio and says “Grandma, I’m Back!”. We have several places around the yard where he can trek through the bushes all by himself.

Out in the ‘real’ world is a lot more intimidating. We do allow him to explore as much as is safe, but always within sight. When my sons and adult grandsons were growing up, they didn’t seem to want to go beyond the yard, with a large swing set and heated swimming pool, plus an enclosed patio with Nintendo, Sega, and two TV’s, there wasn’t much reason to go far. I took them camping and hiking twice a month during the summer.

The only place I feel somewhat comfortable letting them go ‘free range’ is the amusement parks. I sit in one central place, and they come back to check in with me whenever they get thirsty or hungry, and that’s about it.

Val123's avatar

@YARNLADY Just out of curiosity, why do you feel amusement parks are safe?

tranquilsea's avatar

Sorry the question was yanked for editing the title and I was out pulling weeds (5 hours worth of weeds and I’m not even done yet).

YARNLADY's avatar

@Val12 It was more their age, by the time they started wanting to go alone, they were teens, except the smaller Boomers family fun type parks. Plus it’s a lot harder to kidnap a child out of a park – In fact, I’ve never heard of it happening.

janbb's avatar

@YARNLADY We once lost a three old at the zoo but weren’t terribly worried since we figured the only other people at the zoo would be other parents not looking to add a kid!

I had a wonderful township pool club when mine were young. We could go for the day and I could sit and read while they ran around and came back occasionally for feedings.

Val123's avatar

@tranquilsea Sigh. I liked it better the way it was!

@YARNLADY Ah! Yes. I think it’s important that we all tell the kid’s ages when telling of our experiences. That includes me!

I’m glad this question came back up. When my daughter was 13 I think she started feeling the carefree childhood slipping away, whether she actually realized it or not. She asked me to go on a walk with her and she showed me all of the special places they had discovered over the years…... on the college campus there were a bunch of bushes that only an exploring kid would realize had a clearing in the middle of where they could watch the college kids stroll by. The tree that had a limb that, oddly, appeared to grow DOWN at some point in it’s life, then suddenly took off straight. It made a great seating bench. The neighbor who had his back yard decked out Japanese style, but you could only see the yard through a knot hole in his back fence on the alley side. The culvert that they used to crawl through which took them under the street and up out the other side. I wish I could relive that day of sharing with my daughter every day.

JLeslie's avatar

@casheroo I love what you wrote, that it gives you a heart attack when you can’t see your son. For some reason how you worded it made me smile.

Val123's avatar

@JLeslie It only gave me palpitations when I couldn’t see my kids at that age. It gave me heart ATTACKS when I couldn’t FIND them because the little sheits had hidden in the pan cabinet giggling at Mommy’s frantic calls! Or in the toybox, or whereever….

tranquilsea's avatar

@Val123 I really liked the original title too. Oh well :-(

What a wonderful walk that must have been. I love listening to the children’s view of life at their various stages. Reminds me of how I used to think when I was young.

andreaxjean's avatar

Honestly, I think age 10 is a good age to let kids go off on their own a little bit. That age is probably a decent age to give them a restricted cell phone, too, just in case of emergencies. Any younger than that, I think an adult should be present. That’s just a personal opinion, though. I’m not judging you as a parent. To each his own, I say!

snowberry's avatar

I remember years ago we had a neighbor who never supervised her two year old. I found him outside one morning running around with kitchen shears. I knocked on her door and returned him to her, and a few hours later he was out there with something else.

Looking back on it, I suppose I should have called child services, but in my experience, they do about as much harm as good.

tranquilsea's avatar

I always knew exactly where my babies and toddlers were. I know some people who have a much more laissez fair attitude with their kids and it makes me cringe.

Val123's avatar

@snowberry Oh the horror stories of people not taking care of their kids…..

ddkd4c's avatar

If your children are very young I would not let them explore unspervised at all. This world we live in not so good. Yes do by all means encouraged how things can be on their on. When older keep on giving them good encouragrment. Show them tought love. Everything not peaches and cream.

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