Motherhood

Do Your Kids Ever Walk Around Alone?

Toby and Anton

When Toby was six, he went to the deli by himself…

He walked two blocks to our favorite deli, where he bought a pack of Starburst and ran back home. When he burst in the door, he was panting, cheeks flushed, elated at having been out in the world alone.

To be honest, I was a little nervous about his crossing the streets, but I held my breath, and glanced at the clock, and knew he could do it. And it was good for him! For both of us!

Remember how thrilling that feeling was? You had coins in your pocket, a route in mind, the world at your fingertips. The D.H. Lawrence quote applies: “How to begin to educate a child: First rule: leave him alone. Second rule: leave him alone. Third rule: leave him alone.”

Over the next year, however, Toby began resisting these adventures. Kind people would often ask, “Where’s your mom?” and he worried that he was getting in trouble. In our neighborhood, you rarely, if ever, see children under 9 or 10 years old walking around without adults. It’s New York City, after all.

So, how do you decide? In the fascinating New York Times story, “Motherhood in the Age of Fear,” Kim Brooks recounts having a warrant out for her arrest after leaving her four-year-old in the car (windows open, cloudy day) while she quickly nipped into the grocery store. Brooks argues that her child was 100% safe — and, moreover, that parents and kids should be free to make these decisions for themselves. She talked to cognitive scientist Barbara Sarnecka, who believes that children may not have the same rights as adults, but “‘they have some rights, and not just to safety. They have the right to some freedom, to some independence.’ They have a right, she said, ‘to a little bit of danger.'”

I’m so curious: Do you allow your kids to walk to school or the park by themselves? At what age? Is it accepted in your area? What about elsewhere in the world?

Interestingly, the New York Times did a featured comments from parents around the world. Here are a few:

“What really struck me was when I started to notice groups of mothers having coffees together: The Anglophone mothers sat next to each other facing outward, watching their children the whole time. The Swiss mothers sat facing each other around a table having a nice chat, with their backs to the children playing around them.” — Wrike, Switzerland

“Kids in primary school go shopping at the bakery and the supermarket by themselves, proud of their independence. We’re afraid too, of course. We just don’t want fear to ruin our — and our children’s — lives.” — Katrin, Germany

“All over Japan, it is common to send youngsters on complicated errands such as going alone into town to buy fish for dinner and come back with the correct change.” — AL, now living in Los Angeles

Back in Brooklyn, five-year-old Anton loves playing on the sidewalk outside our building. Well-meaning passersby inquire, “Where’s your mom, honey?” “Are you lost?” “Who’s watching you?”

No one. And maybe that’s okay?

P.S. Trying out slow parenting.

  1. Kristen says...

    It’s astounding how much harder it is to not interfere when there are other parents around!! I want to let my 3 year-old play freely (and even experience conflict) with kids his age without an adult constantly correcting everything, but it is SO HARD for me to not step in at the playground when another mom could judge me for letting him be too rowdy/bossy to their kid, or whatever. I think the fear of being accused of negligence can be sometimes more powerful than fear for the kids’ safety (though there is that, too).

  2. Bren says...

    I love reading all these comments! There have been so many little moments for me as I raise my 2 and 4 year old and constantly wonder how much independence to give them. I remember the first time I let my kids play upstairs alone while I was in the kitchen and I had the baby monitor on just listening to them talking…of course when they are really little it’s tough because they are always sticking everything in their mouth! My husband couldn’t believe I let them up there alone since he worries the most about safety in our relationship. But I told him I had been doing that for a few weeks and he just didn’t realize because he was at work. Then he sort of sighed and said “You are always the first to take us bravely into the next chapter of parenting.” I still think it’s one of my favorite compliments he has ever given me! :)

  3. chiming in as an american living in switzerland! my 5 year old sons school is only about 3 blocks away in our little neighborhood in Luzern – he is 5 and walks to and from school by himself! its actually mandatory when they start kindergarten that they already know the way – and then its kind of expected that at some point they will walk by themselves. i find it really interesting! but of course, most of the kids are as well so there are other kids around too. but i remember when i first moved here I saw probably an 8 or 9 year old riding the train by themselves!

  4. Jen T says...

    Just the other day I felt myself “over-parenting”. We were at a waterpark and I would follow my 2.5yo to the tiny slide every time. Eventually I decided let him have more space (still within feet of him). Sure enough, he tumbles down the back part of the slide! He was fine except for a couple extra (over-tired) tears. I want to give him space but when I did he got hurt. It is just so hard to know when they are ready and when YOU are ready. But it is a good reminder that EVERY parent and EVERY child has different needs and we should be more respectful of others decisions.

  5. Stephanie says...

    It’s so interesting reading and experiencing different cultures in parenting. When parenting my first born for his first two years in Brooklyn, everyone always had something to say to me. I got more anxious going out with my baby because a stranger ALWAYS had something to say. They would comment on him not having enough clothes on, the baby carrier spreading his legs too wide which will damage his hips, or how I wasn’t letting him experience the world enough by putting on his baby banz headphones while we waited on the platform! Now with my second we live in Los Angeles. In my experience people are more kept to themselves when it comes to other people’s kids. But it is interesting in the playground experience. I live in a very diverse immigrant neighborhood and depending on where the family is from they’re either really relaxed with their kid or the complete opposite. I’ve had a handful of caretakers and grandma’s run up to ‘spot’ my kid while he’s (perfectly capable of) climbing the jungle gym by himself and scoldingly looking at me while I’m standing back watching. My boys always look a bit confused on why this stranger is trying to help them!
    I’ll end with this quote that I really enjoyed. I just read it yesterday:
    ‘Raising a child who is never able to practice taking risks is raising a child who will have a hard time moving forward in their life’- Seth Dahl

  6. Abby says...

    This post and the referenced article strike such a chord with me. My daughter is only 2 and I already find myself struggling with questions/concerns of how much independence to give her. Constantly fighting my desire to hover and allow her to explore on her own.

    And mine is not entirely out of a fear of her hurting herself (although of course I don’t want that), but of the potential repercussions of what someone else may think of her hurting herself. Like the women in the article, I’ve known other mothers who have dealt with investigations by family and children’s services simply for allowing their kids to be more independent. Not because they’re bad parents, inattentive, neglectful, abusive, etc. It’s scary to think of being charged with a felony, being investigated, and even being separated from my daughter. How do we fight these new social norms to allow us as parents to create space for our kids to be kids and explore the world?

  7. Lindsey says...

    This is the struggle of parenthood. Last week, my daughter broke her arm on the monkey bars. It was me who encouraged her to do them, and I’ve told her 100 times she’d be OK if she fell. She fell. She wasn’t OK. I’ve gone over and over it in my head—“Should I not have pushed her to do them? Should I have been spotting her so that I could catch her?”

    In the end, I’ve come up with this: This is parenthood, at least mostly. You tell them to try. You pick them up when they fall. You help them heal when they get hurt. They learn that in the end, almost everything is really is OK.

    • She’s okay! Breaking an arm is pretty normal for humans. I love this.

    • Jess says...

      I broke lots of things growing up as an adventurous, sports-focused and sometimes klutzy kid and I assure you I was always ok! I have some adult friends who have still never broken a bone and it seems strange to me! : )

  8. Evita says...

    The answer really depends on where you live and what you have been through. I live in Seattle but originally from China. When I was in elementary, I walked with classmates between the school and the home (10 minutes walk). But today no one will let their kids walk alone in China. The road is so wide and the traffic is so bad, and there are people stealing kids. Even in Seattle, my Chinese friends normally don’t let their kids walk alone, not because we’re not confident in our communities, it’s because we’ve heard too many heart-breaking stories and we don’t want even a tiny little risk. You never know what’s going to happen until it happens.

  9. Rosa says...

    I live on a small rural reservation in Eastern Canada. It’s a peninsula so we have water and beach views in most directions. When my girls were little, probably 5 and 8 years old, my husband and I sent them down to the beach to play and walk around. My husband followed them down shortly afterwards and of course, since they were all at the beach I decided to go down for a walk too. When I got there I found my husband walking around by himself and I asked him where the girls were. He didn’t know…like seriously, they might have been on their own for maybe ten minutes. We took off looking at each and every house, my family was enlisted to check all the beaches. We called around to people. Finally, at the last house that I would think to look at, we found them. They had been invited up off the beach to a birthday party. I lost my temper with my eldest daughter, I was so scared that something horrible had happened to them. My father told me off for letting them go off on their own. It was a big shit show lol. Thankfully they were ok. I reinforced that they should always let me know if they decide to go off and do something different that what we discussed. Aside from this, I’m fortunate to live in a small community that is surrounded by family. My girls have usually been what I call free range kids; off walking around, visiting people, playing in the woods, not coming home until dark etc. They’re older now, 13 and 16 and they’re both pretty mature for their ages. Strong and capable but definitely not city savvy.

  10. I was a kid in the nineties in the Balkans. I would go shop for bread and pastries in the neighborhood every morning on my own from age 8 onwards. Or I would stay at home and babysit my little sister aged 4 should it have been necessary (albeit never for a long time). I also learned how to reheat the lunch on the stove at 8 if no one was home when I got back from school. This kind of independence was very normal for me and my peers (us neighborhood kids would walk about 20 minutes to school; parents only took us during the first week in first grade, and then they rightfully presumed that we know the way and can manage ourselves), and honestly I was shocked when I first read that NYT article. I think I would have found it very annoying and limiting if my parents had had the need to watch over me all the time.

    It was only elsewhere that people found it unusual :) when I was 14, I embarked on a solo flight to England. (I had an uncle waiting for me at the airport.) I’ve always looked younger than my age, so despite having had a visa, for which my parents had to give their written consent about me traveling alone, I was eventually detained at Heathrow for 2 and a half hours until the police officer was sure it was my uncle who was waiting for me, and not a child trafficker. Bear in mind I was traveling to a country whose language was only my second, learned in school. Of course me and my parents thought I am capable of managing at 14. It was just weird for the English :)

  11. Ingrid says...

    This is a timely post. Yesterday my 14 year old nephews flight was diverted to Nashville, and then cancelled, on its way from Calgary to NYC. He was flying on his own for the first time. While we were anxious, we also felt confident that he would navigate the situation, as he has demonstrated he is capable through age appropriate independence the past 14 years of life. Fortunately the airline provided a hotel and food vouchers, and the wonderful staff befriended him and provided us with updates. In the end, he has a fascinating tale and new sense of confidence, though it sure was great to great him at JFK this afternoon. Our youth are capable of so much!

  12. Meg says...

    After reading this post, I just have to mention the book How to Raise an Adult by Julie Lythcott-Haims. It was a GAME-CHANGER for me…so helpful to realize that when I let me kids do things that give them age-appropriate responsibility, even if others think its “too much,” I am doing the best for them and for me!!

  13. Absolutely try to give my children tools to handle independence! We started with letting them stay home alone with strict rules. We taught them about emergencies and what to do. We taught them how to keep their bodies safe (most child abuse is from people the child knows). We taught them how to walk in the city – eye contact, crossing streets (we live downtown in a small city). We gave them watches and we agree on a check-in or return time.

    My fears for my children are when they cross streets that a distracted driver might hit them in the crosswalk. Or that somebody we know is grooming them to take advantage of them sexually. Stranger danger is not something we worry about much.

    When I compare my children with other acquaintances’ and friends’ kids, I think my kids are confident and proud of their independence and getting to know themselves, their strengths and weaknesses. I hope I’m doing the right thing. It feels right. Parenting is such a crap shoot!!!

  14. Amy says...

    I haven’t read all the comments and feel that surely someone has pointed this out, but I think many people live in areas where it is, in fact, NOT safe for a child to be outside on their own and it would be negligent to allow that. It’s a luxury to live somewhere where you can let a child go for a walk while reasonably expecting them to not encounter gang activity, for example, and this is not reality for many, many parents.

    And for those of us who do have the luxury of living in a relatively safe area, it is definitely so hard to establish the line between prudence and excessive fear!

  15. L says...

    I would love to see more posts about this topic. This would you or won’t you post was thought provoking but what about the “how” if it all? How can we prepare our kids to navigate small corners of the world on their own? What should we teach them about stranger danger or how to handle an emergency? Some age appropriate tips and tools would be so helpful for parents who want to give their kids freedom but are a little afraid to do so. So many people seem put off when other adults ask after their kids “does your mom know where you are?” and so forth, but I don’t think this is necessarily bad. Knowing that other adults are paying attention and not afraid to intercede if they see something concerning is part of what makes me feel ok about giving my kids more free rein.

  16. Lindsay says...

    When I was in kindergarten (early 80s) I rode the school bus home each day. Every afternoon I got off the bus, crossed a busy 4-lane road and walked the half mile home. There were other kids, but no adults. My mother didn’t work. She could have met me at the bus stop but she saw no need. Sometimes I stopped to climb a tree and, when I was slightly older, to read for a bit. I don’t remember anyone ever chastising me for not coming straight home. My son starts kindergarten in a couple of weeks and will be riding the bus home. We live in a very safe neighborhood on a dead end street that reminds me a lot of the one where I grew up except that there’s no busy street for the kids to cross. Today I found out that if I’m not waiting at the bus stop my son will not be allowed off the bus. Even if one of the other neighborhood parents is there. I understand the rationale behind this and don’t entirely disagree with the rule but I am sorry my son won’t be able to lollygag with his friends and stop and climb trees and arrive home ready to tell me about all the adventures he had when there weren’t any grownups to interfere.

    • Maria says...

      I really love this! Made me think of my bus riding days where we did the same-relishing in that short time we truly had to ourselves. Haven’t thought about that for my own daughter, but now that I’ve been reminded of such a great part of childhood, I too am sad this is something she’ll miss, due to those same rules.

  17. I had so much freedom as a kid growing up in the 70’s and 80’s. My parents never knew where we were half the time. I have an only child, and I’m very protective of her, but I do like to give her little bits of freedom here and there, like you did with Toby. I find that adults don’t know what to think. The same thing has happened to my daughter where they have asked where a parent was, or when she stood in line to make a purchase, they would just cut in front of her assuming she was waiting for someone as opposed to waiting to buy a candy bar. I think we all need to do what we feel is right for our families and children and we need to stop judging each other. Easier said than done…

  18. Amie K says...

    Just like others have said, this is such an emotive topic. I live in the same neighborhood as the one I grew up in. I grew up in Minnesota and was a couple years younger then Jacob Wetterling was when he was abducted. That case sent reverberations through our community for generations. Now as a parent of a three year old, I see how much more relaxed I am than my mom was with me. This is magnified when we’re together and she’s always telling my son to stay close and not go too far. She also reprimands me for not being next to him at all times. I think she underestimates my ability to constantly survey our environment and and assess all factors. I’m extremely protective of my child but I want him to think for himself, assess his situation for himself, and come to a conclusion by himself. I think this process has already given him great confidence but has also taught him to trust his instincts. I’m excited to help him mold his self-reliance and to continue to teach him to trust his gut. The fear article really rang true for me, I have learned that the moments I second guess my parenting are when I’m not actually questioning my parenting but questioning how others will perceive my parenting and what the repercussions will be. I wish I could rely on the eyes of my community to help keep us all safe, instead I can rely on them to make a judgement call based on their perception. (add to all of this that I’m a single parent-people ALWAYS have their own judgements about that too! ha)

    • My father’s cousin was abducted and killed along with one of the cousin’s friends the year I was born–the Freach-Keen murders it is still referred to in the part of Pennsylvania where I grew up. The memory of the murders hovered like a dark cloud over my family throughout my childhood.

      In spite of it, I managed to have some independent adventures with my peers and I’m grateful for that. I don’t know how my parents managed to let me explore. It must have been so hard. I don’t have children and not having to make these decisions is a relief. I feel for you parents.

  19. D. says...

    I’ve loved reading all these comments and, honestly, I wish I had less anxiety about giving my children more freedom, but I am the Queen of hovering. When I was younger, my best friend/cousin was kidnapped from her home in the middle of the night–it shattered my life and has caused life-long anxiety especially now that I have children of my own. I work very hard not to project my constant fear on my children and I wish I could allow them to have a more free childhood, but I always have that feeling of fear of something happening to them.

    • alison norris says...

      Horrible. I am so sorry that this happened to you.

  20. Beth says...

    It was alluded to in an earlier comment, but there are many states that actually have laws about how old your children have to be to leave them home alone.
    It’s worth knowing the laws for your state, so you don’t find yourself accidentally breaking them and dealing with CPS.

  21. Peggy says...

    So interesting. We just spent a month in a sleepy town in the South of France where my parents have a home and I allowed my almost 6 year old a miniscule amount of freedom- going to the next stall at the market on his own, scooting ahead of me to the local square etc and I was constantly reprimanded by locals for doing so… Which made me feel on edge and left me feeling there was some ominous reason I didn’t know about…. I love the idea of giving kids freedom- great post Joanna.

  22. deb says...

    Thank you for this very timely post. Three weeks ago we moved to a large city in southern India. My 9 year old, who is an only child, has never lived out of the US. He was born and raised in the same neighborhood in a largish city in the Pacific NW. Since moving, he has met a new (same-aged) friend here who biked about a half of a mile to come play over at our house. This boy has lived here for several years. My son’s bike will be arriving soon, and I am not sure if I will let him ride alone to his new friend’s house. I think we will need more time here before I will allow him this independence. There are several factors to consider, and my concern/fear and hope/trust are all balancing on a tight rope in my mind. I know that these types of parenting decisions are very much context driven, and also based on the personality and experiences of the child and parents. I am trying to go with the flow as we adjust to our new home, and also pay attention to my instincts when it comes to being a parent.

  23. Chloe says...

    I’m not yet a parent, but I have two sisters with several kids under age 4, and they have extremely different parenting styles. One sister is very much a helicopter and the other is pretty hands-off. I have to say, watching them grow up from a distance, that the kid who has more independence seems to learn a lot faster and he picks himself up when he falls. The one who is used to very close supervision cries an inordinate amount for a very small tumble, gets easily frustrated if he can’t figure something out and calls for the parents to do it for him.

    On the other hand, I have also lived in a neighborhood where the kids roam without any supervision and I have to say it is not always this romantic image we have in our minds, either. Everyone’s biggest concern about letting kids run free seems to be for their child’s safety, which is understandable. I am someone who worries a lot, so I know that would be my big fear too. But what I’ve actually seen is kids misbehaving, vandalizing property, setting up court on porches of people they don’t know, throwing trash on the ground, and giving attitude when an adult they don’t know tries to tell them to pick it up, etc. There were groups of kids all under 12 (some very young) in my neighborhood who would throw rocks at people’s windows, breaking them on more than one occasion. One kid threw a rock at a pregnant woman, and I just wondered where the hell are these kids’ parents?! Of course teaching your children appropriate behavior matters a lot, but I have to imagine (from watching my sisters) that it’s also easy to think your kid would never do such a thing. Unfortunately, when you’re very young, group dynamics can make bad behavior seem normal. I remember being a small child and throwing heaves of grass clippings at the windshields of speeding cars on a busy road with my friend. How could I, as an otherwise well-behaved child, have been so wreckless?! Well, I was 6 and didn’t understand how dangerous it was.

    I’m not sure what the right answer is, but having an adult around (even if they keep their distance) seems like it would be beneficial to step in and be a voice of authority when things are going too far. It also helps if parents are receptive to complaints about their free-roaming child’s behavior, rather than brushing off the complainant as being uptight and overly critical. Consider the nature of the complaint of course (riding a bike through a neighbor’s yard vs. vandalizing property and assaulting pregnant women), but please don’t assume that you know everything your child is capable of.

  24. Y says...

    Slightly different, but I also wonder about parent takes on leaving their kids home alone. Like would you put them to bed and go to a restaurant on the corner? How far is ok? For how long? It feels like letting your kids out to do something independent is one thing, but so is the parent needing to go out. What are the limits of “ok”?

    • When our daughter was still an infant but consistently sleeping through the night, we used to put her to bed, wait an hour or two, and then set one of our phones on the floor under her door with a FaceTime audio call to the other phone so we could walk to the Thai restaurant two doors down. We muted our end of the call and knew we could be home in less than 60 seconds if we needed to. It was liberating and gave us much needed date nights without really leaving her. My mom was mortified when she found out, but it felt very comfortable to us. We lived in a tiny apartment in Chicago at the time and compared to some of our friends with bigger suburban houses, we didn’t actually feel we were much (or any) farther away from our daughter than our friends would be from their children sleeping in a another part of the house. Environment contributes a lot to what feels “right.”

    • JenT says...

      @Leisl YES! I live in a tiny home… I often wonder how far is it OK to go. If I had a massive house and I was hanging out in the backyard, no one would flinch at the idea of leaving a sleeping baby in the house, but it is frowned upon to walk down a few houses for an evening stroll in my tiny neighborhood? The distances are probably the same!

  25. Madie says...

    In reading through the comments, I’m struck by how many people have had other folks, neighbors, etc. ask their kids, “are you OK” or “does your mom know where you are”, etc… Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could harness that community watchfulness and gain some confidence from it, that even if our own eyes aren’t watching our kids (for that ONE block home) that so many other, caring eyes are? Instead these other folks seem to be an additional danger, ready to call the police. We just need a shift, from accusatory and disapproving to loving and co-protective. Not sure how to make that happen, but love the idea that my neighbors could be helping to keep an eye out for my little boys!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      YES. THIS. so well articulated. thank you, madie!

    • aB says...

      This is the absolutely correct way to think of it. It’s the way I grew up, with every mother on the block knowing the name of every child. Knowing which houses I could run to if there was a problem, and knowing that there was always somewhere safe to go.

      In my town, everyone walked to school alone. We played in parks unsupervised all day. Mothers kicked children out of the house and told them not to come home until dark. This might seem old fashioned, but this was still happening in the late 90s.

      I went home recently to discover that some mothers still raise their children the way I was, the way they were. But in other neighborhoods, streets that once teemed with children were empty. When I asked a friend, mother to a 10 year old, where the kids play, she said they don’t anymore. That most of their days are scheduled, so they don’t really roam the way we used to. It made me sad. Sad that fear of the unknown and a desire to direct children toward a goal had taken that from people. Even in a city that averages one murder every three years.

      How do you teach a child to cope with strong emotions, to be independent, to get back up when they fall down, and to know where the line is between danger and safety if you never let them out from under your watchful direction?

    • t says...

      You are so right Madie!!! I had two people call me to say my 5 year old daughter was on the corner of our block by herself (yes, I know, she was returning a forgotten hat to a friend). We live in the most benign suburban neighborhood on a culdesac!

      I think I am going to use the wisdom from your comment to text my neighbors to inform them that our kids have shown enough maturity to explore the neighborhood alone and not to fret but instead help keep our neighborhood safe with additional watchful eyes and supportive understanding.

    • Nancy says...

      This is the NUMBER ONE thing that keeps me from giving my kids more independence than I do. I worry more about well-intentioned (or just plain lacking common sense) people calling CPS than about my child getting hurt. It’s not worth the headache and the mortification. I think all that time about that mom whose kid hung out at the playground with other kids and their parents while she was at work, and got in trouble with the authorities because someone called CPS on her–granted, that case had the extra layer of race and class issues on it but still!

    • Caroline says...

      Yes, it feels like if we knew more of our neighbors, we could all watch out for each other better, rather than “policing.”

  26. Robin says...

    My oldest is just a little younger than Anton. He plays by himself in our front yard, but not further than that. When he’s older though, absolutely! Starting at age six I walked two blocks to wait for the school bus by myself. I took the bus and subway to my school (~45 min ea way) in downtown Toronto from age 12. This city seems if anything safer than it was in the 80s. I’ll do my best to make sure my sons feel as free in this city as I did.

  27. Anna says...

    For years, this has been an ongoing topic in our (German/American) family. Here in Germany, sending kids to the bakery to shop for fresh rolls on Sunday mornings is not only tolerable but almost seen as some sort of a passage rite. Letting them walk to school all by themselves is very much encouraged. In fact, grade school allocation is determined along wether it is a safe walk for a 6 year old or not. My older daughter rides her bike to school all by herself every morning (about 15 min. ride). Every time we go to the US to visit my husbands family, our kids (age 5 and 12) get totally crazy about not being able to do anything by themselves, stay in the car while we go shopping etc. If we would ever consider living in the States for a prolonged time, this particular issue would make for a terrible adjustment.

  28. All of these comments are so interesting. I honestly haven’t really thought about this before. I just started letting my older kid play in the (unfenced) backyard by herself… and even then I am looking out the kitchen window or keeping an eye on our camera. Growing up I walked to school as early as first grade (with my 3rd grade brother and neighborhood kids), but I honestly can’t see myself letting my kid walk to school at that age. Maybe in the next year or two I will be comfortable enough to let my oldest wander around like I see so many neighborhood kids doing.

  29. Emily says...

    In March, my husband and I found out we’re expecting our first; in April, we moved from a Midwestern city to a safe, sleepy suburb of a small New England city. I’m thrilled to see all the kids biking and walking to and from school!

    I grew up on 60 wooded acres on a mountain in Vermont. I loved exploring our woods, streams, the pond at our “neighbor’s” house (0.3mi away, the only people we knew on our several miles-long dirt road). In many ways it was an idyllic setting, and I can’t wait to explore those same woods with our little one.

    But our woods were surrounded by woods where hunters could roam, so I always had to wear bright orange in the fall and couldn’t help but wonder if there were strange men lurking out of sight with guns. You’d often see crushed beer cans in the ditches along our beautiful winding dirt road, or hear shitty old cars speeding around turns — clearly certain they were the only ones on the road, or maybe they just didn’t care after having a few. My parents were on the protective side, and I feel I absorbed a lot of stranger danger from them. I was allowed to walk/jog along the road if I left a note saying when I’d be back, but the truth is that the whole time I was out asserting my independence I was also totally on edge, imagining my own imminent abduction.

    I spent a lot of time as a teenager ranging from wistful to irate that I didn’t get the “normal” experience of sidewalks and impromptu sleepovers and play dates with neighbors. I’m grateful now for the place I was raised, but it does bring me a lot of joy to imagine our kid experiencing those suburban pleasures.

    It feels pretty ironic and sad that I’ll be most anxious about them playing and exploring in the small wooded park near our house. It’s beautiful, and a perfect shortcut to school or the town pool, but my old fears of predatory men lurking in the trees still come up when I walk alone in the woods. I hate that I have this fear, and I hope I won’t pass it on to the next generation.

  30. Leigh says...

    The World Economic Forum in the end of January wrote this article, which is related to this topic, but not 100 the same of course: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2018/01/to-play-is-to-learn
    As a American German living in France I find this whole topic very fascinating. I also get the sense the US has gotten over protective of their kids while at the same time being continuously distracted by I phones and technology… passing all of this on to the kids too. I grew up in Germany where kids roamed freely on the streets to play from morning to night, often going for walks into the woods from age 8 onwards alone, unsupervised, in groups. I feel that this independence made me street smart and adaptive in a way I feel that many American kids won’t be with the current predominant helicopter parenting ideology that seems to prevail. My kids age 6, 9 have played alone in the garden and our street for years. They come running when they are hurt, need food, or feel bored, need to pee, and this is all they need. They will learn from falling, playing, group dynamics, even arguing with neighbors and friends, and they are already weary enough of strangers to not go into someone’s car, take candy from a stranger, or anything like this, without hollering for help from a parent, any parent on the street. I am happy I can raise my kids in a similar way I was raised, albeit 30 years later. Yes, awful things can happen anywhere any time. But I feel that us giving our kids independence also hones their instincts and ability to ascertain danger when it is there in reality. Another point, I may not feel the same in the current US climate of, sorry to say, racism, police violence and gun culture if I had kids there. Best parenting quote: “There are two things children should get from their parents: roots and wings.”

    ― Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

  31. I’ve noticed that so many commenters are reluctant to give their kids more freedom because they live in areas where other people don’t do it, where adults in the area might stop their child and ask where their parent is. I’m so thankful that our neighborhood in Chicago is not like that. Neighborhood kids are out by themselves all the time, riding bikes, playing, walking to school together (with no adults). Don’t get me wrong, I’m scared of the bad things that could happen to one of them, but I’m also scared of raising them to expect that I will be there all the time.

  32. Abby says...

    This reminds me of a documentary I saw last year on how parents in the US are more and more forced to supervise their children at all times. It was actually pretty scary to hear how parents lost their children because they let them play on their own (!) front lawn.
    Having grown up in Germany and living in Europe I can support what most readers from Europe have said about how independence is valued a lot in our education. I myself went to the bakery by myself every Sunday to get the breadrolls for breakfast for the family starting age 4 and went to school by public transport age 6 by myself (40min ride+walk). All this in the big city of Berlin! I was so proud of handling the money myself and navigating my own way etc.
    I ask myself where this craze in keeping our children as safe as possible will end?
    In Frankfurt we had a huge discussion two years ago how “helicopter parents” are ruining our children’s spatial and traffic awareness by bringing their children in SUVs to school thus keeping their kids from learning traffic rules and general awareness when moving in the streets. Not to mention the lack of physical exercise in the morning before sitting still in school for the next hours.

  33. Teresa says...

    For our family it depends too on the children. Our eldest at ten is incredibly responsible and so we let her fly across the country to visit family as an unaccompanied minor (which I found *extremely* stressful imagining all the bad things that could happen), whereas I still don’t let our eight-year-old cross a busy neighborhood street alone because she doesn’t consistently pay attention (she is too busy saying hello to friends or thinking about some fact she learned about space).

    One woman said she was traumatized by babysitting at the age of 9. I am so sorry to hear that! Here again, I think it depends on the children. My eldest when she was 9 would have much preferred staying home, being in charge, and playing with her younger sisters, than being dragged to the store with me!

    We got our older daughter a Gizmo 2 as part of our Verizon plan. It is a watch that can have four programmed phone numbers and I can call it. Now I feel better about letting my eldest head out alone or my daughters head out together because I know they can call if they are out in the world and need help and/or I can get in touch if I need them to come home and/or have reason for concern. We pay an additional monthly service fee, but it is absolutely worth it.

  34. Gwen says...

    This is a real struggle for me. I was a child protection worker for years.
    For my own kids my son walked home from school at age 11 and would stay by himself for two hours. He would text me to let me know he had made himself a sandwich using the electric grill. I would let him watch his younger brother age 9 for an hour but would not leave him with our 1.5 year as he has told us he is not comfortable.
    I feel much safer allowing my boys to go off to ride their bikes etc when we are at the cottage. The community is small and I have more trust in the people there. Here in the city, I am concerned about the traffic and for the most part, I don’t even know my neighbours very well.

  35. Kerry says...

    We live in San Francisco and we started to let our 11 year old take the public bus home from school last year. Then he and his 7 year old brother did it together the last couple months of school. They would stop at the corner store and get a treat on the way. What worried me the most was the street crossings and the crazy drivers. People get struck in cross walks a lot here. We moved to the suburbs a month ago and I’m excited to let them have even more freedom to roam. Feels slightly safer here.

  36. Alanna says...

    I would never let my child do this (no judgment on parents who do though!) I am too worried that someone will abduct them or assault them. I am hyper sensitive to the issue because I work prosecuting crimes against children, but that means I know it does happen. I live in Sydney. Just the other day a 12 year old girl was walking to the bus stop and was abducted, sexually assured for 3 hours and then dropped at a train station-it probably won’t happen to you, but it might and that’s enough for me to do everything not to let it happen. But it might be cultural too as in Australia (Sydney at least) it is highly unusual to see children unsupervised anywhere

  37. Dani says...

    My younger sisters and I are only 5 and 6 years apart, respectively, but we had much different upbringings as children. When I was growing up my grandmother would watch us most days, and she was so busy with the little ones that I was afforded much more freedom. I would bike 2 miles to my friends’ or to Wendy’s for a frosty. Even our experiences as teenagers were much different. I could be gone for days in the summer (staying at friends’) and check in once or twice with an update on when I’d be home, where my sisters check in almost every hour they’re not home. I think cell phones have a lot to do with it. You can check in at every instance, so I think parents do because they can. I’m 23 now and do not plan on having children if I continue to live in the US. Mainly due to the lack of support for mothers who also want careers, but also the animosity and judgement non-helicopter parents (especially mothers) face.

  38. Taylor says...

    After reading a few articles about free range parenting and this NPR article (https://www.npr.org/sections/13.7/2016/08/22/490847797/why-do-we-judge-parents-for-putting-kids-at-perceived-but-unreal-risk), I’ve relaxed about letting my kids go.

    My 4.5 & 2.5 yr old regularly play in the front yard alone while I cook dinner. And I let them + the 18mo old play in the backyard- no fence. The NPR article really helped me think about facts and possibility vs probability. Granted we live in a safe city. Yet, I still have had people stop and ask my kids similar questions to the article ‘does your mom know where you are?’ My son, all indignant responded, hand in hip ‘yes’. I happened to be in the garage, but it gave me two thoughts:
    1- proud that my son didn’t seem to care.
    2- while I appreciate concern, I also don’t want someone else’s irrational fear projected on my kids.

    I think it’s finding a balance and knowing your kid. My oldest is a stereotypical rule following 1st born and gets more freedom than I imagine my ‘go with the flow, goofy, strong willed’ #2 will.

    Great topic and love reading all the comments.

  39. Shena says...

    Too many bad things happen to children when they are left alone with strangers. When I was a cashier in a safe seaside town at age 20, a kid at the store with his friend was groped by a man in my shopping line.

    Age 6 is too young to be able to deal with a bad social situation that may absolutely come up. In a country where children are put in cages, I will let mine walk free to the store, but you better believe that mama bear is following close behind.

  40. M says...

    I am from Austria. When I was in primary school I took the public bus home on my own at 6 or 7 and walked home from the bus stop. I was also sent grocery shopping for some smaller things like milk, salad, bread. The shop was a 10 minutes walk away from home. I was so proud when I passed my ‘bike licence test’ and could ride my bike on the street without parental supervision (without the test you must be 12 here to bike alone) When we were 10 my friends and I passed a swimming test and that enabled us to bike to the lake during summer / school break. We spent the whole day there swimming. We knew at what time we had to be home for dinner. It was the 80ies/90ies- so no cellphones yet. It felt great. Honestly I don’t know if I’ll be that relaxed with my own children.

  41. Lauren says...

    This is such an emotive topic and I wish I’d had the time to read all these interesting comments. I do feel, though, that it’s sometimes perceived as uncool to be protective of your kids, to want to limit their freedoms. Sometimes it comes across as a wee bit of a race to the bottom, with parents trying to out-free-range each other. I guess that in an “average”, middle-class, friendly, family-orientatied community, the chances of anything adverse happening is probably pretty low, but that isn’t entirely how we as humans measure risk. A part of risk is measured in terms of the severity of the potential consequence, and that’s very grim road t9 go down. My thinking is that all we can do is make informed, considered decisions based on the information available to us at the time, and that will be so different across the board. But I don’t think anyone should feel guilty for wanting to protect their kids based on their unique knowledge of their circumstances and their kids themselves.

    think that given the fact that risks and dangers vary so significantly

    • Madie says...

      Favorite comment. Spot on!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      100% agree. i think every parent should be able to parent as they see fit. as my mom always says, “you are the expert on your child.”

    • Cindy says...

      💯 spot on!

  42. Amy says...

    My kids are a little too young (4+2) to be playing outside on their own yet, but I think about this A Lot. I really resist the idea of parenting ruled by fear, but I am also a Millennial mom, in this generation where it doesn’t seem ok to have no one “watching” your kid at all times. Just yesterday I was cooking dinner and my kids were playing alone in their bedrooms (which I encourage because I want to cook by myself, frankly). It occurred to me that I can now just trust my 2 year old not to put something in her mouth and choke on it. Crazy! Our street is a quiet cul-de-sac in a quiet suburb, and our neighbors do let their kids play and ride bikes- all the kids are trained to holler “CAR!” which sends everyone scrambling for side of the road grass. I do think in the next year we’ll be starting to let our older kid play outside by himself.

  43. mara says...

    times are way too different. there are way too many instances where children are abducted or attempted to be taken. I know people say we just hear about it more now bc of the news and facebook however now that we are more aware of it, why wouldn’t we be more cautious. Times have changed. When I was younger, 9, I could ride my bike without a worry in the world as far as I could imagine. Now, there are current notices in my town about an attempted abduction from a fenced backyard. The man came in and chased after two young girls, who thankfully screamed so loud the man eventually ran away. My town is a “safe” suburb on Long Island. My town is the town I grew up in. Times have changed and it is no longer safe for young children to be alone.

    • fanshen says...

      This is actually statistically false. There are not more child abductions than there were in the 70’s, 80’s, the world is technically safer in regards to crimes, so i find it fascinating that people feel it is not.. I mean, i get it to, the fear, but it is not based in actual data.

    • Leah says...

      Sometimes when people say “times have changed,” I think they actually mean “I’m the parent now.” It’s actually safer to be a kid now than 30 years ago, but because we are the parents and responsible for their lives, we FEEL like the world is a more dangerous place. For sure, my parents were just as concerned back then as I am now, but they gave me ample freedom and I felt carefree.

    • Tasha says...

      Good thing you’re not black. We have to worry about the police killing our children for no reason.

    • Madeleine says...

      Times are different–and yes, they are always changing. It is every parent’s/guardian’s decisions on how to raise their kids, but statistically, regarding child abductions, you are incorrect. Since 1997, reports of child abductions/missing children in the US are DOWN by 40% (source: FBI’s data spanning decades). Given that the US population has risen by 30%, it is actually more than 40% down.

      Again, you know your area best and you make the decisions, but I think sharing incorrect information like this contributes to this problem and adds to the fear that kids are not safe, anywhere. “Kids are dying less. They’re being killed less. They’re getting hit by cars less. And they’re going missing less frequently, too. The likelihood of any of these scenarios is both historically low and infinitesimally small.”

      https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2015/04/14/theres-never-been-a-safer-time-to-be-a-kid-in-america/?utm_term=.9a71a4d70a3d

    • t says...

      We chose to teach our kids about tricky people and have advised them that if anyone ever tries to grab them that they scream and fight and keep screaming with all their might until their voice runs out. they are only 5 and i know that is a little scary for them but I want to provide the tools in the unlikely chance this happens. And then I have nightmares. Literal nightmares about it.

      I know I can reduce their chances of abduction, of injury, of pain, etc if I keep them in a bubble but for us we instead weigh the risks and allow them independence. We let them climb trees (high trees!), let them wander the neighborhood, take them hiking and swimming and skiing (chairlifts!) and leave them with babysitters and go sailing and ride in cars and fly on airplanes and eat carrots and hot dogs and hard candy and grapes (all choking hazards) and sleep downstairs with their windows open while we are upstairs. These are just some of the millions of things that scare me.

      And actually, choking or drowning is much more terrifying to me than abduction. Luckily we have also taught our kids to take small bites of hot dogs and bite their grapes and they are now expert 5 year old swimmers so they have those tools too (tools they use regularly). I hope they never need to use their tricky person tools.

  44. Layne says...

    My mom used to let my brother and I walk around our city while she was at work. We would get a few buck and head to the public library, coffee shop and farmer’s market. It was a little scary but one of my fondest childhood memories!

  45. wendy says...

    I was a free range kid of the 70s living in Ottawa (Canada’s capital) and vividly remember walking to kindergarten alone and spending most days outside with friends.
    My mother made sure that my brothers and I were well schooled in “street smarts” and “stranger danger” and set up a stranger password we used if anyone said they were sent to pick us up (they had to give us the right password before we went with them).
    My son (who is 21 now) was a free range kid in an urban area in Ottawa. Like my mother I made sure he was well versed in “street smarts” and “stranger danger” and we also had the same stranger password system set up. At 5 he flew as an unaccompanied minor to visit his grandparents and starting at about 7 he was comfortable walking to school on his own (my biggest concern was him getting distracted by the candy store and bakery he had to pass on his way to school). At 10 he was confident and comfortable staying home alone for a couple hours. He was also comfortable going into any of the stores in our downtown community (making a community and knowing your neighbors regardless of where you live is so very important) if he needed help when he was “roaming” with friends. At 10 he had a cell phone (for emergencies only) and I also knew roughly where he was going to be.
    In my mind, the key to embracing free range parenting is making sure both you and your child are comfortable and confident, you get to know your community…it takes a village after all, and you have solid rules that MUST be followed.
    2 years ago (at 18) my son left home moving to Vancouver (4500 kms away from me but who’s counting!). I like to think I gave him the skills he needed to be comfortable making his way to a new city soooo far away to start his next life adventure.

  46. TGS says...

    Sort of different, but on the topic of “alone” this makes me think about at what age is a babysitter no longer needed? When I was 9 years old, my mother started leaving me at home (day or night, for hours on end; before cell phones were a thing!) with my 6, 5 and 3 year old siblings (girl and BOYS!). I am genuinely still traumatized by this, 20 years later. Do I sound like a whiny millennial (we previously lost a family member in a tragic house fire)? I begged for a “real” babysitter to come, but my mother would just wait until we went to bed and still leave afterwards, if I fussed. I was definitely a scared-y cat, but I did not feel well-equipped to care for 3 humans at that age. And I wasn’t even sure I personally wanted to be at home alone (mainly at night) at that age. And I definitely wasn’t paid. I am curious, at what ages do you see yourself leaving Toby and Anton home alone? I babysit frequently now and I am occasionally babysitting a younger sibling, while the older sibling is also at home with us but instead “alone”. This is so the older sibling has independence to be at home “without a babysitter”, but does not feel responsible to care for his/her younger sibling(s) and also, the younger sibling(s) feel secure and cared for. While the older sibling is in charge of all decisions for him/herself, I am of course there if something were to happen. I love this idea and so wish my mother would have considered this (and generally considered anyone else’s needs other than her own)!

    • Katha says...

      German mum here.

      I like this babysitting setup where you watch the younger one(s) so the older sibling gets to be home alone. Great concept.

      I also understand that you did not like your mother‘s way. Imho being responsible for such young kids – even siblings – is a lot to ask from a 9 year old.

      My kids are 8, 5 and 2.
      The oldest one gets to be alone at home (sometimes with a friend) if I need to run errands or pickup her sisters from daycare. Until now I‘m comfortable with like 1 hour tops. Mostly it’s less. She knows how to call me and I call her if I‘m gone longer than I intitially said I would be so she doesn’t need to worry.

      The 5 y.o. stays home alone for short amounts of time (like 10-15 min, usually distracted with a video or a game) if I need to get something from nearby.
      I would leave them alone together for a bit longer but she‘s not very reliable yet and I don’t think her big sister has to have the responsibility to watch her.

      The little can play with the others outside in the backyard without an adult watching all the time. But she’s always my responsibility so I‘m always checking in and never really leave her (a.k.a. leave the house) with her siblings.

    • Lauren says...

      Oh TGS, I feel for you. I was an only child but would not have liked to have been left in charge of younger siblings at that age, and would have been upset if I’d articulated that and been ignored! I have a nearly 5-yr old who is very sensible, but I can’t imagine leaving him in charge of his 2.5yrs younger brother until he’s at least early teens. Does that sound crazy protective?!

  47. Sara says...

    Thank you for this! I also live in NYC and my son and a friend like to ride bike home from school together; they both will turn 5 in a month. The boys are both on regular bikes (no training wheels) and so go much faster than their parents who are walking behind. It’s about a mile but we can go through a park where you don’t need to cross the street at all. The boys know to stop in the park at our street. My husband (and the other dad) is great at just letting them go, knowing he will catch up with them in 10-15 minutes and the worst thing that is likely to happen is that one falls off the bike and sheds a few tears (which hasn’t happened yet). I however feel like I have to run the whole way (and of course I’m always wearing terrible shoes) just because I’ve heard neighborhood parents ask “where are your parents?” Your story is making me more confident to just let them be!

  48. Emily says...

    I grew up in rural West Virginia on a 72-acre farm, so we were too far for us to walk to a store, gas station, etc. However, we played outside by ourselves a lot. Even though we were so rural and the risk of anything happening was small, my parents would sit on the front porch while we played so if something happened they would know. Or they watched out the kitchen windows if we played in the back yard. We got to be independent, but we always knew they weren’t far away. My mom was a nurse and often saw the aftermath of children’s accidents, so she might have been a little more cautious than most. It also taught me that there are real dangers out there. Now I’m a news reporter and hear about so many accidents involving children being unsupervised in pools, hit by cars, injured in falls, etc. These things do happen and far often that most people realize.

  49. Lisa says...

    I come from Hamburg, a big city in Germany. Here it is absolutely normal that children play alone outside or go to the bakery alone for the first time at the age of about 3-4 years. School children also walk to school alone or ride their bikes. The police encourage parents to let their children go off on their own, as these children become more independent. They are therefore better able to help themselves and are less likely to become victims of road accidents

  50. Emily Wachelka says...

    I live in Germany where as your article noted it is quite typical for children to gain freedom, bit by bit. First graders receive police training to walk to school alone. Later they must earn their bike license so they can ride.

    Most of the public children’s projects are focused on encouraging independence. There is a project called “mini Munich” where kids 7-12 run a whole city. They find a job as a garbage collector, or a taxi driver, a city planner or an architect, they work at the bakery or the florist… The kids make the rules and build the city, they can even study and get their degree! Parents drop their kids off and pick them up at the end of the day. There are 2500 kids there! And they are on their own for the most part.

    I think that Germany does a wonderful job of preparing children, and then teachers, gradually for independence in the real world by providing support and knowledge and CHANCES to practice their independence. In my opinion this is different than just sending kids out into the world unprepared.

    It really irks me that kids in the US are so overprotected and not allowed to really do anything until suddenly they are 18 and they are set free on their own.

  51. Danielle says...

    I’m a pediatrician pursuing more specialized training in pediatric emergency medicine in a medium-sized city in the U.S. which can be looked at through two different lenses: 1- I have selection bias, since I see the worst of the worst; 2- I am far more aware than the average person about the breadth and awfulness of things that can and do happen to kids. The majority of the awful things that I see in the ER don’t make it into public awareness. Sometimes it is bad people who do awful things, but often it’s accidents or preventable injuries. I’ll never fault a parent for “over” supervising the kids. However, I’ve had many parents blame themselves for not supervising more- and that is a special kind of awful for any parent.

    Also, a note on child protective services in light of some of the comments here. CPS exists to protect kids and promote safe, healthy families. It is not meant to be punitive, and the organizations are not trying to “take away people’s children.” I know it feels scary and threatening when CPS is called, but the people who do this work are doing the best they can to ensure kids are safe and families have the resources they need to care for those kids. We always, ALWAYS err on the side of caution as mandated reporters because the worst case scenario for us is a missed case that ends in a dead or permanently damaged child. It’s our worst nightmare in these circumstances. And probably any CPS worker or pediatrician you talk to can tell at least one such story. Myself included.

    • writergal says...

      Accidents and preventable injuries are what frighten me the most, a mother of a 3 year-old and 7-month old. We have trained our toddler to hold our hand while crossing the street, not to speak to strangers, etc. However, I keep a close eye on my kids and don’t feel an ounce of guilt for my eagle eye. My husband and I both see it as our #1 job to ensure their safety while they are too young to understand the consequences of their actions in terms of their safety. Thanks for your perspective.

    • Rachel says...

      I agree with you. I’m a pediatrician working with foster children. The stories I can tell you are harrowing and I’ve only been working in this role for the past year or so. At least in my city, CPS is doing the best they can with minimal resources. Most of my foster parents are wonderful, not what you think of when you think of the foster system (I know that there are exceptions). The rules that cps follows usually stem from children with bad outcomes. We all need to be diligent with our kids and find the best balance between freedom and safety.

      I think children probably shouldn’t be left alone until they can reliably handle an emergency and be able to call 911. Every child is different but developmentally this is probably around 10 or 11. A few states even have laws against leaving children home alone. My kiddos are really little now so I don’t know how I will feel about it when they are a little older, but I’m the mom who still has her three year old facing backwards so they my kids will probably be co-dependent screw ups living with me til they are thirty.

  52. Bonnie says...

    We live in Germany, where it’s common for kids to be on their own, and it’s also common for the hairdresser to have a few Playboys among the stack of magazines… You know where this is headed?

    Our friend Charlie, who’s 10 years old, recently went to get his first haircut without his dad. I asked him how it went. He said, “Oh, it was fine.” And then whispered, “I got to look at ‘the magazine!'”

  53. Kate says...

    This topic is so dear to me! We recently moved from Chicago, where we lived in the city on a quiet block and our 7 and 5 year old played outside unsupervised with the other neighborhood kids every day. They came inside happy, tired, and bursting with confidence from navigating the street and the dynamics between friends. (Of course we teach them about safety and strangers and have boundaries for street crossing and distance, etc.) We now live in a lovely neighborhood in LA, where there is significantly less crime. A lot of kids live here (I’ve seen them walk from their cars to their front doors) but we have NEVER seen anyone playing outside. When my kids are outside alone they have no one to play with and if they see an adult neighbor, they are brought home by them or asked where their parents are. It makes me very sad. I think I learned from this blog – back when my oldest was a baby – that babies enjoy being outside because things happen. Wind blows the trees, people walk by, dogs bark, etc. The same is true for kids and grown-ups! Outside is where all the magic happens!

  54. Em says...

    No. In our yard yes. But we are in the country. I once let my older daughters walk down our road in the ditch. They could see our house the whole time. 3 cars past them. One called CPS. I decided that day it wasn’t worth it. It was the only direction they could go and not meet a pack of dogs. But I was told it was unsafe and not to allow it again. When CPS says that I’m not interested in fighting their stupidity. So I walk with them.

  55. Shade says...

    I’m not sure about this whole “Give the kids free range and they won’t be anxious adults” argument. I was a total free range kid – parents let us go around alone wherever, whenever. Now that I’m grown up with my own 5 year old, I’m beyond anxious. That free range lifestyle did not build my confidence or independence like they claim. I’m really an over-anxious mess most of the time. Just sayin.

  56. Hannah says...

    Wow so interesting to read through comments. I live in Canada, and have a baby daughter and expecting baby number two. I wonder about this for their futures. As a child we were out in alone from about 8 if memory serves. I feel like there’s an age where children are more aware of the world and can be educated about things like how to scream for help, who is safe, etc etc and I feel like that age is somewhere between 8-10 (obv depending on he child). I not only fear people but also environment, like cars that speed way too fast down our suburban street etc. I would love to shed these fears but I dont see that happening because i feel my job is her safety first and her happiness second. Question though, do you all feel like this is different if you have boys vs girls. I honestly dont know but I just was raised that girls are to be taken care of especially if that makes sense, again my experience is limited coming from a family of five girls but having grown up best friends with Male cousins. Just curious…

    • Genevieve Martin says...

      Yes I think society definitely treats girls and boys differently here, both conciously and subconsciously acting like girls need to be “protected” while boys need to be allowed to go out and explore and be “brave and adventurous”. I think that really shapes women’s world views, making them less likely to take risks and be independent… but there should be no difference in kids who are boys or girls!! Both should be allowed the same level of adventure and given the same level of protection (the “levels” being dependant on environment of course). I think it’s so incredibly important to teach kids that they deserve to be treated the same regardless of gender from birth and for the rest of their lives. :)

  57. proleta says...

    I love reading the comments section and always learn so much. I was wondering what parents of non-caucasian kids, who don’t live in diverse cities feel about this. I would love to give my 6 yo more independence but am so worried about any hurtful comments she may face.
    I just want to preserve her beautiful image of the world as long as I can …

    • I grew up in the country, surrounded by corn fields. My parents would let us kids roam around and play hide and seek in the corn. I’d be alone for hours, walking through the woods and wild grasses, feeling rich when I stumbled upon a patch of blackberries or a lone sunshiney daffodil. Almost every day I think back to that wandering during stressful moments and it calms me. My parents have talked about exploring as kids too, my dad down a creek in a tiny boat and my mom to the candy store in Germany. I think they instinctively knew it was important. If I ever have kids, I want to instill that in them, too. I’m not sure what that looks like in a city, but I think there’s a happy balance somewhere to be found.

  58. Sarah Prestwood says...

    What a difficult topic! I love the idea of letting my kids do simple errands by themselves when they are a little older, but I have mixed feelings about unsupervised play. We live in family student housing and our apartment backs up to a shared courtyard/playground in which supervision runs the gamut depending on the family. I worry that if my son is playing unsupervised, even though the area is fenced and it feels safe, he will be mean or physical with his younger sister or another child and will not have any consequence for it. Is being afraid of letting kids get away with stuff just a modern parenting dilemma? What do the parents who face each other to talk do when there is an altercation between a 3 and a 4 year old and they can’t tell who needs some extra guidance? Do they shrug it off? Navigating inter-family conflicts on the playground has been a struggle as a parent, and I often feel like the only tools I have to handle it are what I witnessed with my own eyes.

    Maybe the difference is independent, goal-oriented outings versus free play. Still trying to figure it out!

    • Kate says...

      Let them be! Kids will work it out their squabbles on their own if you are not hovering and if they can’t they will come to you for help.

  59. Alanna says...

    I change my mind on this all the time. But I’m not sure what to think of the argument that “crime is lower now than it used to be when kids roamed free.” Couldn’t it be possible that crime is lower because we’re holding our children closer? How do we know there’s not causation there? I am all about free range parenting (my kids are just toddlers but I really hope to let them run free) but this is not an argument that to me holds up to logic. Of course, I suppose we could compare it to other countries, but even then it’s not like for like, if that makes sense.

  60. Kate says...

    I regularly see a registered sex offender walk the trails in our woodsie town. It doesn’t necessarily make me think that he’s going to do something again, but it makes me think about what I don’t know about all of other people walking around in the world. Wish I could look at the world through a more positive lens, working on it. Sure not going to let my kids walk around alone on the trails though.

    • Elisabeth says...

      You nailed it. I’d like to give my 6 y/o more freedom. But. Statistics say that sex offender will offend again. And there are way more of them around us, all the time. I’m not being paranoid — that’s what the data tells us. So I watch my son until he’s old enough to fend for himself in a dangerous situation.

  61. TC says...

    My son is 15 months old and I try to let him roam the house and yard on his own for the most part. I always know where he is, but I give him space, and it’s amazing how many people want to helicopter-parent for me! Sometimes I feel like I’m being judged, but I can’t tell if it’s my head or not. I totally get the anxiety about not wanting anything to happen to your child because I feel it too, but I do think that everyone (parents/guardians/children) will be better off if we all let go a little.

  62. Leah says...

    I live in a suburb of Austin, Texas and I feel like no one lets their kids out of their sight. My 6 yr old got tired on a walk around the neighborhood so I let him walk one block home by himself while I finished my exercise. He didn’t even have to cross the street. He reported that in that ONE BLOCK a neighbor stopped him to ask “where’s your mom?” He felt like he’d done something wrong. Sigh.

    Meanwhile, we used to go to Six Flags alone for a whole day in sixth grade. No WAY people do that anymore!

  63. Alina says...

    I’m a parent of a 3 year old and one year old and honestly…I am afraid! We live in a safe community in New England but, still, there’s lots to worry about. It seems hard for me to imagine right now (letting them go out alone) but isn’t that most of parenting? We grow as our kids grow. I hope I can foster A LOT of independence in both of them, while teaching them how to be safe in the modern world. I am loving this discussion, thank you for starting it!!!

  64. Cyn says...

    Raised my adventurous boys in a small town in Kansas but still kept a close eye on them! We were able to let them ride their bikes a mile down the road for ice cream (ages 6 and 9). They had orders to go a certain way and then walk their bikes across the busy part. Now they are both salmon fishermen in Alaska. Captains! My advice is give them as much freedom as you safely can. Trust your judgement and don’t worry about what others think!

  65. Caitlin says...

    I am not a Mom yet, and I admit that I don’t know what it feels like to send your little one out on their own, particularly in a place like NYC. However, I am often thankful that as a child my parents let me run around the neighborhood to my heart’s content. It definitely kept me from sitting in front of a screen too much, but beyond that, I wholeheartedly believe that it helped me to develop a sense of independence and confidence that I STILL lean on in my twenties. It is a scary world no matter what age you take it on, and I am so grateful to have had a chance to take baby steps. Thank you, Mom and Dad, for letting me have a little freedom even when it was scary for you and I was ignoring your yelling from the front porch that dinner was ready.

  66. Anna says...

    I am kind of relieved to read Kim Brooks’ article because I have experienced something very similar in the state in which the accusation on Kim was made (Virginia.) I lived in that same agonizing terror and shame as I waited for Child Protective Services to make their calls and for the case to be ultimately dismissed. After the CPS case was opened I reached out to three mothers in my community (one in her mid 60s, one in her 40s, and my best friend who is in her mid 20s.) I was shocked all three mothers had their own story of cases opened by the CPS against them. All three affirmed my mothering in a time of my own great distress. I’m sure the group of mothers I reached out to are mothers very similar to most readers here. Mm so much judgement in parenting today. It is crippling.

  67. Jenn says...

    We don’t live within walking distance of anything but a busy street. I grew up near shops and was sent on errands as a kid but that just isn’t an option for our kiddo. Not sure how that’s going to work out.

  68. Stacy says...

    We love in a small town in Montana. We let our kids, 10 and 11, have a certain level of independence, and I love how much they love adventuring: to friends’ houses, the mountain bike trails, and shallow spots along the creek. We always know where they are, we have clear boundaries in both time and distance, and I’m so thankful they get to have these experiences.

    My real worries come with my wonderful nephews who live far away. They are black and with every passing year, I find myself worrying about their safety more and more. I catch myself whispering out loud, ‘I love you so much, be careful,’ when I think of them out and about, doing things no one would think twice about my children doing.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      “I catch myself whispering out loud, ‘I love you so much, be careful.'” <3

    • Jeanne says...

      I’m glad you brought up that these dangers are very, if not more, real too.

    • june2 says...

      omygosh, please share that you do that with them, (in a positive way) especially as they enter pre-teen years and beyond. It helps teens so much to know that people care about them and are praying for their well-being! I was just ignored as a teen, and became really depressed. They need to know more than ever they are LOVED, even if it makes them cringe!

    • Sasha L says...

      Montana mom here too Stacy. I can’t imagine the fear you feel for your nephews. It’s real and it’s a horrible reality in our country. I’m so sorry that we don’t yet live in a just society for black people.

      When my children were young some of their very best friends moved north to Canada, three wonderful black friends. Although I was so sad to see them move far away from us I was also secretly relieved for them to move somewhere safer. So freaking messed up.

  69. Cindy D says...

    So many interesting comments. Wish I could read them all! I have two boys, 11 and 7.5 yrs, and live in a suburb of Buffalo, NY. I let my 11 year old ride his bike around the block and up to the ice cream shop or park that are nearby. I don’t let him go to the other park that he needs to cross a very busy street to get to. Though I have let him walk to school and cross the same street, cause I know there are crossing guards there during those times. He was also allowed to stay home alone this last year (when he was 10) 2 days a week for a 2.5 hr window between him getting home from school and us getting home from work. My 7 yr old is allowed to ride his bike only to each corner and back without us. He needs permission to cross any street (including our own) though I do let him do more with his older brother or older neighborhood children in tow with him. I have let them stay together in the car alone to quickly run into a store or sometimes when they are both in bed, my husband and I will lock the house up and take a 20 min neighborhood walk. I’m not nervous to leave them on their own too much or out in the world, except for cars/traffic. I’ve seen people driving while texting and have heard too many horror stories of children getting hit by cars so letting them cross busy streets is very worrisome to me.

  70. Kim says...

    I’m a parent in the US. I commented yesterday, but after mulling it over more…there’s multiple reasons I don’t let my two kids out alone, out of my sight…
    1) they’re currently very young (4+2)
    2) I did run free as a child, but also had numerous scary encounters in those years. I was sexually assaulted by older kids a few different times, almost kidnapped by a man in a car (paced alongside me walking, told me my mother had sent him, he had cookies, etc) I was normally supposed to be with my older brother, but we all know how much a kid sister can bring you down. This was in a bucolic VT small town. All these incidents may be “statistics” and have a very slim chance of happening, but part of parenting involves mitigating risk. You always think it won’t happen to you. And also, I don’t think the real likelihood is really that small. That fact is something is inherently wrong with our mental health care services in this country (or lack thereof) and there really are predators out there. And he’s, Ive been listening to too many podcasts.
    3) I’m afraid of potential legal consequences

    I do hope to let my kids foster their independence, (I try to already) but the risks outweigh the benefits in my mind right now.

    • Karin says...

      I also had a free-range childhood, and was molested twice by teen boys in the neighborhood. I let my boys, 10 and 15, have limited freedom (for example, the youngest is allowed to ride around the block alone, go to a nearby park if he’s with a friend, but he’s not allowed to ride to the market), and I’m afraid I’d let them have less independence if they were girls.

    • Sarah says...

      I agree. Growing up in the free for all of California hippy-dom 1970’s, I was left alone a lot, and also had a lot of scary experiences with older teens and men. With a lot of luck, nothing terrible ever happened, but I do think that children left on their own without oversight can get in to trouble. So many people talk about the freedom they had as children, but growing up, I knew a lot of kids who experienced things they were unprepared for. I am raising my daughter in a very sheltered way, in a very sheltered little city, and I am glad for it.

    • JB says...

      Such good points. I too had scary incidents like this as a child in a smaller city in Canada in the 80s. Of course the scariest thing is your child being taken away but I do believe in the stats and think that’s very unlikely. However it is our job to protect our children from all kinds of things and for me sexual abuse may be the biggest one. My life as a woman (not to mention the #metoo movement) has taught me that seemingly most women have experienced some degree of sexual abuse. I think the core issue here is that of fostering independence, and allowing our children to go out on their own is far from the only way to do this. I will protect my kids by holding them close but I am certainly fostering their independence in other ways.

  71. Tawni says...

    I live in Utah and they just passed a ‘Free-range parenting’ law, so parents can let their kids do more unsupervised things and not have a fear of being charged. It’s interesting that now we need laws for this, but I will gladly take it!
    Gov. Herbert: “We believe that parents know and love their children better than anybody. We also believe that absent evidence of neglect, danger or cruelty, parents have the best sense of how to teach responsibility to their children. Responsible parents should be able to let kids be kids without constantly looking over their shoulders for approval.”

    • anne says...

      I was hoping someone would comment about this! Big high five for Utah!!

  72. Jessie says...

    I live in Arlington, VA and I 100% let me kids walk around alone and stay home by themselves. There have been tons of studies of how anxious children are because they are not able to to things we were allowed to do on our own and take risks as a child so many other benefits. My daughters are 8,7 and 4. Obviously I don’t let my 4 year stay alone and walk alone but if her sisters are here and walking somewhere they will take her or if they stay home alone my 4 year old will stay with them. Our rules are No answering doors for strangers, no using the stove or oven and only play in the backyard. I’m showing my daughters how to get to the playground on their bikes so they can go alone. If they want to walk around the neighborhood alone I say that’s fine. Or if we are on a walk and they want to go back no problem. I am a big advocate of letting kids do things without adults around. We talk each day about strangers and what to do if a stranger asks you to help them and different situations. I’m lucky that I haven’t had anyone ask my daughters where their parents are or judge us.

  73. Kate says...

    This is why I’m so, so thankful I grew up at the end of a two-mile dirt road where our closest neighbors lived 1/4 mile away and were our cousins. We got to feel independent and explore the world outside our door on our own and it was relatively safe for us to do so. It’s so rare these days! We had a few basic rules we had to stick to until we got to a certain age: take the dogs with you when you explore, don’t play or swim in the creek without an adult present, come home for mealtimes, don’t leave the younger kids behind, and stay within shouting distance in case our parents had to call for us to come home. We learned so much from growing up like that, especially that we can be capable and independent! I’m hoping my future kids can be similarly blessed with the freedom I had.

  74. linde says...

    I live in an ultra-safe, progressive, expensive community. Once, I was out of town and my husband was single-parenting. On a very cool day in the fall he took our kids – all over the age of 6 – to the local grocery store, parked right near the front door, (his first mistake), locked the car, and ran in to grab milk and bread. When he came out five minutes later, the store security guard and a police officer were waiting. They were knocking on the window to try to get the kids to open the doors. The kids thought it was hilarious. When my husband complained about the ridiculous fuss being made, the police officer said he totally agreed but he had to come because they’d received over ten calls! I really think there are some weird double-standards when it comes to parenting in America, especially in “progressive” communities. It’s considered completely kosher to leave your kids in childcare all day long and send them to sleep-away camp for most of the summer, but if you choose to be more hands-on or you can’t afford extra help, your every move is scrutinized. A lot of this seems less about safety and care and more about control and judgment. Ugh.

    • I agree with you 100%. A couple of years ago I decided there was less risk if I parked near the front door of the grocery store, gave my oldest money, and sent him to buy the couple of items we needed while I sat in the car with the younger two. Totally stupid that the risk I was avoiding was having somebody call the police on me if I had been the one to run into the store.

    • Hillary says...

      I have so many memories of playing in the car with my siblings while my mom ran into the store/post office/dry cleaners!

    • Taylor says...

      Oh I feel you! My husband keeps telling me I’m going to get CPS called on me for doing similar things. I often park at the front, lock the car, hazards on, etc then run in to grab- ie my pre-ordered coffee or bread or milk etc. Unloading/loading 3 kids and walking through a parking lot, statistically speaking is greater risk of being hit by a car than abduction etc.

      https://www.npr.org/sections/13.7/2016/08/22/490847797/why-do-we-judge-parents-for-putting-kids-at-perceived-but-unreal-risk

  75. Meesh says...

    I agree there is a lot of judgment when it comes to parenting, but free-range parenting would feel like more a possibility, I think, if it were still socially acceptable to speak to someone else’s child (if it seems they’re in trouble or frightened or otherwise in danger) or help them (if they’re lost or hurt). Once when I was entering a store with my 3 kids, a man was holding a girl of about 2 who was absolutely hysterical. Something about how unkempt he was, and the gruff way he was handling her and the pitch of her cries told my gut something was amiss. But I said nothing. No one in the store – dozens of other people – said anything. We all figured, I’m guessing, it was likely a tantrum and were thinking about the awkward fall-out if he did turn out to be the girl’s guardian. (Do I even have the right to request someone prove their parenting rights to a child I don’t know?!) But I was bothered by the “what if” and googled missing children in that city for weeks afterward. Had I seen her face on a news page, I never would have forgiven myself.
    One of the reasons I hesitate to give my eldest, 9, more freedom isn’t because of meddling neighbours inquiring about why she’s alone…but for fear if she were to meet danger, that NO ONE WOULD HELP HER. For context, I live in a sleepy town of about 12,000 in Canada with very little crime. Yet, our local theatre recently showed a film – at the local authorities’ request – about the real danger of human trafficking in our area and how to protect our children.
    I don’t have any answers – just a whole lot of questions! – but I do see both sides.

  76. Marlena says...

    I was raised free to run the neighborhood, with parents who refused entry back into our house on weekends until the street lights were on. It was glorious and scary sometimes. We used neighbors hoses to cool off in the summer and you could always find us wherever our bikes were piled up, but never inside! When my kids were younger, I would let them run outside in the same way, barefoot with their bikes and friends and a rule that they could only come inside if they had to use the bathroom. But times had changed by then and I became labeled by the other moms as “Mindless Marlena” and ostracized me because I wasn’t outside hovering over my children the way they did. These moms would literally snicker quietly whenever I came outside. My thinking was that my kids didn’t need me there telling them how to see the world around them. I let them figure that out for themselves and trusted that they could do it. So, needless to say I ignored that lazy excuse for name calling and continued to let my kids be kids. It’s one of the things I’m most proud of looking back.

    • june2 says...

      That is hideous behavior (those snickers). Seriously, these kinds of women scare the crap out of me. I hope you moved!

  77. Tass says...

    I don’t have kids but thought I’d post this of kids in Japan (as mentioned in the article) going to the store alone! Very cute and extremely Japanese. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e5k5XTZy0rA

  78. Jo says...

    Growing up in the 90’s in Cape Town, I remember aways being allowed to walk to the local cafe to get an ice cream. I was usually with my older brothers, but the thrill of being out and about without parents was real. I remember walking to and from my dance lessons when I was 8 years old. It never occurred to us that it may be dangerous, it was just practical, a means to get to and from somewhere.
    My parents still live in the same house I grew up in, and when I look at how busy their little town has become and how much crime has become an issue, there is no way I would allow my son to explore the way we did as kids. It makes me sad that he wont have the same freedom, but I am just not as trusting of the world as my parents were able to be when I was a child.

  79. Stacey says...

    I can validate the Japanese style of free-range parenting: when I was visiting last year I was on a busy street in Shibuya in the early evening and up walks a little girl (no more than 7 years old most likely) wearing a little tiny karate uniform with a pink backpack, all by herself. She was so adorable and so self-determined! She crossed the street with the rest of us adults and walked a few blocks in what I assume was her home. Being an American I had a flash of “Oh no! How can she be alone so young?” and then I realized she was completely fine. It was refreshing and sweet to observe such self confidence in such a small kid :)

    • Hillary says...

      Right, but Japan has nearly no violent crime. Look up their statistics. It’s extremely different and impossible to compare letting your child wander in these two very different countries and cultures.

  80. Jess says...

    My dad was the principal of the high school in the small town in Alabama where I grew up. I wasn’t allowed to stay home during the day (we lived way out on the country) when I was in elementary school and he worked all summer, so I went to school with him every day. My bike lived in the teacher’s lounge and from the time I got there in the morning till it was time to go in the afternoon, I was on my own and free on my bike. My friends that lived in that neighborhood and I would bike everywhere, to the City Pool, through every neighborhood in town, under bridges, exploring creepy spots, taking breaks and visiting others throughout the day. We would save change to buy snacks at the local gas station (is there any greater joy than a choosing your own junk food as a kid?? NO. There is not.) One summer, my dad boarded my house at a barn on the outskirts of town and I even saddled her up and rode her into town every day alone, always visiting the locally owned ice cream shop on the way back. There were 8,000 different ways in which horrible things could have happened to me, but they didn’t. And I learned how to make good decisions truly on my own and not under the watchful eye of an adult. It may seem like it gives it too much credit, but I think those years of baby stepping into freedom gave me the courage (and desire!) to feel good about eventually moving away to college and beyond. I wasn’t taught to be brave, I was allowed to be brave.

  81. Betsy says...

    I stopped to pick up my 13 year old daughter while she was walking home from her bus stop last year. I drive a rusty old car and live in a upper/middle class neighborhood. It probably looked very suspicious. We live a couple miles from a strip mall that I would let her walk to but it is on a 2 lane road without sidewalks and the speed limit is 55. I envy walkable cities.

  82. Sarah Lancaster says...

    Funny story about the first time my mom let me go to the public restroom alone… we were at the beach, and when I came back she asked me how it was. I replied “fine, but there were a lot of boys in the girls bathroom”.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      hahahahahaha

  83. We own a little lunch counter in a town outside of Austin, and my five and seven year old children will make deliveries around the town square or run just across the bridge to the bank to get change for the till. They are so proud to do these little errands all on their own!

    I feel like people are always looking out for them. The ladies at the bank will watch until they get 1/2 way across the bridge, and when they bring someone their lunch they always have a nice chat and get a big tip or sometimes even a little present! They have their favorite shop owners, and sometimes they’ll just go for a visit if they haven’t seen someone for a while. I think it’s neat that they are learning how to move through the world on their own and are creating their own relationships and dynamics with other people, it’s really beautiful to watch. <3

  84. Sanaa Rahman says...

    Can I be a bit of a devil’s advocate here? I’m also a mama (to a 20 month old, in Brooklyn) so I find myself thinking about this all the time these days and I’m still not sure what path we’ll go with BUT, to those worried that being a little extra watchful in our urban settings will create fearful, coddled kiddos, I don’t think that’s fair either. I grew up in Manila, a bustling, crowded developing country megalopolis as an expat where kidnappings for ransom were common. So yes, my parents were extra mindful my entire childhood and beyond our back yard or the homes of friends, we were seldom unchaperoned. We even had a driver drop us to our gated, high security school and nannies walk with us in the mall! But I don’t think that in any way stunted my ability to grow up into an independent and well adjusted adult, moving on my own to the United States at 18 and to NYC soon after. Knowing I came from a secure home and loving family is really what allowed me to feel safe and confident going out into the world.

    • Chantelle says...

      Love this! Well said!!

    • Lizzy says...

      I found this post surprising having heard from friends who have experienced / had siblings experience being hit by a car while riding a bike or walking, kidnapping, and physical assault. I have also heard lots of name calling, requests for money, etc. etc. I wish the world was safer.

    • Lucy says...

      Thank you for this comment.

    • Erin says...

      Yes, I commented on this earlier. I have family members who were sexually assaulted by relatives and babysitters. And in the four short years I have been a mother, I have had three separate friends/colleagues lose their children to tragic deaths. Of course we must not be driven by fear, but being judged as a modern anxious or “helicopter parent” is not kind. And, on a related note to this general conversation, we often look at our own experiences and attribute our happiness or current success to those circumstances. That doesn’t mean we wouldn’t have been just as happy or independent or successful given other circumstances.

    • Caroline says...

      Thank you for this sensible comment. I was also thinking that people tend to think in an either/or way without knowing about true causation. Lots of people grew up as “free-range” kids and had great childhoods, and most of them grew up healthy (but not all). Lots of people grew up sheltered and had great childhoods, and most of them grew up healthy (but not all). There are so many influences and experiences during any one childhood that I think we should not make blanket judgments regarding which of these is “better.”

      One particular point: I remember learning (during ed psych, I think) about studies showing that kids need to be quite old (I can’t remember exactly, but I think around 11) to be able to accurately judge distance and car speeds well enough to be safe crossing all but the quietest, smallest streets.

  85. Caro says...

    I’m living in Germany with my two boys (8+10). The month before school started for my 1st grader I got a letter from the school reminding the parents to practice the way to school with the children, because parents are supposed not to accompany them to school. So my boys walk every morning about 20-25 minutes, meeting their classmates on the way. Home they need up to an hour because of exploring :-) . In the 4th grade they practice together with the police (4 times) how to properly ride a bike in the traffic and they have to pass a theoretical and practical test to get their bike licence.
    As I am working long hours my boys do regularly the food shopping (starting when my oldest was 7 years old). I write them a list and after school they will go to the grocery stores on their own.
    They also ride their bikes alone to soccer practice, to go swimming in the lake or to visit a friend.
    As I write this (8 p.m. here) there are about 10 unaccompanied kids in the street in front of our house (the youngest one maybe 4) playing some sort of very loud game :-)

  86. Justine says...

    The only reason I wouldn’t is because of fear of judgement or worse. I am in favor of the free range parenting model, but our society here in the U.S. does not support it.

    • Anna says...

      That’s true Justine! “Judgement or worse.” I’ve read the horror storries and heard mothers I respect relay jaw dropping information on CPS getting involved when strangers/neighbors report a child out on their own. Glad for blog posts like this one to get people thinking.

  87. Nina says...

    Such a hot button. One of my friends on facebook posted a link to that article and another mother came in and was outraged a police officer had stood next to her car at an airport and chastised her when she returned after leaving her 4 kids under age 5 alone in it. And because I said I agreed with the officer (or at least thought she shouldn’t be mad someone was watching out for her kids) since she said she left them alone, windows open and went INTO AN AIRPORT to take an item to the passenger who had left it in her car (who has ever found someone quickly in an airport) I was cursed and told to not be judgemental.

    My viewpoint comes from 1. being a single mother with no family around for 10+ years and 2. having been a child welfare attorney.

    Kids don’t always want to get out. Sometimes I will leave my son in a car. Especially now that he is older. But he’s a naturally cautious kid so he’s hyper-vigilant. Part of me trying to be more relaxed is to not add to his fear of life. So I might be stressed out but I don’t let him know.

    He grew up in Utah and then we moved to Florida and now Georgia. Honestly, the roads were flatter and safer where we lived in Utah so he was allowed around our buildings to scooter, bike, and with friends. I do try to make him go into stores by himself sometimes and order things. I think kids need to learn that. I was buying stuff at the corner store with my precious pennies as a 4-year-old in Philadelphia. My dad would send me down to the corner bar to get him a beer and I’d bring it home.

  88. Isabel vazquez says...

    Hi! I love this story. I’m a spaniard living in Spain and the general consensus here is that the ideal state for children to be in is “out all day, only coming in if they get very hungry”. Not that this can actually be achieved in an urban environment, full of cars, but it remains the ideal and I perceive people lean towards that whenever they can. You’ll sometimes hear the bit about not talking to strangers because it’s dangerous, and to that generally someone will say it’s ridiculous, people talking is what makes neighborhoods safe to begin with, and the lesson is not to go with strangers, which is different. I do plan to live abroad at some time, but I must say this attitude is something I very highly value…

  89. Lauren says...

    I left my sleeping 2 month old in his stroller in our front lawn, while I played a game of tag with my 2 year old. We were running all around our house and often the baby was out of sight. Our neighbor then rang the doorbell to tell my husband that the baby had been left alone. I refuse to let my kids grow up fearful of this world — but it’s very difficult to stick to that when everyone else around us is a nervous Nellie.

    • Leah says...

      I tried to teach my kids the whole don’t-talk-to-strangers thing but they called me out: “Mom, you talk to everyone we see!” And it’s true. I want them to do the same- make friendly conversation and be social with strangers and friends alike. So, we now talk about the kinds of conversations that are appropriate and those that aren’t. We talk about trusting your instincts if something feels wrong, and about never, ever going with a stranger or getting in their car.

  90. Franziska says...

    I don’t have children (yet?), but I am German and I used to walk or ride my bike around all on my own. Granted I was raised in a small town, which is ridiculously safe compared to the U.S. cities I’ve lived in so far.
    I also have two older brothers (9 and 12 years – my parents to a LONG break before having me) and they always did everything on their own. My parents broke up when I was 3 years old, so when I – the only girl in the family – was old enough to go off on my own, no one really questioned it because my brothers had done it before and they turned out fine. I noticed that I was maybe more independent than my girlfriends during our teenage years, when they would always be picked up by their parents I would walk or bike home on my own. I also remember how my eldest brother told my mom to drive me at night because I was a girl, after all, haha.
    I really appreciate having learned independence at such a young age when I moved away for uni, because I was just not as “afraid” as many other of my female friends. Of course, I am making responsible decisions about where and when to walk around on my own… but I do not mind it as much.

  91. Jo says...

    I keep reading the comments, trying to decide on my particular stance; what I’m really taking away from it all is that parenting is just a never-ending slew of decision-making, every day just trying to create a life full of joy and wonder and humility for these new little people. Sometimes in the morning I find myself thinking, “I’ve probably made 45 decisions already and it’s only 8 am.” How exhausting, right?! So long story short, maybe one day I’d let my sweet six year old walk to the deli and the next day I wouldn’t. I just hope he grows up knowing how much I cared, over and over and over.

    And I love this blog :).

    • Anni says...

      Exactly!! All these decisions all day long :)

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      oh, jo, i love this comment so much.

    • Sanaa Rahman says...

      i love every word of this jo, so true. it’s 2:20 pm so i’m with you, been exhausted for hours at this point ;-)

  92. Samantha says...

    It seems like a very simple solution here would be a security camera! You could let the boys play out on the sidewalk, and be able to “watch” or check in on them from your phone or laptop!
    I really believe that a prominently installed security camera is a huge deterrent for all sorts of crimes.

  93. Alex says...

    I always have my kids order for themselves and if we’re in a fast food place they run little errands for more ketchup etc. We’re three miles from the nearest grocery store (not quite feasible for a five year old to travel solo yet). That said I’ve had someone pull up outside my house to ask if I knew my kid was playing in the yard without me!

    • Justine says...

      ugh – this is the stuff that i hate! my god, why couldn’t your child be in the yard playing on their own?? we’re parents not prison guards

    • Leslie says...

      Sounds like we live in a similar place- rural. I guess I free range my kids on our property (woods & yard) and that doesn’t freak me out at all. But in a city with traffic and people?! That’s a different story -but I am intimidated and stressed by the latter so it really is just whatever you are comfortable with.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      it’s funny, leslie, because we were upstate a few weekends ago and i was nervous to let anton wander around the huge woodsy garden by himself. i kept thinking of some bears we had seen in the area once before. whereas our brooklyn neighborhood feels SO safe to me; we know the sweet guys at the deli, the families who live around us, etc.

  94. Sara B. says...

    My oldest son just started 4th Grade and he’ll be riding his bike 1 1/2 miles to and from school each day. He’s also allowed to ride to the local park and his friend’s houses in our suburban Northern California neighborhood. He (as well as most of his friends) doesn’t have a cell phone so the other parents and I communicate by texting when they’re heading to someone else house, back home, etc. My son also knows to check in regularly and confirm that I know where he is. Does it make me nervous sometimes? Yes! But what makes me more nervous is the thought of my children growing up fearful of the world, and incapable of being independent and self-sufficient.

  95. Amanda says...

    I grew up in a small town in Ohio and was allowed to ride my bike all over from about 2-3 grade (we are the same age) but my treat of choice was Oatmeal Creme Pies :) I rode alone or with friends and the only thing said to me was to tell my parents “hello.” I hate that my daughter will not have the same freedom and independence. I think when you’re on your own it makes you take more responsibility because you don’t have adults thinking for you and therefore, you gain so much confidence.

  96. Sarah McFarland says...

    We live just 10 minutes outside of Atlanta. Its one of the few communities that encourages children to walk to school alone. The city posts crossing guards at all major intersection during the morning and afternoon walking hours. School buses will only be sent if you live over a mile away from the school. Most children begin walking to school independently by 4th grade. We have chosen to allow our 3rd grader (8 Year old girl) to begin the tradition this year a little early. We began this summer by giving her a walkie talkie, some coins and sending her to our local mini mart to buy the lemons for dinner. After that first excursion, she was beaming with confidence and thriving with the newfound independence. When school started this summer, we decided she was ready to begin walking home from school independently. So far, so good. Some parents ask questions, but I remain confident in our choice. Mostly, its the other children her age that notice her and ask questions…now they are all asking to walk home independently too!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      “We began this summer by giving her a walkie talkie, some coins and sending her to our local mini mart to buy the lemons for dinner. ” = the sweetest.

      PS i love decatur!

    • Jennifer O. says...

      I love Decatur! I’m an Agnes Scott grad.

    • This reminds me of our neighbours who started letting their boys go to the park at age five and eight together. They gave them walkie talkies just in case they needed to be in touch. About 20 minutes later the eight year old called home to announce he had lost his little brother. He said they got in a fight and the brother said he was out of there. Now they all laugh about it but at the time, the two blocks to the park to look for the missing brother was torture for the parents. Not what they intended, and their boys weren’t ready for that responsibility but alas. Now they are nine and twelve and all over town on their bikes and coming home when the lights come on etc.

    • Caroline says...

      I grew up in Decatur and lived there my whole life before going to college- it was a wonderful place to grow up. Tight knit families and we knew almost every house not just on our block but in the whole neighborhood. I remember walking home from school every day in elementary, middle and high school- we had to cross the city square to get home from the middle school and high school and I remember walking with my brother to get Miss Julie’s jamaican beef patties from a tiny hole in the wall restaurant. Best place to grow up ever <3

  97. Laura Chiang says...

    I work in the field of violence prevention and we’ve seen a significant drop in sexual violence against children since the 70s. Researchers don’t know exactly why and it’s probably several, complex reasons in concert. But one has to wonder if helicopter parenting and children being less likely to be out alone at young ages could be contributing to the decline. Having said that, I have a 6 year old and would love to start safely giving him some freedom.

    • JD says...

      Thank you for this interesting perspective! My husband is a public defender and deals, on a daily basis, with the worst crimes you can imagine. Sadly, it makes him fearful and very protective of our two children and me. It’s so hard for him to find a reasonable balance between freedom and safety.

  98. Andrea says...

    I grew up in the NYC metro area and we were allowed to “free range” with the rule to “be home by dark”.

    Then, when I was 11 the Etan Patz story broke in SoHo and, to this day it still shakes me to my core remembering how I felt and how I saw every adult around me react.

    My son is now 6 and, as smart, and kind and sensible he is, he still only has the judgement of a 6 year old. I am doing my best to allow him to spread his wings, to explore, to have joy in all things but allowing a 6 year old to run an errand, alone on the streets of our urban location simply isn’t going to happen. I wish I could turn back the clock to reset the moments before Etan Patz but I can’t.

    • Mcr says...

      I too was an NYC kid in the 70s….just about the same age as Etan Patz when he disappeared. That name and those memories are burned in so deep it’s hard to separate them from the decisions I now have to make in terms my own children. This is tough stuff!!

  99. Sam says...

    There’s an amazing Invisibilia episode that discusses the work of Roger Hart. He followed children as they played and ranged widely from their homes in the 70s–even children as young as 4 or 5. Then he went back to the same town years later and did the same with the children of his now-grown subjects, and the distance they roamed and where they played was very limited. The reason seemed to be fear and cultural awareness of crime, though crime had actually decreased. The episode goes on to talk about how fear and our culture has had this kind of effect. It’s stuck with me for ages…but I’m still not sure I can let my daughter explore too much by herself! Here’s the episode: https://www.npr.org/2015/01/16/377517810/world-with-no-fear

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      thank you so much for the recommendation, sam!

    • Jennifer Ponting says...

      This was such a good episode. I’ve recommended it to friends who are parents (I only have Nieces and Nephews so my opinion is often invalidated).

  100. Kath M says...

    I walked to school starting in first grade in New Orleans. But it was the 80s. And all the other neighborhood kids were walking too. Maybe if everyone let their kids be free-range, there would be power in numbers?

  101. Starlene says...

    My kids were probably 6 and 8 when I first started letting them walk to the store. We live in a fairly urban neighborhood in San Diego. They would walk the two blocks for ice cream or candy or to grab milk for dinner. I let them play outside with the neighborhood kids and walk the dog as long as they were home before dark. By the time they were 13 they were taking the city bus by themselves. Today they are 28 and 30. They are street smart, know their way around the city and are able to navigate tense situations with ease. I feel like it helped them become more confident. Of course this was 20 years ago. Each kid, neighborhood, situation is different. I think you just have to do what feels right for your own family!

    • I’m in San Diego, too. It’s funny because I want my boys to be able to go out alone (or together) and be ok. Today when I went to pick my older son up from 1st grade, I let my 1 year old wander around in the grassy area outside the classrooms. There were just a few groups of parents around but they were ALL asking “Whose kids is this? Where is his mom????” I was standing less than 10 feet away from him at all times, but everyone seemed to be on high alert!