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. Nikki says...

    I just love this post. My favorite memories as a child were the ones when I felt completely independent.

  2. Jamie, Superior, WI says...

    It depends on where you live… here in Northern Wisconsin in our small city of 25,000, kids are totally free-range. First graders walk a mile to school, and it’s fine with everyone. Kids on bikes, kids on rollerblades. Kids in the park, kids walking down the street. It is one of the city’s qualities that I like, a retro sort of feel. On the other hand, probably there is some white privilege in this do-you or don’t-you conversation.

  3. Gill F. says...

    I was a kid who grew up in NYC, and I remember walking my younger brother from school to the local library. I was 11 and he was not even 8. We’d stop in at the local shop for French fries or sugary treats and take our time. It felt nice to have freedom. I began riding the subway late at night for up to an hour the next year, at 12. My mom was scared, but she knew it had to happen.
    I’ve also noticed certain kids are given more freedom/this is more common in certain areas. In poorer areas where moms and dads have to head to work and rely on their kids to take themselves to school, or slightly older siblings to take slightly younger siblings to take one another, you see teeny tiny kids heading onto subways and buses alone and crossing streets alone and it’s not a huge deal. Change neighborhoods and people and it becomes so. Makes ya think.

  4. Maia says...

    I’m 35. We lived in the inner city (LA) until I was about 9 and our neighborhood wasn’t the safest, so the only place I got to go alone was across the street to the mini mart. One day it was robbed while I was inside. Then my mom got us the heck outta there and we moved to the ‘burbs. I got a bike, a yard and a house that looked like everyone else’s. Be home by dinner was the rule.

  5. Johanna says...

    I was beginning to say OMG I’ve been thinking about this so much lately! But then again, we have kiddos the same age so it makes perfect sense. My 5 year old has been wanting independence lately so I’ve been letting him (along with his 6 year old bf sometimes) do little things by himself. Walking down the front stairs while I take the elevator is the norm now. Racing me across the park while I take the sidewalk. And the big one of the moment: Going in to the Mens bathroom by himself (Gasp! Not every time though, believe me.) It’s been fun watching him get grow up and get bigger. Painful too. But instead of just lamenting the changes I try to embrace them and celebrate with him. I figure even though he’ll grow up and leave me someday, he’ll always be my baby in my heart. And if I want him to come back to visit me, I have to let him go. That way he knows I trust his independence and he’ll have the love and confidence he needs to do what he wants/needs.

  6. Thank you for this. We live in Fort Thomas, KY, a small city just across the river from Cincinnati. Our house is close to a convenience store/gas station, and for several years my kids, now 8, 8 and 10, have run errands for us there. They buy milk and bread, using cash we give them, or candy, using their allowance money. It has taught them so much: how to cross the street and navigate moving vehicles safely, how to add money when buying multiple things and how to deal with change, how to be polite when interacting with adults (eye contact! please! thank you!) and how to problem-solve when items can’t be found or more money is needed. But what I’ve most been grateful for is the relationships they’ve made with those who work at the gas station and the regulars who are always there, buying their coffee and lottery tickets and beer. My kids have brought the employees cookies when they have to work on Christmas Day, pancakes after running over to buy syrup and free cups of lemonade when they set up a stand across the street. When kids are given the freedom to walk alone, they are forced into situations in which they must interact with strangers, adults they don’t know, which doesn’t result in anything scary as most would have you believe, rather, I think, maturity. I speak from a place of privilege. Where we live is quite safe. We let them walk and ride their bikes the almost half mile to and from school. And although the elementary school’s bike racks are overflowing with bikes most days, I know many parents who disapprove of the freedom we’ve allowed our children, and they have vocalized this, in their own way. But honestly? I worry so much more every single time my kiddos strap a seatbelt on in a car. Simply compare the number of car accidents per day to the number of abductions. The numbers are telling.

  7. Minna says...

    Recently I witnessed a woman berating a mother for letting her kids “run wild unsupervised” in a smallish store, where you could pretty much see clear across from any point. The 3 children were not super young, maybe 6-12, and were really well behaved. This woman was obnoxious. “Well meaning stranger” is fine but there is a fine line between that and “unbearable busybody.” They say child rearing takes a village, but sometimes, it just doesn’t.

  8. Jennifer says...

    My husband and I do not yet have children, but any time we’ve traveled to large European cities, we’ve noticed children walking through the city or riding public transportation on their own. We always remark that it is something we never see in the U.S. We both remember spending our own childhoods (him in the 80s, me in the 90s) riding our bikes all over the place–even when we were quite young–and only telling our parents, “I’m going out to ride my bike!” before taking off until dark. When we have children we’d like them to have some of the freedom we enjoyed, but we worry about judgment from others. (I was also a latchkey kid starting in 3rd grade. I loved the quiet of being alone in an empty house after a long school day.)

  9. Emily says...

    I am actually in the middle of a book I think you might have recommended, “The Happiest Kids in the World” and it’s about how children and parents in Holland foster independence. It’s fascinating! Childhood has changed so much from the time I was a kid until now with my almost 2 year old. IN Holland they foster independence from a yound age and kids are allowed to be outside by themselves and it’s encouraged. It’s making me want to move to the Netherlands!

  10. Tanya says...

    This is so interesting for me as a non-US reader – it sounds like the general attitude (of COJ posters anyway) is that they would like to give their children more freedom but they feel social and potentially even legal pressure not to. Here in New Zealand we have some of the same worries but I think on a much lower scale. It has definitely changed since I was a kid – I also had to confirm to the school that my kids were allowed to walk home, whereas my mother walked me to and from school my first day and after that I was on my own both ways – and she was a protective mother! More kids are driven now, and fewer just walk around exploring. But many parents like us make deliberate choices to create independent kids. We used to send our 5 year old kids to the bakery to buy bread on the weekend – it was 250m away and required one quiet road crossing. So when I suddenly could not pick up my 15yo son from swim camp in a small town to get to another small town (neither of which he had been to before) he was able to sort the whole bus/timing/luggage thing himself, with some remote mobile-phone help from me.
    The commenter who asked whether they should wait until their teens for them to wander alone (not sure this was actually serious??) raised a scary thought ….not that they would be abducted – but that at 18 your kid might be living alone/in the army/travelling the world- so if they haven’t been out on their own until 13 how are they meant to get from here to there in only five years??!

  11. Jess says...

    Growing up French in Canada, we were always warned about “Bonhomme Sept Heures” who is basically a man who’d come get you if you were out past 7. So I can’t attest about being let out of my mother’s sight but I can remember how thrilling it was to go biking around my neighbourhood at 4 am (after she had fallen asleep) with my friends and then the embarrassment of having my mother chase me down in her car. I was 14.

    Loved my childhood but I often found myself having to lie as a teenager or stay at friends’ houses who had “cool” parents. Now that I’m older I appreciate how much my mom cared/continues to care but can also see the benefits to letting kids feel adventurous and safe.

    Kids will find a way out of your grasp if it’s too tight, so let them be kids :)

    • Isabelle says...

      Same here, I was very afraid of the “Bonhomme sept heures”! :-)

  12. Taraneh says...

    I walked into the small town dry cleaners while my 3 year old slept in the car. An older woman walked in a minute later and asked me, “would you leave a stack of million dollars in your car with the windows down while you run an errand.?” Before I could respond, she noted with disdain, “surely your child is worth more then a million dollars.” I never felt so much guilt and shame. For some reason that analogy stick with me. Needless to say, I don’t let my kids sit alone in the car anymore when running what seem like benign errands.

  13. I feel like one of those tropes where someone prefaces their story by saying “Back in my day…” but yeah, I remember being alone outside all the time as an elementary aged kid. My friends and I would play in our neighborhood creek, completely out of our parents’ sight. As I got a little older, maybe fifth grade, we would ride our bikes about a mile away (it felt sooo much further at the time) to the grocery store to buy snacks. I loved those times and really feel like those experiences are what made me so independent as a 26 year old now.

    briana | youngsophisticate.com

  14. Claudia says...

    This happened to me recently, while on vacation my 4 year old son ran ahead of me to the elevator at our hotel. And these two guys exiting the elevator kept asking him where his parents where… Of course, I was walking towards him and told them I was right there. But it just made me so uneasy that they where making a big deal about it. They even went so far as to tell me that I should be grateful that they asked him… Like, really??!!

  15. Kelsey says...

    I 100% understand both sides. It was so important to me when I was little that I got to go to the store when we needed a one-off purchase or that I could visit the store with the older kids in the neighborhood for chips and candy after school, but my mom was pretty much 90% against it. Now that I’m older, I think I get that most of her push-back was anti-kidnapping related, esp. for quiet streets in quiet neighboorhoods where adults don’t tend to be home until after 5pm. I’m also guilty of spotting a kid out in the wild and waiting until an adult matches up. But I’ve been to countries like Denmark where strollers filled with babies hang around outside while moms chat in cafes… but I think daily life is quite different in Denmark… sigh. To be European.

  16. Kimberley says...

    This post is so timely for me. I’m really struggling with letting my 6 year old play out front in our secure, safe neighborhood. But I think it mainly stems from the judgement I receive from other/older people. It’s so interesting that the same people that tout “when I was little, we played until the lights when on and then ran home” are the same people constantly asking where the parent is. I also feel that the concept of “it takes a village” doesn’t really apply to all families. I am often wondering where the heck my village is so it has to be me outside making sure my kids don’t hurt the neighbors yard, etc. My son likes to ride his bike on my next door neighbors driveway because it’s big. I asked if it was okay and my neighbor replied “I don’t mind, but I’m sure the insurance company will.” Uhhh, what? These are the reasons I have a problem letting my child just roam around in front of my own home!

    • Natalie says...

      oh man! I can relate!

  17. Anni says...

    I am from Germany and I cannot remember when exactly I was allowed to leave our garden and play everywhere in the village we lived. I remember going alone by bike to my primary school which was 30 minutes by bike through a forest and some streets. Later my friends and I were allowed to swim and paddle on a canoe in/on the lake we lived close by. Nobody watched us, we just had to be home around a set hour. We also did not have cell phones(I am 32). My childhood gives me so much strength and power and resilience and I love my parents for giving me that freedom. I suspect parents are more worried about their children now and it depends on where you live, city or village but I would be a different person if I did not have those memories. I think 6 is a good age to let kids walk a very set and easy route on their own and later, the areas and possibilities can be expanded more and more. It depends on the child though. My brother got lost in a city once at just 5 years old and my mother searched for him in a frenzy. She found him happily playing in front of my music teachers front door. He had been interested in finding is own way to her door and managed a very long and complicated route through a big city and was very proud of himself, not realizing that he would cause my mother hours of pure agony.

  18. Natalia says...

    When I was a kid in the 90’s, living in the Dominican Republic, I used to be unwatched all afternoon, playing outside with friends, riding bikes, going to the park, etc. My parents where working, I was having fun and experiencing life. I don’t really know how parents handle that now around here, though, since I haven’t become a parent myself (I’m about to!! :D), but I do know that all generations before us weren’t so over bearing-protective of their children, mom and dad were working (wether at home or outside job) and the kids were living their lives, plus there were always neighboring eyes watching everything that was going on in the streets, I don’t understand the need to be all over children all the time!!!!

  19. Carrie says...

    My baby is only 8 months old, but I’m already thinking about this, hoping the tide might change by the time he’s older. When I was a kid (central PA) we literally never had supervision in the summer. We walked to the pool, to the A+ convenience store, to a damn to go wading – the list goes on. The only time I remember seeing my parents was when they showed up to socialize with other parents at the pool after work when they had to pick us up. It was magic, like something from a book. When did all this change?? I just feel like too much information is ruining us all.

  20. Sandra says...

    Awww….I feel bad for Toby feeling like he can’t be outside alone without being questioned by an adult. I already posted above and am more conservative with my parenting approach for the time being. But if you and Alex and Toby are all comfortable with giving that freedom maybe it would help to give him something to say to the grownup if the ask him?

    I think as a kid there is a lot of anxiety in being questioned by an adult and not knowing what to say. So maybe something like “I have my parents’ permission to be out here, but they say thank you for checking one me?” or something like that?

  21. Sara says...

    We live in Germany, in a bigger city. My son walked the first time with 4,5 years to the bakery around the corner on his own (I was staying at the window and watching him). He was so proud. In first grade (7 years) after two weeks, he walked the 1km to school on his own. Also at this time he opened more and more his radius in the neighborhood. Now with 12 he drives 4km to school by bike, goes to the public swimming pool to meet friends (they started to do it with 9) or to the movies.
    Now around primary schools are “walking bus stops” where kids from the street meet and walk together to school (maybe in company of one parent).
    I´m very happy and thankful, that we have the possibiliy to live like this. Of course there were obstacles like a flat tire or missed bus or lost key, but he managed it on his own and grew on this.

  22. Mollie says...

    I’m a teacher and I wanted to give my kids the “Let Grow” assignment for summer homework (https://letgrow.org/program/lgproject/). The basic premise is that kids ask their parents if they can take over one task (making the bed, running an errand to the corner store, making dessert) that their parents were able to do at their age. My colleagues all agreed the parents would be offended (?!?), so we didn’t send it as homework. This year, it is my goal to have kids take on one new task every month and report back to school! The parents and kids can decide together what their families feel comfortable with.

  23. Mac says...

    I have so many, contradictory feelings about this. My mom was a federal prosecutor for much of her career, doing violent and sex crimes. Literally the worst of the worst. So I grew up pretty aware of the dangers in the world (and, friends, there are real dangers) and yet was still given quite a bit of independence— my mom worked to give me knowledge and tools to be safe.
    Now that I have children myself I struggle with how much to tell them, and when, and how much independence to grant them. I want them (and myself!) to be open to the world, not suspicious, but also want them to be aware and safe. A big difference for me is that I grew up in a town of about 50,000 and I’m raising my kids in a city of close to 2 million. Certainly more dangers here.
    A sad fact is that children face the greatest threat from people they know—family, friends, coaches, teachers—so often our ingrained “stranger danger” is misplaced fear.

  24. Chelsi says...

    I think the important takeaway from all of this isn’t what we should or should not do. It’s that we should all stop judging each other and coining these messed up phrases (i.e. helicopter mom, free-range mom) to make every mom feel like shit. If you do it this way – you’re wrong. If you don’t do it this way – you’re wrong too.

    If you want to let your eight year old walk alone, then by all means do so. If you would rather hold his hand the entire way, then do that. The way that women especially treat other women has gotten to the point where we should not be so surprised one of us hasn’t been elected president. No man would ever approach another man and accuse him of not watching his kid, or watching his kid too closely. I think this is just one example where we as women need to really re-examine the way we interact with one another.

    • julie says...

      bravo!

    • Alanna says...

      Yes!

  25. Carrie says...

    We live in a central Austin neighborhood with 40-50 kids on our block alone! When we first moved in, I was surprised to see so many kids roaming the street without a parent in sight, but I really have grown to love the sounds of children laughing, seeing kids ride their bikes up our driveway and then back down to the street, or watch the younger kids chasing the older ones through people’s yards (though it does drive our dog mad). The parents on our block take a lot of pride in their free-range parenting style, and it has created a strong sense of community among us. Someone’s always having a front yard happy hour or pizza party, and the block parties are legendary! We stumbled upon this street when we moved in, but I am so excited that our one year old daughter will grow up with this strong community and a sense of freedom.

    • Katherine says...

      Hi Carrie, fellow Austinite here! What neighborhood are you in? My husband and I are in Windsor Park (near Mueller) and are about to welcome a baby girl in November. We are renting our current home and will be here for another year, but are already on the lookout for kid friendly neighborhoods for when we will need to move. There are a few families on our street and in our neighborhood but not many, and as a SAHM I’d love to be in a place where there are lots of little friends around for our daughter to play with! :)

    • Carrie Smith says...

      Hey Katherine – we’re in Allandale and really love it. But I really feel like Austin is so kid friendly that you’ll be able to find community wherever you end up!

  26. Anne says...

    Elderly Millennial here. I asked if my friend and I could walk home when we were *13* and eventually my mom allowed it. I was SO excited (I still remember the outfit from Limited Too that I picked out for the occasion!), until I noticed her tailing us as we walked home. :| I was SO pissed and embarrassed.

    But yeah, I don’t have kids, but I do think freedom is a good thing. I’ve never stopped a kid to ask where their parent (because Dads should have some responsibility, too) is, but I do keep an eye out if I see they’re cruising towards an intersection or make sure there doesn’t seem to be a stranger danger scenario.

    That said…. that Madeleine McCann case will always haunt me. Sometimes awful, tragic things happen, so my adult self does understand my mother being crazy overprotective. It’s tough! Hence, why I don’t have children, ta-dah, problem solved, haha!

  27. chewpie says...

    What I see all the time in Brooklyn is kids of all ages who are alone with their parents. Meaning, they are doing their thing while their parents are on their smart phones, not supervising, not interacting, not noticing.

    • Hope says...

      That comes off pretty judgemental.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      hmmm maybe so! i see a lot of super engaged parents, but maybe i’m not noticing others. i almost always leave my phone at home when i’m out with my kids, to make sure i don’t get caught up in a work email etc.

  28. Alexia says...

    Will Motherhood Around the World be back next Monday?:)

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      yes! we are waiting to hear from a couple of the mothers, who were traveling with their families this summer. as soon as we can schedule our interviews, we’ll write them up! thank you so much xo

  29. Meg says...

    This is such a fascinating and complicated issue! Gosh, sometimes I wish there were back of the book answers to all this parenting stuff.

    My mother was tackled to the ground and nearly drug into the woods by a man in a ski mask as she was walking to a friend’s house at age 12. She fought hard and thankfully was able to escape his grasp. As a result of that horrific experience it was very difficult for her to give me independence outside as a kid – I knew it was hard for her, but she always managed to find a good balance and tried hard not to superimpose her anxiety on me. I am a mother now myself and am grateful she was able to quiet her fears and endure the agony of worry for my betterment. She was very selfless in that way and it has benefited me immeasurably. It was her wise and conscious choice to not let her fear close me off from a big life. As a result I always try to test myself against that standard…. am I making this decision based on what’s best for my children or to protect myself from an uncomfortable anxious mommy heart? Independence, bravery and balanced caution are powerful skills we must teach our children.

  30. This topic has been weighing on me quite a bit lately. The short answer is that no, I don’t let my kids roam, but it’s also not an option where we live. We are on a busy street, there aren’t any other kids right near us, and there is nowhere for them to go, really. Also, my kids are still young…6, 4, and 1 so it hasn’t come up much just yet. We almost moved, though, to a house in a lovely neighborhood. The house is two blocks from school, all of my 6 year old’s friends live nearby, and the park was less than a block away. I loved the idea of her having a bit more freedom, but honestly I think it would be the same issue of other adults policing the children too much. Our school bans all kids from walking alone until 5th grade. This is an affluent neighborhood with a small school zone and tons of grown-ups milling about in the morning. It’s very safe. I really want my kids to have the opportunity to take more risks, I think it’s really healthy for them, I just don’t feel like it’s allowed.

  31. Irina says...

    I grew up in Moscow, Russia, in the 1980s, and it was common for kids to play outside by themselves, or run small errands in the neighborhood, starting around age six. My school was just across the road from our apartment building, and many of my classmates lived in the same building or in nearby ones, so most of us walked to school and back by ourselves.

    My husband grew up in a smaller Russian city in the 1970s and 80s, and he played outside alone or with his friends starting around age three or four. At first he had to stay nearby so his mom or grandma could see him from the window but as he got older he had more freedom to roam.

    One thing that made this possible was the ubiquitous grandmas who sat on benches outside the entrances to the apartment buildings, chatting away while also noticing all the comings and goings. They were sort of the “neighborhood watch.”

  32. AE says...

    I think age 6 is very, very young to be crossing the street and going to a deli alone. My two cents.

  33. I am not a parent. However, I have very fond childhood memories of sneaking out of the house early in the morning for bike rides around my neighborhood. I have particularly vivid memories of doing this during the summer when I was 7 years old. The streets were empty at that time of day, and almost no one was around. I loved exploring, and I learned the roads quickly. Sometimes I went 4-5 miles from home. Looking back, I’m so glad my parents didn’t mind. (This was in the suburbs of the Midwestern US.)

    I still love riding my bike!

    • thekk says...

      I remember at four learning to climb the low chain link fence to hop over and run around with a neighbor who was probably five. We had a blast.

      From nine on my friends and I would ride bikes around the neighborhood for hours at a time, sans cell phones of course (they didn’t exist) and dig in the river and play on the trails.

      It makes me sad we live in society where my own daughter won’t be able to have as much freedom because the culture has changed so much.

  34. Emily says...

    Another phenomenon (at least in Indiana / Midwest) are people posting (and reposting) *almost* child abduction stories on Facebook from their friend’s aunt’s sister’s co-worker. There have been news articles published where the police departments ask people to not post them. I’ve tried talking to my friends about it, but they believe there are numerous close call child abductions occurring in only Indiana.

    The whole thing feels like viral stories around Election 2016 where people are mining Facebook to impact voting, especially related to immigration policies (of course all the people allegedly trying to abduct these children are minorities).

    I am not a parent, which they remind me of when I try to reason with them, but do not know what to do besides unfollow them on Facebook and donate to the ALCU and other immigration causes.

    • Minna says...

      Yes! I’ve seen these, and it usually boils down to a person being perceived as acting strange, without any really objectively threatening behavior going on. Just “asking too many questions” or “lingering,” the like. And the comments are a slew of people saying “thank god you’re safe!” not people pointing out the logical problems with those stories. Very weird.

    • Allie says...

      So interesting you mentioned this!!! My cousin in Indiana posts these ALL . THE. TIME. and I thought it was just some strange obsession that she happens to have (she is an EMT, so I thought perhaps somehow due to her law enforcement friendships or something). Weird to know this is instead a local Indiana phenomenon.

  35. Elizabeth says...

    My s-i-l mentioned to me that if her daughter moved to NYC (at age 23), she would insist that she never take the subway alone.

    • Haha! If I were in her daughter’s shoes, I’d insist on a monthly Uber allowance from mom in that case. It’s crazy how much money (and time!) you save using the subway.

    • diana k. says...

      Just for comparison, as an NYC native, my very strict parents would not let me take the subway alone until I was 14.

  36. kash says...

    I think a lot of it boils down to your environment, and more specifically, is your town/community takes collective ownership of its children. It could be a little chicken-egg, though. What comes first: a society where young children can go to the store on their own, or a society that views all children as their own and collectively looks out for them? I do think it’s worth noting that the countries that seem to promote child independence are incredibly homogenous (Scandinavian countries, Japan) , which could (maybe?) make them more trusting of those around them.

    This immediately reminded me of an awesome Japanese show called “My First Errand,” where parents send their small children out for groceries and a camera crew follows the kids around to see what they get up to. It’s VERY cute. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e5k5XTZy0rA

  37. I, too, wish that it were more socially acceptable to give my children more independence and freedom. But I wonder if that feeling is itself borne out of my privilege. Because of the color of my skin, I don’t have to worry about a stranger calling the police because I was seen grilling, or selling lemonade, or walking down the street alone.

    I read the NYT article a few days ago and it resonated with me, as it obviously has for so many of us. I think we all wish for a world in which children have the small freedoms that help them grow into responsible adults. But for many parents, that wistful hope for freedom isn’t tinged with nostalgia, it’s not a memento of a freer, less regulated childhood. For parents of color, this idea is a future hope, not a past memory they long to get back.

    I hope that all of us, myself included, can be thoughtful enough to recognize that what we want here is a new something we will have to create together, rather than something to “get back to.” We can’t gloss over the fact that our American past and present has fostered fear and degradation for many parents and children. Let’s work together to build a new way of dignity, freedom and responsibility for all children and to all parents.

    • Molly says...

      Well said.

  38. kay banks says...

    It’s true that kids need to grow and have opportunities for independence but it also seems a little too easy to site statistics and say how safe we are and over-worried parents are, as a blanket statement. When I grew up in the 70s, I was on my own a lot. I also had some terrifying run-ins with a would-be abductor and some others issues with strangers and neighbors that haunted me for years. It feels good to declare “we’re safe, someone will intervene if needed” but in my case, I wasn’t and they didn’t. I would just say that it’s important to remember that there are people and issues and circumstances that kids can’t always navigate and that’s why we got into a more vigilant culture to begin with. I would say each side of the argument could benefit from some moderation. It’s great to build independence – and kids walking in groups is a helpful way to do that – but let’s also keep in mind that there are dangerous people and incidents in the world.

    • Erin says...

      I agree with this 100%. I don’t appreciate being perceived as an over anxious parent – everyone’s individual experiences inform their behavior. My family members have been sexually abused by relatives or babysitters and I have had three separate friends/colleagues lose their young children to tragic deaths since the birth of my son (who is 4). So yes, I am cautious. I work hard not to be extreme and to be careful not to relay my fears to my son, but this reverse pearl clutching over people who are cautious about their children’s safety is a bit much.

  39. Nancey says...

    I tell you, I have a 13 year old that looks about 18 and I do get very scared even though she’s street smart for sure, and holds her own. She is allowed to walk from the bus down to our house, we live 1/2 mile down a dirt road, with only a few houses on it. But even then I get nervous and make her call me when she’s home. I don’t let her wait for the bus in the morning either, too many lunatics around and I live in a very rural little town, but you never know and all it would take is one sick person and my girl would be gone. It’s not worth it to me to take that chance with someone I love so dearly. I let her go places with friends like to the park but they MUST all stay together.

  40. Leah says...

    Not totally the point, but it bothers me that everyone asks “where’s your mom?” As if only moms are responsible for children’s safety, and only moms could possibly be accompanying children on errands and outings.

  41. Cydney says...

    I’m only 24 now but by the time I was 8 and my brother was 7, we would be out all afternoon or day (if summer) with our little group of friends and would frequently walk or bike to the library, dairy queen, the pizza palace or around the neighborhood without any adults. We never thought twice about our safety. And I don’t remember getting any weird looks or anyone asking us where our parents were. Nowadays, it seems like people are smothering their children or passing judgement when we don’t see parents immediately next to their kids. Kids need to experience freedom and independence as well as being aware of their surroundings.

  42. Sarah says...

    As an aside, I was looking out for a comment like AL’s because I immediately thought of the Japanese show First Errand. It’s a hidden camera show that films little kids as they try to execute their tasks. You can find clips on YouTube. It’s so cute! I think that it’s a great idea that really teaches independence and self sufficiency!

  43. Tami says...

    This is a tough one in our house Joanna….
    We have a 6 y/o son and live in a very safe neighborhood in Charlotte, NC but we have NO SIDEWALKS (and no one really obeys the 25 mph speed limit) so I refuse to let our son cross the street on his own and walk to the cul de sac to play.
    Honestly, I’m more worried about him getting hit by a car than anything else.
    The kid can spot a crazy person a mile away but might forget to look both ways when it counts. Oy!

  44. Alice says...

    I live in a flat in a tall traditional block of flats in Edinburgh. We have 14 or so gardens facing onto one another, with 8 of them connected by winding paths under trees and behind sheds and in holes in walls – you can’t see directly into every garden when you’re on the ground floor (which we are). My kids are 2 and 4 and are part of a possee of about 10 kids who roam about. It’s good because it’s big enough for us not to see them so they feel free, but the door is always open for a scraped knee while parents on the top floors are the eyes in the heavens. They get muddy and find bugs and pretend they’re on a deserted island etc. We are on a seriously busy bus route out front, and I’ll wait a few years before I let them out I think. They’re not busting for it yet and mostly kids who are out alone here are around 10, but in the gardens they get a lot of freedom and unsupervised socialising, which is a huge part of it, that other kids I know in the city don’t get. I think I was a bit younger, but I was usually with my older sisters. I don’t feel it was any safer or more dangerous then (80’s), but there was definitely a strong community around us, even in the middle of a city, which I feel lucky to have here as it seems a lot of people don’t. It really depends on who your kids are and where you live, I think, as much as what you’d wish.
    It’s an interesting conversation, and so fascinating to see how strongly people feel about it.

  45. Kelli says...

    I’ve thought about this a lot. I’d love for my kids to have had the freedom to ride their bikes or wander all over the neighborhood like I did as a kid. I think one of the differences is my parents and us kids knew pretty much everyone in our neighborhood and their phone numbers were posted in the kitchen. I always knew what homes I could go in and which neighbor you say hi to from the street. I image there was a phone chain with updates on us kids locations around the neighborhood. Now, sadly, I barely know my neighbors next door.

  46. Chrissie says...

    I let my 11 year old son and 8 year old daughter walk to and from school and to the store or friend’s houses on their own. We live in a smallish city in Massachusetts and most places we go are walkable with busy streets (people wise) and sidewalks. They, for sure, know how to push the button, wait for the cross walk signal (and then wait to make sure no one is blowing through the red light!!)

    Recently my son was at a camp about two miles away from home at a local high school with a friend. They were supposed to take a bus home but were confused and thought a parent was coming to get them so they walked home. I felt kinda bad because it was close to 90 degrees that day (whoops) but I was so proud of them because THEY FIGURED IT OUT. They didn’t just helplessly lay back and give up they just shrugged their shoulders and started walking. We’ve since bought him a phone because I did feel bad about the scorching heat aspect (plus he’s fun to text with)

    Recently I was letting the school know that he and my daughter had permission to walk home from school (to be fair my daughter is short so looks even younger). The school secretary started trying to give me a hard time about it. I just said to her that I was comfortable with it and that’s all that matters (her paranoia isn’t going to dictate the choices I make as a parent!!)

  47. Katy says...

    Thank you so much for this post. I don’t like the direction we’re heading in the U.S. In my very safe suburban neighborhood. you don’t even see kids waiting for the bus alone – even if it’s just at the end of their driveways! We’re doing our kids such a disservice by letting our fears run their lives.

    • Katie says...

      Yes, I find this ridiculous! On my drive to work during the school year I’m often behind a school bus route. The number of parents who wait with their kids (or worse, DRIVE them to the bus stop at the end of the street) on these very low traffic suburban roads with sidewalks is staggering. And it’s not just the early elementary kids (which I get), I see plenty of older kids with a parent waiting. Sigh. I guess it’s better than mom playing chauffeur to and from school despite there being a bus route to pick them up.

  48. Cait says...

    When I was about 8, I would run around the neighborhood with my friensat, but now as a mom in New York and with such different cultural expectations, I’m not sure what I’m comfortable with. I’m both excited and nervous about the level of freedom our kids will have at an older stage here! I don’t know when it starts; 11, 12, teens? When they start taking the subway on their own and so on. The kids at our local elementary school are apparently allowed to go buy lunch on their own. We have a long way to go still, but that will be interesting! I wish we had the opportunity to let them roam in the backyard on their own or just go out and play with friends. Even in a very safe part of Manhattan I’m not comfortable with that because up in an apartment you are so far removed and they would be blocks away, and of course no backyard. I try to give them freedom at the park, but have had a close friend tell me that it worries her. There is also a lot of commentary on parental choices when you’re out and about – possibly cultural differences too. My friends and I have a constant conversation about all the ways onlookers try to parent for us when we want to be more hands-off!
    But even with the freedom that I’d like them to have, I have zero inclination to push against what might be considered culturally or legally acceptable. Too many normal, sensible parents have had life-changing, stressful ordeals or even consequences, over seemingly minor choices like this….I don’t want anyone calling CPS even if I know my child is safe. I may be extra sensitive to this because some of our choices, like homeschooling, are already less popular and I feel like I have to be more careful.

  49. Kate says...

    Yes! Block Parent was such a 80s/90s thing in Canada. They had a mascot…an owl, if I recall, and a friend of mine had that as his first job.

    I grew up in a residential neighbourhood with a lot of kids the same age as me. I remember being told I could go to the local park by myself, but not to the variety store, because the latter involved crossing another street. Of course, I’d run there as fast as I could, sneak candy back home and hide it. I’m pretty sure my mother knew.

  50. Jessica says...

    I live in DC and am often out with my three year old son who rides his scooter while I walk. He is often ahead of me but knows to always stop at the end of the sidewalks and wait for me to arrive and we cross the street together. He loves the freedom to go zooming down the sidewalk as fast as his little legs can push him on his scooter. But I’ll tell you there are many many times where I see people who walk by him with a panicked look on their face or people who have stopped him and asked “where is your mom?” He points backwards, because I really am just a little bit away/behind him and it’s then that people seem to relax. But it still always bothers me. He’s safe, he’s in my sight, he’s my child. Am I not being a good parent with my decision to give him a little freedom to scooter a block ahead of me (on the sidewalk!)? I don’t think so!

    • caligirl says...

      I understand what you are saying. I’ve been there many times (my son was way too fast for me on his little bike). But I also think that a certain willingness on the part of other adults to watch out for kids makes it easier to let them go out into the world. If we can get past the judgment…………………………

    • joy says...

      Same thing happens to me in south Brooklyn. My MIL got on my case about it, too. But my child loves to fly on his scooter, and he always stops at the corner. Why should I stop him?

    • I personally love that others are looking out as well! Makes it feel like more of a community when there is a relaxed face after the exposed parent, however getting judgement would certainly convey quite the opposite feeling!

  51. Shannon says...

    I was at the grocery store recently and left my two year old in the cart at the end of the aisle to pick up an item (rather than push my way through a small crowd). When I returned, a grandmotherly looking woman said, “I’m glad you’re back…I was shocked to see him here all alone!” I was MAYBE 20 feet away. I left the store feeling 70 percent annoyed and 30 percent shameful.

    • diana k. says...

      Grandmas sling that shade like it’s Werthers, you’re doing great!

  52. Anni says...

    That is an interesting article. I live in Germany on the outskirts of asmall town close to woods and fields. My 6 year old daughter just finished her first grade in school and walks the 20min walk over the fields to her school with her friends. If no friend is awailable to walk,then I will go with her since I don‘t want her to walk all by herself yet. That first day when she came back from school without me but with her friends – I stood by the window forever until I finally heard the sound of her giggling with her girls… They were so so so proud!! I think it is so important to teach the kids that our world is a lovable one where you can move freely and not be scared. Of course we teach the children not to go with strangers etc. But letting the kids have their freedom is important already at the age of 6, I think.
    We as parents have to practice letting our kids spread their wings – it is so very very hard but gets easier every time!

  53. Rachel Garrett says...

    I think because so few children are given the opportunity to explore unsupervised, the solo kid who is out ends up looking vulnerable and out of place. I miss seeing pacts of kids on the move together, watching out for each other and governing the landscape through their own set of rules. And who’s going to mess with a scrappy group of 6 year olds?? Not me.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      hahaha good point, rachel!

    • Meg says...

      This made me laugh and on a serious note there is so much truth to this! None of the children in our neighborhood walked home from the bus stop so I felt nervous letting my daughter walk alone. It bothered me because I really wanted her to have that practice in independence but she was too young to do it completely alone. In chatting with other parents I found several of them felt the same way and we were all driving our kids because we felt there were no other options! So then we started a buddy club and now the kids walk together – win/win. :)

    • Heather says...

      I so agree with this!!!! The lack of group of kids and not messing with a bunch of 6 yr olds :)

  54. Jules says...

    Some people have brought up race/class issues around this, which I find so interesting. We live in a very diverse, low-income neighborhood in a large midwestern city, and one thing I love about our neighborhood is that in the summer the streets are teeming with children. Kids ride bikes in packs around the neighborhood, play in the alleys, and walk with smaller siblings to the Dairy Queen nearby — it would be a very off summer evening to not see 15-20 kids on the street over the course of the night, none with adults in sight. When I leave my neighborhood and go into more affluent (and seemingly “safer”) suburbs, the streets are empty. It’s one reason why we’ve stayed here with our very young daughter. So much of this leads me to believe that it’s social condemnation, not actual safety issues, that lead parents to hover.

    • Emily R says...

      It sounds like you live in a lovely neighborhood!

    • Elisabet says...

      Sounds exactly like our neighbourhood, though I live in Sweden. And I also notice that there is not a lot of kids out in more affluent neighbourhoods. Not even in their own gardens, only maybe if they have a trampoline.

    • Roxana says...

      Yes, Jules! Your neighborhood sounds great! I wish ours was like that. Nobody is out in our neighborhood even though we have a lot of kids :(. I think you might be right about the “why,” too.

    • Jmbh says...

      I have the same experience. We live in a very diverse, mostly lower income city neighborhood. Kids here have tons of independence. My 11 year old walks himself the 7 blocks to school and walked himself to and from summer camp also about 7 blocks away. But when we go to the wealthy, suburban town where we grew up that is not the case.

      I also have a hard time with the fact that in our city second graders (age 8) can get off the bus by themselves and let themselves into their house, but the state law doesn’t allow children to be alone in a car until they are above age 12…that seems incongruous to me.

  55. Becca says...

    As a latch-key kid growing up in a very small town, I roamed all over by myself. I would take myself to thrift stores and garage sales and buy myself little trinkets with my pocket money. I played in the river and on the train tracks. Not only were my brother and I responsible for walking to school from a young age, a few years later we had paper routes which we handled by ourselves, because our parents were still at work.

    Now I’m a mom and I can’t imagine my daughter having the same freedom. We live in a mid-sized city, where there are not many kid-friendly places in walking distance, but there are inconsistent sidewalks, and plenty of distracted drivers. You rarely see adults walking, let alone unattended children.

    However, we are lucky to have neighborhood kids right across the street. It gives my daughter (now six) so much happiness to be able to simply take herself over to her friend’s house and knock on the door to arrange her own playdate, without any parents getting involved. The kids have three different neighborhood yards they are okay to play in, and they roam freely back and forth with no one really watching them one hundred percent of the time (although I admit I check on them if I haven’t seen them for a while).

    She is excited to start first grade in a few days and to ride the bus with her friends. The school sent home a pamphlet with a lot of dire warnings we should give her kids, making sure they know not to talk to any strangers, that “monsters” can look like normal people, teaching them code words so they know if someone was sent by their parents, and teaching them to run and kick and scream and make as much noise as possible if someone tries to grab them off the street. I’m hesitant to put that much stress on it for her – I’ve told her not to go in anyone’s house or get into anyone’s car, but I hate to make her think the whole world is full of people out to get her. As a parent, I find myself much more worried about traffic than “stranger danger.”

    Last week, one of the neighbors’ kids had a serious fall off her bike, and her parents weren’t home, but the whole neighborhood came running. We made sure her arm wasn’t broken and gave her first aid and calmed her down until her mom returned from the store. That’s more how I remember my town from growing up – people were out and about, and they weren’t afraid to get involved with each other.

  56. Heather says...

    Growing up in the 80s/90s in upstate NY, my parents would let us sit in the car reading or playing our Gameboys while they ran quick errands, and it’s frustrating to me that I probably won’t be able to do the same with my kids. It seems more humane for all involved. (This was when we were older – maybe 8 to 12? – and they would park in the shade and leave the windows down.)
    That said, it’s frustrating to me when American moms get kicked around in comparisons with parents from other countries. Wilke writes, “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.” That’s an interesting observation, but the language is pretty loaded. Are the Anglophone moms not also having a nice chat? I love sitting next to a friend on a bench and watching my child play.
    As the Motherhood Around the World series has taught me, there are many good and right ways to parent.

    • Maggie says...

      I thought the same thing about that comment! Thanks for putting it in such great perspective.

    • Karen says...

      Nice point. American moms get bashed all the time, told that moms elsewhere do things differently or better.

  57. Sarah says...

    I’m not a mother, but I imagine if I was, I would love to give my kids quite a bit of freedom. I have amazing memories of growing up and running all over my neighborhood with the other kids and no adults. But I honestly don’t think I’d be able to fully do it, for one reason: thinking about the cost vs. the opportunity. If something devastating were to happen to my child, the freedom I gave would 100% NOT be worth it to me in the end. I’m not saying we should lock kids up, but it would be hard for me to let them roam freely away from home and alone. I would probably wait until they are older and have a better understanding of the responsibility and risks.

  58. my grandparents used to send me out on errands to grab items from the local market. at first with them waiting outside, and then with a list and then finally, i was in charge of remembering what was needed and to carry the money. at age 9 i bought my first pack of cigarettes for gpa. in kindergarten they allowed me to walk to/from school, which was about a 10 minute walk. for as long as i can remember, i always had that independence.

    i will say, i find it mind boggling that my nephews, who are 13 and 16 do not venture out alone, ever. they are/were always chaperoned by a parent or grandparent.

    on the flip side, i see a random kid by their lonesome with no adult around and i’m instantly on alert and will dillydally around to see if one will appear, and if none does i have to ask as calmly and as non-judgementally as possible WHO DO YOU BELONG TO??

  59. Carol says...

    In our neighborhood, kids walk to school by themselves starting in 4th grade. My 9 yr old was both excited and nervous (me too!), but so far, so good and it has been great for building her confidence!

  60. Sharon in Scotland says...

    In my first week at school I took myself off to the loo, sat down, had a think and decided that it wasn’t for me, so I’d go home. I got my coat and walked through a crowded playground, all the way home. Under the scary under pass, past the snappy alsatian at the top of Stanley Road to my house. My mum was at home with my younger sister, (my other 3 siblings were all at school), she had the shock of her life! She had to go up the road to the public phone box and speak to the school. I think we had a visit from the secretary and my teacher to gently but firmly say I couldn’t go home unless my mum was there to get me. I was used to walking to school with my older siblings, so I knew the way. So, even though I was a very shy little girl, with a bit of a phobia about dogs, I gave infant school a good shot, (2 days?!) and I was determined to go home…………..so I did. I don’t remember anybody questioning me and as a black girl in a very white neighbourhood in the late 60’s, that was quite surprising.

    • Claire says...

      Ha ha, that reminds me of the story of my dad’s first days in school (he grew up in 1950s Dorset, UK)! My grandmother walked him to school on the first day, it was fine. On the second day, my aunt dropped him off on her way to school. A few hours later, one of their neighbours told my grandmother that my dad was playing in the street. She went up to him and asked him why he wasn’t in school. ‘I went yesterday.’, he replied.

  61. kelly says...

    I get very frustrated when I hear people talk about their childhoods, how they would be out all day, making friends, riding bikes and exploring the neighborhood. This is usually followed by complaints about how you never see kids doing this today. I so desperately want to say that I would love for my daughter to be able to do this, but I am confident that these same people would be the ones to “tell on me” for letting her do this.

    • Emily R says...

      Isn’t that so frustrating! I love seeing kids in my neighborhood off by themselves – but you are right. While I see the joy in this, there is almost always someone following up with “where is your mom!”

      Personally, unless someone looks lost or afraid, I let the kids be.

  62. Becca says...

    My brother and I have a 16 year age gap. My boyfriend and I bought a house that’s a 5-minute walk from his middle school. We said he could come over for snacks after school by himself while waiting for my mom to pick him up.

    Her response? “No, he’s still too kidnap-able [sized]!”

    Meanwhile, our neighbor’s kids walk back home from school everyday. They’re 7 & 9.

    Oy.

    • Sadie says...

      Isn’t it strange? I have a brother 15 years younger than I am. I walked to school every day; my mother drove him and my sister every day. Same house, same school, but the fear of kidnapping had gone crazy!

  63. Holly says...

    I don’t have children yet, but it makes me sad to think they may be growing up in a world that doesn’t allow them the same freedom I had as a child. I was a shy kid, and so to help me, my mom used to send my sister and I into the grocery store for her while she waited in the car. No one thought it was unusual or that we were in danger. We would buy the two or three items she had listed for us. It was painful for me at first (my bold little sister did most of the talking!), but eventually, it got easier to look the cashier in the eye as she handed me our change. My mom was trying to foster my independence, to get me used to being in a world with strangers, and I’m grateful for that. I want my kids to have that chance too.

  64. celeste says...

    I read that feature!
    I got in trouble for leaving my kids in the car just to run into the grocery store. They were 5 and 3, playing with toys. I was trying to grab something, anything for dinner. And you know what, I’d never do it again.
    My daughter’s now 10 and this is the first year we’ve given permission to ride her bike around our surburban neighborhood. When I was 10, I rode my bike four miles to a lake and swam by myself.

  65. We live in a small little community and my daughter walks and in the winter skis to school alone. I just have her call me when she gets there. It gives her such a sense of independence and accomplishment, and I think it’s also really helped her assert herself and believe in her own abilities. She will be 8 this year and we started giving her these little opportunities since she was 6. But it’s not a big city so I don’t know how that would be.

  66. We live in Utah and it was made a law this year that kids can roam freely without the parents being persecuted. It’s common where we live that five-year-olds scooter/walk to school on their own from our neighborhood, and that kids play in the streets with one another without supervision. My mom, who lives in NY, where I also grew up, is always shocked by this, and is amazed at how lax and commonplace Utah is with these rules. I’m grateful to be able to raise my children here, and to be able to give them the freedom they need to grow overtime!

    Paige

  67. Amina says...

    One of the main reasons for moving from D.C. to Sweden is so my kids would have the freedom and space to be kids. Our nine year old has been walking to school since she has been 7. Of course she has always been an independent child unlike her sister. Then again, many kids in her class are allowed to walk to school and play free outside without adult supervision. I would not be able to offer this much space to my kids if we were back in the States.

  68. Bekah says...

    Growing up in the Bay Area, we would go “creek walking” for hours. The creek cut right through the busy San Jose neighborhoods, sometimes at ground level, sometimes 15-20 feet below the street in a concrete canal. We felt alone and (excitingly) isolated in a large city. We’d go as far as time or the pathway permitted, scramble up the sides to look around, and realize with delight that we were in the next town over. We were a little scared, but mostly proud of how far we were able to get on our own.

    • Sam says...

      Yes! We lived across the street from a creek and some heavy woods and would be there for hours. Sometimes we’d cut through and walk to shopping center that was 1 or 2 miles away. We of course told our parents where we were going but there was no hesitation to let us roam. I never see kids out in the woods near where we live now, despite many homes nearby. It’s very sad.

  69. JB says...

    As both a child and an adult, I think I’d find an approaching stranger asking probing questions about the whereabouts of my parents more terrifying than a solo run down to the convenience store. Fear breeds fear!

  70. I remember when I was younger, yearning for more independence, my mother would tell me she trusted me, but not necessarily everyone else.

    I also didn’t know a stranger at that age. My mother defined stranger as, “Someone whom you don’t know their name.” She came out of the store once to find my sisters playing down the sidewalk and me, at five years old, sitting on the curb talking to a man on a motorcycle. She looked at me, clearly exasperated. I said, “Mom, don’t worry. He’s not a stranger. His name is Bob.” She asked how I knew his name, and I answered like it was the most obvious thing in the world- “I asked him.” After that, the definition changed to someone whom she didn’t know their name. :)

    I miss that. The innocence of children, thinking everyone would want to be their friend.

  71. Laura says...

    I think it really depends on the environment. My family lived in Japan when my brother was little- maybe 7 or 8, and it was totally normal for him to take the subway to school by himself, even though he didn’t speak the language. You sow the child’s name and address into their clothes with the expectation that strangers will help them. Once he fell asleep and woke up at the end of the line- an old lady gave him a hard boiled egg and brought him home. In US cities kids are taught (perhaps rightly so, here) that strangers are the enemy, and adults are taught to stay away. I wonder if he had fallen asleep on the New York subway if anyone would have helped him.

  72. Nathalie says...

    I live in a small town in Germany and most kids here (who live within walking distance, of course) walk to school by themselves in Grade 1. They practice the route and learn how to cross the street in kindergarten. My kids started going to the library and the bakery alone at around age 5. My daughter got a mobile phone when she started Grade 5 so that she could take the train and tram to school alone (1 hour commute), which is also not uncommon.

    As a mother, I find one of the most important things I can do is put aside my own fears to better foster independence in my children. And show my children that I trust them – and they can trust themselves – to know how to act if an unexpected situation arises.

  73. sarah says...

    My daughter is only 5, so she hasn’t ventured far. But I allow her to ride ahead on her bike pretty far. She loves having the freedom to go her own speed. We live in Chicago and she knows to stop at all alleys and streets. And when she gets to our street she zooms fast to go through our gate and run up the back steps. I might be 5 min behind. Also, a park is a half block away and I will happily let her go home from the park by herself or her father will send her to the park by herself if I am there with her sister. These are small things but she gets joy out of a little independence.

  74. Lisa says...

    I am German living in Germany, and my parents let my walk to kindergarten alone by age five (15-20 minutes walk, if I recall correctly). Years later, my mom told me she followed me all the way for a while, staying hiden behind bushes – I never knew :D
    My parents also both worked, and from first grade on, I was a “key kid”, letting me in by myself after school. I kind of regretted when mom stayed home with my sister two years later ;)

    That being said, I grew up in a village of 4000 people. I think I’d worry about my kid today – and I believe that parents frown upon this easy-going way nowadays. I hope I’ll have my parents’ courage. I am *so* grateful for the independence they gave me.

  75. Mina says...

    I grew up in North America – with a lot of free range freedom, but also a lot of stranger danger fear etc – and am raising my kids in Stockholm, Sweden. I am definitely the most careful/anxious parent I know around here and am constantly trying to relax, not say “be careful” all the time, let them explore and make mistakes and taste a bit of freedom, since I understand how important it is. Thankfully I am in a place where it’s ok to allow my children that freedom without fear of legal consequences!

  76. el says...

    I used to walk to school sans parents in kindergarten, but it was much more accepted back then (80s) and there (burbs with few cars). My kids (ages 5 and 7) know the way to all their neighborhood haunts but it will be some time before I trust them enough to be on their own. They simply get too involved in chasing/teasing each other and I can very easily imagine their not looking properly to cross the street (not to mention that I have, in Carroll Gardens and Cobble Hill, had several instances when I had to wave my arms and yell at drivers who were rolling through stoplights on Hicks or Clinton.) No, I’m not going to wait until they are teenagers, but probably at least a couple of years.

  77. Julie says...

    Atlanta is very car oriented so my kids could never possibly walk to the store and home. It would take hours! But my boys can ride their bikes in the neighborhood with their friends- we definitely have boundaries- and it is so so good for them.

  78. Nan says...

    I grew up a free range kid but I want to share my true story. I’m not an alarmist nor a paranoid person, just someone who knows for a fact that child abductions really do happen. My brother ditched me while walking home from school (I was in kindergarten) and though we lived in a very safe town in an old-fashioned rural type of region, a man attempted to abduct me into his car. Had he gotten ahold of me, I know I never would’ve been seen again. I ran home behind houses to evade him successfully but what about the kids who are taken off-guard and just freeze, wondering what to do? There must be a way to let kids be a bit more free without leaving them vulnerable to opportunists with evil ideas. It takes only a brief minute for such a person to grab a child.

    • Lindsay says...

      I’m sorry you had that awful experience :(

    • Jess says...

      It does, but statistically the likelihood is low. And in America, we’ve taken a low statistic and clung to that and made it the social norm. Not just this but in so many things. Fear does breed fear like one commenter said. It’s a horrible thing to happen, but it usually doesn’t. But that doesn’t seem to be something we think about. I can’t imagine what it was like for you, and I could see that this would cause people to be much more cautious with their own kids.

    • Harmony says...

      Same thing happened to me. I would walk about a mile to my grandma’s house after school. When I was in 5th grade, I was almost abducted, but ran away and hid behind an apartment wall. I didn’t tell anyone what happened because I was embarrassed and felt like I did something wrong.

      I had tons of freedom growing up, but I have to say that a lot of the time I was worried – I didn’t feel safe. When I made it back from the bookstore or 7-11, I felt relieved that I made it back safely. I think I would have preferred to have parents who spent more time with me and who took the time to take walks with me to those places. I didn’t feel safe and comfortable wandering around on my own until I was a teenager. At that point, I was happy to be able to go to the library on my own (because then I could spend hours there) or wander around with my friends.

  79. Ali says...

    My 6 year old just had a very similar experience to Toby. We live in a small tourist town. The grocery clerks know her and didn’t hesitate to let her buy a small item and be on her own. However, other customers flipped out. She said someone insisted on walking her home (as if it will make me feel better that now a self-appointed escort knows where we live). She refuses to go again because she was made so uncomfortable by all the questions.

    • Rebecca says...

      A friend of mine used to try to get his five-year-old a little taste of freedom and responsibility by asking her, while they were in the supermarket TOGETHER, to just go to another aisle to find the ketchup, or the sandwich bread. She eventually started refusing because so many adults were intervening to make sure she was okay!

  80. Sara says...

    I grew up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. When I was about 7 years old, I asked my dad when I would be able to take the subway by myself. Not wanting to give me a firm date without consulting my mom, he said “When you have all the stops between 110th Street and 14th Street memorized”. So, of course, I went home and memorized the stops, fully expecting to be out on the subway by myself by the next week. Turns out, I wasn’t allowed to go out without an adult until 3 years later – and then it was only for a walk around the block with a friend! The subway came the next year. And this was right in the aftermath of 9/11, so it was really a different time in the city. But in general, growing up as a city kid, you have so much freedom in your teens (not relying on your parents for car rides, access to all kinds of mischief, etc.), but certainly less as a little kid. I’m sure there are benefits to both, but I prefer the city way!

  81. Meghan says...

    On the first day of school, I have to make a speech to all my students telling them that tomorrow, their parents are not allowed to bring them to class. Yes, it’s alright for you to be dropped off at the front doors, but your parents are not allowed to walk you to my classroom. They’re also not allowed to stand in the hallway just outside my classroom and try to peer into the windows to see how you’re doing. They are not allowed to come in after class each day to ask me whether or not you paid attention. And no, you can’t give your parents your lock combination so they can go and tidy up your locker for you.

    I work at a high school.

    • Katie says...

      OY VEY

    • Sheri says...

      Yeeeee-ikes. Those poor young adults – I feel so badly that they’re not being given opportunities to try/fail/try again/succeed/learn that they can handle their own lives!

    • Annie says...

      ^😂 This is hilarious. But also kind of sad!

      We are trying to figure out if it’s ok for us to leave our kids alone for 5-10 minutes in the morning until my mom (who babysits) arrives…we’d have nest cameras, the 9 year old would be in charge of his younger siblings, we know our neighbors etc, but my number one worry is not that something would happen that they couldn’t handle in those 5 minutes- it’s that someone would judge us or call the police!

    • marcella says...

      At first glance I thought you were talking about first graders because that’s what I remember in elementary school, parents dropping their kids off at the classroom. Lol…

    • Gillian says...

      Oh my goodness! Parent’s are not allowed in the doors of our children’s ELEMENTARY school after the first day!

    • CathyMA says...

      Hahahahaha!!! This is the best! Not really, but it sure made me laugh. God help us!

    • Karin says...

      Oh my gosh! My high schooler would DIE OF SHAME if I so much as set foot on the campus!

  82. In 4th grade, my kid informed me that I had to say goodbye a block away from school, rather than at the door. Then it was after school–“I can walk home myself.” Eventually my kid wanted to do the entire to-and-from alone. The after-school was one thing–I knew that if my kid showed up within 10 minutes (it took five, so there was an allowance for dawdling) then that was OK and a no-show would set off an immediate search (which never was necessary). But I couldn’t spend a day wondering whether my kid actually made it to school. The school was small and disorganized and it was quite likely they wouldn’t call me to inquire about an absence until afternoon. I couldn’t live with that, but I had to let my kid be independent. So my kid would set off alone, and I would sneak down the street a block behind, hiding behind hedges and in doorways until a block from school, where I could see all the way to the door. It gave me peace of mind and gave my kid independence.

  83. Katie Rosenberg says...

    One thing I’ve learned about other cultures through your Motherhood Around the World series is how a true sense of community seems lost in the US. I don’t understand why we don’t support families whose children walk to the park or go on a short errand! We jut moved to Knoxville and live in the loveliest new neighborhood…truly, it’s out of a storybook. And, yet, there is constant chatter on our facebook page about how fast people drive through the winding neighborhood streets and posts imploring others to be mindful of pedestrians as they go for walks through the neighborhood or as children walk to the elementary school or library in the neighborhood. I’ve been so disheartened at how many people insist that people shouldn’t be walking in the neighborhood, that the streets are too narrow. People would rather advocate for their own cars and convenience. So disheartening.

  84. Marnie says...

    I live in a small city & let my kids (4 & 7) play outside alone in our yard. They are also allowed to walk together to the end of our street to pick up the mail from the community mail box — but I must admit, I watch them as the cross the road. I have no fears of kidnapping or stranger-danger (statistically, lightening is more likely to strike) — but I do worry about the cars. Our street is quiet but the intersection to cross to the shops is busy — which is why I haven’t yet let my oldest go to the store alone. But hearing Toby did it at 6 makes me wonder if this might be the year!

    May we all be brave enough to let our kids be brave!

  85. Hannah G. says...

    I grew up being able to walk to the park, the movie theatre, the cookie store, the library, etc. It was a wonderful and freeing part of childhood for me (and I imagine my mom!) but now that I have a daughter of my own, the biggest fear is what other people will think and do if I allow her those same freedoms down the road. She’s only two now, but I’d love to hear how other moms navigate this with older children! I think I wouldn’t mind if the worse I would face is judgement from others, but people seem to take things to the extreme these days and call the police or CPS every time they’re made uncomfortable. Is that just me?

  86. riye says...

    We walked everywhere or caught the bus when I was growing up. Once we were past age 8 we ran errands for mom on our bikes. My parents both worked and if we couldn’t get ourselves to some after school activity–we didn’t go. The neighborhood we lived in was residential and had a big range of different families of all ages. If something had gone wrong, we could count on getting help from one of the neighbors, even if we didn’t know them that well because that was how things were done. My extended family in Japan still sends their kids out on their own to walk places or catch the train. I think if you’re nervous–set up a system for you and your family in case something goes wrong and then go forth!

  87. Sandra says...

    When I was about 5 or 6 (this was the 70s) we used to ride our Big Wheels (so close to the ground…how did cars backing out of driveways even see us?) about 1/2 mile away to 7-11 on a regular basis. We had to cross a busy road…it was crazy. Kids with notes from their parents could even buy cigarettes for them. WTH?

    I’d love to give my 8 year old more independence, but I just don’t feel like he’s ready yet. I remember reading something about how younger kids lack the ability to judge car speed when crossing busy roads. There was also a pedophile in our neighborhood (no one knew it until later) and he managed to lure me and a friend into his house one time. He wasn’t married at the time and had no kids. I have no idea what he said to get us in there, but I remember it was against the rules to go into someone’s house without asking my mom first and I was really uneasy about it and got out without anything happening.

    A little boy we know who is my son’s age just got hit by a car (serious accident, but he is going to be OK)…it’s a reminder they aren’t little adults yet when it comes to brain development and remembering to look both ways.

    But that said, I do think that independence is good for them too. I’m not sure how to find the balance yet.

  88. Jenny says...

    My 6 year old flew from DTW to JFK alone and it was so empowering. But she has yet to go to the playground across the street or the shop across two streets by herself in our Brooklyn neighborhood. Now I am wondering, why are adults ok with one but not the other? I am confident in her independence but fearful of parent shaming or worse, it being illegal to play at the playground unattended.

  89. Julie says...

    I am 55 years old. When I was 5 years old…we lived in Norristown PA. My dad was in charge of taking me to and from Kindergarten, as my mom was heavily pregnant and wouldn’t drive. One day, he did not show up to get me, and I was impatient. So..I started walking “home”. We had moved from California not too long from this timeframe, and I was an independent soul…a firstborn who knew something was up, even back then (my dad was having an affair). So…walking home. end up lost, went to deli that was underground (or, steps down, to a lower below sidewalk level shop). My dad somehow found me…I was walking the route I knew we drove everyday. That all said? life was very different back then …this is not new news to anyone in my age group. I left on my bike to ride all day, and didn’t come home until dark…probably from age 7 on? I remember walking a block to my elementary school, crossing “Main St” that had no signal light at the intersection…I was never taken, or anything happen to me that was unsafe. I had my sons in 1989 and 1992. I was a different person by then, having been molested early in high school, and raped by an ex boyfriend at age 16…my sons were not left to walk alone anywhere (park, in neighborhood, etc). in their early childhood years! I can’t fathom why you would allow this at age 6. I won’t read that article that was linked, motherhood in the age of fear…because it will not change forward motion..in this age and time, there is so much more out there to “help” those who intend harm to our children. Teaching them not to fear, will only be to their detriment. I understand your sense of wanting to grant freedom to these young children, but I would never consider just turning them loose to be a tactic that will bring anything but anxiety (to the mom, or parent) even, and not matter how much, training they’ve been given. I put all of the blame on the people out there who are looking for just this opportunity….to find the young ones who are not protected. A last story to have to think on…when my sons were maybe about 5 or 6 & 8 (or 9) I pulled into a parking spot directly in front of a coffee shop (not starbucks, but a quieter place) in my minivan. I left them both seatbelted in their seats (no car seats at this point in time) and told them I would be in and out in minutes…just grabbing a quick latte. I did not have eyes on the car while I was in the coffee shop, but there was a big plate window facing my van parked DIRECTLY IN FRONT OF WHERE I WAS STANDING IN LINE INSIDE. I was in and out within minutes…and in that time frame, a friend recognized my minivan, talked to my sons thru the closed windows, got the oldest to open the slider door, she hopped in….and wait for it!!! scared the living crap out of me when I slid the door open to hand my sons their drinks…I think I threw those drinks up in the air, as my friend yelled “SURPRISE!!!” to me as I opened the slider door, to see her crouching down between my 2 sons where they were still, seatbelted into the seats. Minutes. That’s all it took Sure, she was a friend they both recognized, but who knows if they’d been any more trusting if they’d have opened that door to anyone else. My friend did this to scare the complacency out of me, and it worked. They’re kids, trust is not fully a thing you can determine at any age. Use common sense! It’s not that you don’t want to give your kids freedoms, and they should be trusted at some point at some age, but elementary age…to me 6 is not the right age.

    • Heather says...

      Why on earth do you think you know better than a mom about her own child’s capabilities?

    • Agnes says...

      That’s all you took from her detailed and rich story? Thanks for sharing your experiences and views with us Julie!

  90. Emma says...

    When I was five, I concocted and executed an elaborate scheme to “escape” from Kindergarten with my best friend so we could have a play date. We slipped away during the march from day care to school and then walked the MILE to my house all alone. Along the way, one concerned adult asked if we needed a ride home, but even my young rebellious self knew that you did not get in a car with a stranger.

    I also knew that you did not open the front door to stranger, which really angered the police officer who came to the house looking for us after the school panicked (rightfully so!). Despite being in the depths of mischief, I adamantly followed the rules on how to keep myself safe.

    My moments of young freedom were stolen, but still sacred. At the time, my parents were angry and frightened, my mom crying when the police officer dropped me off safely, but many years later, both Mom and Dad told me how secretly in awe they were to have a daughter so clever and bold. That experience was honestly my last brush with the law (and rebellion tbh), but man, it was a good one.

  91. Amy says...

    I grew up in London and am now living (and parenting) in New York. My kid is only little and I want to be able to give him freedom to walk places on his own — as I did — when he gets to school age, but because of the terrible health care system and lack of a real social safety net here, there are simply many more intimidating people on the streets here. In London, and in most of Europe, we don’t have lots of people with mental health issues wandering the streets. While of course most of those people don’t mean any harm and it’s awful that they should be without help and anywhere to go, nevertheless, to a kid they’re often scary, and — I admit — to this adult too. (Universal health care for all!)

  92. Liz says...

    This is a topic dear to my heart and one I think about often. We moved from Zurich to Mexico City 2 years ago (I am not Swiss but Kiwi). One of the hardest things for our son has been losing losing his independence – he is now 11 and we moved to cdmx when he was 9. I love the Swiss mothers approach regarding this topic – they nurture and allow independence in their children. You see kids of all ages alone on the streets, playing outside with friends, walking to school, catching the train into the city etc etc.
    I think that if you live in a place where you can allow your children to have this freedom then it is our job as parents to foster this.
    We were back in Switzerland recently over the summer and our son was going Italy to stay with friends – he caught the train from Zurich to Bellinzona on his own (age 11). I must admit I was a little nervous but he wanted to do this and we let him – it was important for him and we felt that he could and because its Switzerland it was neither dangerous nor seemed out of the ordinary – he is so proud of this accomplishment.

    • Lindsay says...

      We visited Switzerland 15 years ago and I fell so in love with the country. I always tell my husband that, now that we have kids, I’d move there in a heartbeat if we could make it happen. Good to know my instincts were right! I imagine it to be a magical place to raise a family.

  93. Miruska says...

    I was left alone at home at 7 (this was in Europe). My mom worked and there was no other option. She would prepare breakfast for me and my sister (2 yrs younger), we would eat, lock the house and walk to school. After school we would go to a neighbour’s place to wait for my parents to get from work. When I was about 9, we would stay alone after school. I took care of heating lunches (on the stove, no microwave), we had to do our homework. and the same all summer. We would bike, play with other kids in the neighbourhood, but were unsupervised all day. Not sure how my parents dealt with it, I know we talked multiple times a day with our mom. Maybe that was a way to make sure we are ok. I am so grateful for that freedom. I know I can take care of anything if I was able to fry eggs and make potato fries from scratch at 9.

    • nadine says...

      Miruska, my childhood was very very similar! My sister (2 years older) and me would go back home from school together, and for lunch we had learnt how to prepare pasta with tomato sauce (I’m italian :D ). There was a neighbour that had a copy of the keys just in case. Those afternoons spent exploring the neighbourhood by bike with my friend!
      Fast forward 25 years, my sister’s daughter lives in the same city where we grew up but she doesn’t have the same freedom we did have. She’s 10 now and she has never wandered by herself alone. I’m not a mother and I don’t live there anymore, so I don’t realise if the environment has changed or if it’s the behaviour between parents or the legal matter, but I wish she would be able to be more independent and free.
      Thank you Joanna and all the commenters for your thoughts! So many aspects to think of. .

  94. Em says...

    When I was a kid (not even that young, about 9 or 10), all I wanted to go was get out into the world by myself. I swore I’d let my children be more independent than I was allowed to be. Now that I’m an adult, the fear of kidnaping or other types of dangers is pretty high within me. I wish we lived in a safer world.

    • Rose says...

      The thing is, we live In an extremely safe world. The perceived dangers are much worse than the real dangers. And, like Joanna said, passerby interference.

    • Lissa Tsu says...

      The thing is, we do actually live in a safer world than when we were kids. I feel the media keeps that fear in the forefront of your brain and underminds parents and their intuition. If we have a society that is always “protected” how will this turn out for the generation we allow no freedom? I have a 6yo so can see how it is tempting to try to keep your child safe in all situations but I don’t actually believe this is safe for her mental a d physical well being.

    • Mollie says...

      I love that both commenters started with “the thing is” :) :). Yup- crime rates are way down historically!

    • Em says...

      It’s great for the majority who have been allowed their freedom unscathed but the fear lies with the minority who have not been so lucky/ safe. I personally know two people who are now part of that minority. The question is- what’s the chance that I would want to take? The unfortunate part is that you don’t know which side you’ll be on until it’s too late :-/

  95. LAURA says...

    One of my favorite things about visiting my parents’ hometown in the summertime, was the freedom I’d get from it as a kid. We’d be given a couple pesos then be allowed to do whatever we wanted with our day, like wander all the little stores on our own for candy and treats. We’d even go down to the river, along hilly areas, and discover all our “secret spots.” The moms also loved this because they’d send us for errands throughout the day instead of them having to do the grocery shopping. And all the shop owners there would know who we are just by asking who our parents were.

  96. katie says...

    My niece, who has always had an old soul and is turning 13 on Wednesday, has grown up helping out my grandma, her great grandma. At age six, she would run into the store or bank for my grandma. The people who worked there recognized her and watched out for her. I’ve always been in awe of her and what she would do for her great grandma. I’m not so sure she would have run into a store her her mom or grandma or me. They have such a special bond.

  97. Jeannine says...

    For as long as I could remember, I’ve had an irrational fear of kidnapping. Worried for myself when I was young and now worried for my own kids.

    Not a keep my up at night thing, but when I think about bad things that can happen without me in sight – it’s that someone will take them.

    I’m really trying not to pass that along to my daughters, but it’s hard. Stranger danger was such a real thing in the 80s. I’m probably still subconsciously on white van alert!

  98. Ashely says...

    I grew up in Los Angeles in the 80s and there was a pack of us that roamed our neighborhood. We went to the local convenience store, which was a couple blocks away and on a pretty busy street. We would go to the park down the street and under the freeway overpass to go to the library. Local coffee shops and music stores and just general exploring. We’d be gone for hours on our bikes, climbing trees, and playing days long games of Tag. We’d check in with our mom around lunch and close to dinner, usually to see what we were having and if we could bring any of the neighborhood kids. Or to ask if we could go to someone else’s house for dinner or a sleepover. I didn’t think anything of it until we moved to a large suburb of Atlanta, where we lived in a subdivision and nobody walked or rode bikes or left the subdivision. I think it was because there wasn’t anywhere we could really go without driving a car. Stores were too far away to realistically walk to. The library was a 15 minute drive. There was really nothing to do, except hit up the neighborhood pool or tennis courts. Which was fun, but didn’t really foster a sense of independence or adventure.

    I asked my mom years later why she felt ok letting us roam around our neighborhood in LA (which one would think was far more dangerous than suburban Atlanta) and she said that the neighborhood moms would usually keep an eye out and if they saw anything would report back to the other parents, but we were generally left alone. She also trusted that we had good judgment and we wouldn’t go over the major arterial streets or head to the known problem areas (drugs and some gang activity were present, but confined to known areas and they didn’t really mess with the young neighborhood kids). She was actually more concerned to let us leave the subdivision because she said she feared us getting hit by a car in an area where pedestrians and cyclists were far rarer.

    Overall, it was great childhood. I live in an urban area now that’s highly walkable/bikeable and our hope is that our kids have the same freedom I had. And the same neighborhood watching out for them.

  99. CLAREV says...

    I would love to do this in Chicago with my children, currently 2 and 3, but I am mostly afraid of the cops being called on me. Even at a park when my son was 2 and I was reading, I was chastised by another parent for not watching my son closely and engaging in his play. This weekend at the lake, I let my son run and play in the water and a couple parents asked if I was okay with him being in the water on his own! So frustrating!

  100. Emma Ricupero says...

    Growing up in a small private community in The Poconos, we were always allowed to bike, run, walk or play tennis by the beach alone. The only thing we couldn’t do alone was swim, because lifeguards are not babysitters. (:
    Living in the same community with my two year old daughter, I’d probably let her do the same thing! I think it’s just hard because in this day and age it’s not our children we can’t trust, it’s the scary people out their that unfortunately could hurt them.

    • Katy says...

      But weren’t the scary people always out there? I wonder if the 24-hour news cycle and TV dramas like Law and Order have made us think that there are more bad people than there were or actually are.

  101. Tai says...

    Oh my Heavens, no! My kiddo is 8 years old and there’s no way I’d send him anywhere alone. Better safe than sorry until he’s maybe…12 or so. His sense of independence can grow later, thanks. I’d rather have him alive and scared then dead or kidnapped or something. I realize those aren’t the only two choices, but on this issue, I let my anxiety win out.
    I let my teenager do things on his own, but I still have Trayvon Martin in the back of my mind and I remind him of Trayvon Martin from time to time. It’s a different story for black boys!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      thank you so much for your comment, tai.

    • Thank you so much for this perspective Tai! I often wonder about this— does the sense of, oh, “let em free” apply to me? I’m a WOC/child of immigrants in a largely Caucasian area, and I LOVE the concept of free-range parenting. But: the hyper-vigilant style of parenting is (part of) what made me surpass the odds and the statistics. From ESL to the Ivy League— can I be more lax than my mother was? Or (as you point out), does the current socio-political climate mean I need to double down?
      Thank you CoJ for another thought provoking article and wonderful commentators!
      (I explore a little bit of this further http://mamamd.gianninamd.com/2018/06/are-you-illegal.html)

    • Anna Mc says...

      Tai, thank you for sharing this – a needed privilege check for many of us, I imagine. Hoping and working for a time when there isn’t this added layer of worry for you and so many others!

  102. J says...

    Not sure if anyone’s mentioned it yet, but I believe Utah passed a law this year that says it’s not neglect to leave a kid unattended in the car while you’re grocery shopping or running an errand (provided the child is otherwise in a safe situation). The fact that we have to pass a law to this effect boggles my mind. I grew up in Russia, and I went to school clear across Moscow from where we lived, so I’d ride the metro and a trolley by myself from the age of 7. At 9, I’d be responsible for my sister. We live a block away from our school, with two crossings, and my 6-year-old will hopefully start walking to school by himself soon.

  103. Anna says...

    I was in Jerusalem this summer and drove through an orthodox neighborhood. I was surprised to see groups of young children walking together, carefree, with no adult supervision. I saw the same phenomenon in the Old City— children chased each other through the streets, playing without being watched. I live in the South/in the suburbs, but close to my state’s capital. I’ve never seen children walking by themselves and wouldn’t deem it safe for them to do in my city. Maybe it’s a cultural thing, or maybe some parts of the world are just safer than others.

  104. Lindsay says...

    I struggle with this. We live in a teeny town surround by water on three sides, but for some reason I find that cars drive quite fast and ignore the 15mph signs. This drives me insane! A few times I’ve let my 11 year old walk to the bagel shop in the morning alone but I can’t help feeling anxious the whole time, worried that he could cross the street at the wrong moment. Ugh!!! Motherhood is torture sometimes.
    I can see, though, how much he enjoys this alone time. Away from me and on his own, carrying his own wallet and buying whatever he likes.
    I do think here in the US we’re paranoid about safety and I wish that were different.

  105. Rachel says...

    I have been thinking about this so much since reading the NYT article. It is not yet something I need to decide (my son is 10 months but would LOVE some freedom I’m sure- he always seems to have a destination in mind and I usually foil his plan) but I am really interested in the topic. I’m unclear about what is legal/illegal. Is it legal for a 6 year old to walk to the store? I worry more about the danger I am putting my family in (legal prosecution) than I do the minuscule danger my child would be in while walking alone in the world.

    • Steph says...

      The laws vary by state, if they exist at all, both in terms of where kids can be alone (in their own homes vs. the neighborhood park vs. the grocery store) and at what age.

      My son is only 2 so obviously not striking out on his own yet, but I am already reminding myself that, sadly, children are manifold more likely to be harmed (i.e. abused or kidnapped) by someone known to them, often a family member. We’re taught to fear strangers (and to fear them on behalf of our kids) but it’s those closer to us who are the greater risk.

  106. Becky says...

    This post made me think of Etan Patz. I give alot of credit to parents for learning to let go over and over again. My husband and I dont have kids yet. This will be a discussion I am eager to read about. So many perspectives and I respect them all.

    • While that was a terrifying story, stranger abductions are actually rare. Statistically, a child in the U.S. is most likely to be abducted by a non-custodial parent.

  107. We open enroll my son, so he was always too far away to walk to school and there aren’t any other places for him to walk to in our neighborhood, so it’s never been an option. But he would walk a couple blocks to the car after school so we could avoid the pick-up lane.

    When I was a kid (cliche) I walked a mile to school every day it was decent from kindergarten until middle school. I loved those walks, with my friends and no adults. And once I reached 2nd or 3rd grade, was allowed to stop once a week in the drugstore to buy candy. It was amazing.

  108. Emily says...

    Some of my elementary aged students (7-8 years old) often say they miss living in the Middle East because they were allowed to go to the store alone, play outside alone, and walk on the street alone. There aren’t police everywhere too. They say that in the Bronx, their parents are always with them! Meanwhile, I’m like there’s no war going on in the Bronx! You’re safer here :)

  109. Sarah says...

    I grew up basically in the woods and have many happy memories of exploring, playing pretend with my best friend (“tree fairies” was our favorite game), without parental supervision. And I want that for my future kids someday, too! But right now, I’m living in a city and if I saw a little kid walking alone, I would probably ask those same questions about whether they’re okay or got separated from a parent or guardian, etc.

  110. Maryann says...

    I think about this all the time! We live in an urban neighborhood in the small-ish city of Portland, Maine, and I encourage my kids to walk and bike all over the place by themselves. We get a lot of judgement. There is so much fear! But the accomplishment of small tasks like returning their library books or going to a friends house…that has been huge for my kids. Now my son (12) is in middle school and we are confronting the cell phone age where many parents ensure safety via having a phone. So far, we are sticking by our “no phone-free range” philosophy, but who knows how long that will last.

  111. SE says...

    We used to live in an area where kids walked to and from school from a very young age (early elementary school). After moving to a big city we felt like we didn’t want the kids to take a step back. My son commutes to school alone on public transportation, about 35 min each way with a 3/4 mile walk from the train. He was a very young 10 in the fall and looked like an 8-year-old. We decided not to give him a smart phone, but opted for a button cell phone. I think that was a good call because he wouldn’t take the phone out and get distracted and miss a train stop, or not be aware of his surroundings.

  112. Colleen S says...

    When I was growing up, it was “safe” to walk down the street to a friend’s or ride my bike to the grocery store that was definitely out of my mom’s line of sight. But that was in the nineties, when it appeared to be safer than it is now to do the same. I remember my mom saying that she’d watch for us out of the dining room window when school got out to make sure we were coming home. That stopped in 1992, when my sister was born. I see kids in my apartment complex running around by themselves, which I honestly wouldn’t do, but not because of the thought of kidnapping. No, it’s how people drive through here, with no regard for who or what is in the street. There are basically no sidewalks or places for them to safely play, and management doesn’t care enough to enforce rules.

  113. MEMOM says...

    My husband and I both believe it is so important for our boys to have this freedom. But the fear we experience, of people finding out we give them the freedom is much worse than any fear we have of them being out on their own. We know the capabilities of both our children and that we have raised them to be smart, safe, and confident young boys. I so wish we didn’t have to keep it a secret that they may be home alone for a bit or that they walk from point A to point B and back alone.

  114. Natasha says...

    This is a very timely subject I feel. I have a 7 yo and 4yo and I can’t let them play in my front yard (while I’m inside the house watching from the window) without people stopping to ask if they’re outside alone. We live in Nashville in a nice neighborhood and while no place is 100% safe, it’s certainly a lot safer than the larger metro cities we’ve lived in before. I can’t imagine letting my 7yo walk to the grocery store 3 blocks from our house, not because that shouldn’t be allowed, but because this age of parenting has helped me create a somewhat dependent child. I’m not totally sure he could handle it alone. I grew up in a really small rural town and so I think about this sort of stuff all the time. I used to leave my house when I was his age and be gone for HOURS without my mother’s watchful eye over me. I feel really sad that my kids probably won’t get that luxury for a few years because I’m too scared of getting into trouble for allowing it.

    • JB says...

      I don’t have kids yet, have a very similar upbringing to yours, and this depressed me so much. What a world we live in!

  115. Agnes says...

    Haha I was just telling my niece about when I was 5 years old and walked alone to my first day of kindergarten, 3 blocks away!! Granted, this was 1977 in northern Canada so not NY City in 2018 haha. My mom had 3 other younger kids and couldn’t take me, but my dad could have! He tells the story of watching me determinedly marching my way down the street, wearing too-big white rubber boots. I do remember that feeling actually, I might have been a bit worried but pushing that feeling aside, setting my mind to it and stepping out, as I had no choice but to go. I don’t remember him offering to take me, or me thinking to ask him. I’ve been pretty fearless with most things in my life, so I’m grateful to them for believing in me! I lived to tell the tale, haha.

  116. Sarah Beth says...

    We recently bought a house in a very safe neighborhood (the same neighborhood where my husband grew up!), and our very close friends bought a house just around the corner. We know that a lot of families don’t let their kids walk alone, but we can’t wait for a few years to pass so our daughter can walk across the street by herself to play with her buddy. And if she’s feeling brave, walk a few more blocks to grandma’s house or the little convenience store! When we were kids, we followed a rule to be home by the streetlights, and I hope that the pendulum starts to swing back to giving kids more freedom, bc running around with kids on our block is one of my favorite memories from childhood.

  117. Emma Ricupero says...

    I grew up in the Poconos in PA in a relatively small private community that has a lake, tennis and basketball courts, a playground and boat dock. I also live here now with my two year old daughter which is really cool! When we were kids though, we were allowed to ride bikes by ourselves or go play tennis by ourselves. Even walk the dog alone/ go running alone. The only thing we weren’t allowed to do alone was go swimming until we were in high school and we had to swim with friends. Our lake had and still has a lifeguard, but lifeguards aren’t parents, they are paid to make sure everyone in and out of the water is safe, and are trained to act in case of emergencies. So my parents always believed we were to swim when they were there or our friend’s parents were there. Being a lifeguard now, I completely understand where they’re coming from especially because I have now witnessed lifeguards that aren’t very…alert haha. At the pool I work at, however, parents must supervise their children until they are 9, then they can swim on their own. I think 12 is a better age for kids to swim without parent supervision, but 9 isn’t too bad. (:
    Lol sorry for the tangent, but in short I think letting kids do fun things alone is great! It teaches them independence and responsibility. The only scary part is that in today’s world, we might be able to trust our children, but it’s so hard to trust strangers and things that can happen to our kids because of them. Not all of them, but sadly the many perverse ones.

    • Agnes says...

      I actually feel that things were worse in the 70’s and 80’s in terms of ‘perverse strangers’ because they went largely unchecked. There was no internet or scare culture to hold them so high up on the radar like they are now. Yes we played alone on the street but I also remember my 3-year-old sister ‘hitchhiking’ down the block from us. A car actually stopped and invited her in. We dragged her away. My mom was in the house doing her housework or whatever. So it didn’t mean the dangers weren’t there at all, it just meant that fear didn’t have such an impact on our living and we learned to watch out for ourselves. There was never a time in history when you could trust strangers.

  118. EB says...

    I get these comments all the time in Philly by exactly as you describe “well meaning passerbys.” And while in some ways I wish we all subscribed even more to the “it takes a village” concept–I don’t really want it here! I let my kids (4 and 8) sometimes race down the street from me or scoot down the street while I walk behind with my slower, dawdling 2-year old. And people ask them questions or say, “we didn’t know if he was alone” when I catch up. And that’s when he’s directly in my eyesight less than a block away! Same thing when I let my 8 year old go in to a store to buy something and I hang outside the door because I have a stroller or dog. Sometimes store workers purposefully ignore him, and I have to stick my head in the door and say, “He has my permission. Please let him buy the bagel.”

    This year in third grade his school releases him without having an adult pick him up. Most parents still do pick them up, but it’s giving me some validation that it should be okay for a third grader to walk home or at least a block in front of me!

  119. Sarah says...

    I get the free range parenting philosophy, but it’s not something I personally feel comfortable practicing with my youngest child. I have two teenage boys and one 4 year old. My 4 year old doesn’t have as much freedom as some of his friends – crossing the street by himself, playing unsupervised outside (nor did his older brothers at his age). But I would say my older boys have independence on par with their peers (riding their bikes to a matinee with a friend, etc). My older sons push me for more independence and -believe me- they are happy to haggle with me and work out a compromise. So I’m comfortable with my decision to delay independence to some degree for my youngest. That will all unfold down the road.

  120. When my son was young we lived in Montreal. He is 40 now so it was many years ago and things may have changed…at that time though he or more often he and a friend would walk from their school to their garderie together. Cross a busy street walk through a park. sometimes stop for snack with the money they had been given. I believe he was around 6 or 7 at that time. It really didn’t seem unusual. The ‘warnings’ we gave were more about paying attention to the walk signs, not about the dangers of being in the world alone. I don’t know if those experiences had a huge influence on who he has become, he is a world traveler. Alone or with others he has traveled just about around this magnificent globe to small villages and mountains and rivers and oceans and big cities. In fact as I write this he and his girlfriend are gone for 2 weeks walking the Camino in Spain. Weirdly I have more feelings of worry now then I remember experiencing all those years ago.

  121. Alli says...

    I grew up in a very rural area and my parent’s house was on a hill above a large pond, while my grandparent’s house was on the hill top on the opposite side. When I was a very little girl I would make the trek through the woods from my house to visit my grandparents several times a week. My mom would stand on the deck and watch until I entered the woods and my grandmother would be on her deck watching for me to exit the other side. For a few (glorious) minutes I was in the woods alone, out of sight of both of them! Those moments of independence were exciting and just a little bit scary, and to this day they’re some of my most vivid early-childhood memories!

  122. Michelle says...

    Yes! Just had this conversation with my husband after the first week of our kids riding the bus (we’ve just moved) and the other parents in our safe, lovely neighborhood all dropped their kids off at the bus stop by car, waiting with them until the bus came!!! It was crazy on so many different levels. My youngest even said “You don’t have to walk us mom…we know where it is”.
    Our kids are 7 and 8, and last year at their old school we let them ride their bikes to and from by themselves (about a half mile)- they loved the freedom and sense of responsibility/accomplishment. It was really the only part of their day that they were completely in charge. I always had a snack and hug waiting for them at home. I would sometimes get other parents attempting to guilt-trip me, ie “Oh, well I actually really enjoy being with my kids…”, like it reflects on how much I love them. I enjoy walking with them too, but don’t want to take that freedom from them if it is safe to let them have it.

    I also send them into restaurants alone to pay for and pick up takeout I’ve ordered, mail things at the post office for me, and return and check out library books I have put on hold, etc, while I wait in the car- which they adore doing.
    I was very shy and insecure as a child, and want them to be confident and sure of themselves out in the world. I feel like if they know how things normally go when they’re on their own, they might be more sure of their gut feelings if something were ever to go wrong.

    • Tanya says...

      I love this conscious approach to allowing kids not only independence but responsibility. I also agree with you about the excuse of “I enjoy being with them” – even if that is true, the point of parenting is not just about what you enjoy, it’s about what your kids need. TBH often I would rather just peacefully cook a meal by myself in half an hour but I choose (sometimes, on patient days) to have one of the kids spend two hours trashing the kitchen, asking “Mum??” every three minutes and leaving a mess in order for them to be able to produce a meal. Which never has green vegetables but that is another story.

  123. Kim says...

    That piece in the NYtimes was eye opening. The thing is, most of us in the US grew up with more permissive parents. We were outside all the time. But if you click the helpful link included in that article:
    https://www.kidsandcars.org/resources/state-laws/

    …You see how the laws have now hindered certain more permissive behaviors.

    In UT they are writing legislation to allow children more freedoms.
    https://www.sltrib.com/news/politics/2018/02/07/utah-lawmakers-pass-free-range-kids-bill-to-say-that-kids-playing-or-walking-to-school-alone-doesnt-mean-parents-are-neglectful/

    It’s insane to me that we have laws that children walking short distances alone (or without an adult) is illegal. That leaving a child alone in a car for five minutes is punishable by law.

    I wouldn’t call myself a libertarian at all, but this over policing of peoples lives and pretty normal behavior is bonkers to me.

  124. Laura C. says...

    My daughter is seven years and a half and, as some of you might know, she has Asperger’s. She gets easily distracted and I cannot let her go alone. She is too young.
    When I was ten, a girl, a classmate from the school, who lived in my neighbourhood, went to the store to buy some school supplies. She never got back home. One week later, her body was found on the gardens of the city. I remember when my mom told me that, and my elder sister, who was allowed to walk around alone, had to go accompanied by a friend or an adult for a lot or time.
    Oh, the man who did it got caught. And I am happy to say that we have never experienced such a horrible experience again in my city.

  125. Maggie says...

    I think I started walking home from school with my friend when we were 8 or 9. I’d stay at her house until our parents got off of work. And my mom was a serious worrier, but everyone was doing it at that age in my neighborhood! Now, I pass the school bus stop in the mornings and there are as many parents as there are kids… And I know a lot of teenagers who are deciding to go to college in their hometowns – not for financial or academic reasons, but to be close to high school friends and family, and it bums me out, and it seems like it’s probably related. (That said, I bet I’ll be panicky when it’s time for my now-toddlers to have some independence!)

  126. Britney says...

    This! I have often abandoned errands because my toddler is sleeping in the car. It’s not that I’m afraid for his safety if I run into the post office for five minutes, I’m afraid someone is going to sound the alarm on me!

    My mother-in-law had someone stand by her car and chastise her for leaving her dog in the car (windows cracked, cool day) while she walked to the mailbox in the parking lot at the grocery store. It maybe took 2 min.

    That said, I would never leave my children in the car on a blazing hot sunny day, but I’m definitely not above it on a mild day for a few minutes.

    How do you go about changing the fear culture though?

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      i know, it’s impossible to change the culture, right? i don’t know what the answer is. i would love to have toby walk to school this year (10 minute walk), but i’m worried it might not be not legal and that it would be frowned upon by his teachers/administrators. i guess maybe we’ll just try? or see if a couple kids want to walk together?

    • Kristy says...

      I completely agree!

    • Emily says...

      At my school which is a DOE school, kids can walk to school alone as long as they’re in 3rd grade and up.

    • stefanie says...

      agreed! there was the story a few years back about parents being arrested (or fined) for letting their 8 & 10 year old walk to a nearby park! i was dumbfounded.

    • Gillian says...

      Joanna, talk to the teacher and or administrators. They are often very supportive of this type of independence. In NY state there is no law about this it is specifically left to the parents’ judgement. Our (admittedly suburban NY) public school actively encourages kids to walk alone and dismisses kids on their own (not to the direct care of an adult) beginning in 3rd grade.

  127. Anna says...

    I live in Berlin, Germany and started to teach my daughter to return from the playground on her own when she was 5 years old.
    Simply because I don‘t like hanging out on playgrounds.
    My daughter walks to school alone (she doesn‘t like it) and to all her leisure appointments like piano, judo, choir.
    This said, it is unfortunately not common.Most of the kids are watched 24/7 and are accompanied all the time.
    I think this will cause serious problems in the future.
    Independence is not gained while being walked to ballett-class.
    You have to learn to decide for yourself at a certain point.
    Go for it, Joanna!
    Your kids can play on the sidewalk!
    Maybe they could paint a sign saying „everything is ok, my mom is right here, don‘t worry😀“

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      hahahaha i love the sign idea!!!

  128. jill says...

    such an interesting topic. i live in an extremely safe area, but having had four kids that currently range from 21 to 7…i think a lot depends on the child and their comfortability and confidence. my oldest could handle a lot more at an earlier age than say my youngest at the same age! probably ties into placement in your family, because oldest tend to be more responsible. listen to your gut is what i follow when making these types of decisions! and i completely remember the thrill of my own independent adventures, but sadly the world has changed and there is more for parents to worry about.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      that is awesome, jessica!

  129. Gillian says...

    My children 11 and 8 have been walking to school in our Westchester town since they were each in first grade. My 11 year old has been walking to the high school to watch varsity soccer and lacrosse games since about the same time and they will both walk into our “downtown” to go to the drug store and look at toys. My kindergartner is excited to walk to school with just his bother and sister this year. They look forward to and savor these little opportunities to practice independence.

    • di says...

      wow where in Westchester are you? Scarsdale here and I haven’t seen any 1st graders walk to school on their own… This is where herd mentality comes in, because although I live a 3 minute walk from school, I wouldn’t think to allow my soon to be 2nd grader to school on her own, even though I recall walking on my own at this age to and from school. Gah.

    • Gillian says...

      We are in Bronxville. Walking to school is encouraged and all kids are dismissed from the classroom (not directly to the custody of an adult) beginning in 3rd grade. Parents are not allowed in the building at drop off after the first day of school. All the kids in our neighborhood walk in groups. It is quite common to see packs of kids who are young walking on the main street after school. In 6th grade kids can leave campus to walk into town at lunch. It is one of my favorite things about our town.

  130. Elizabeth says...

    I grew up in rural Mississippi, where not only was it common to be out playing all over town until dark, but my cousin and I would drive our grandmother’s volkswagen down to the pharmacy to buy snacks – at 13! I don’t recommend the driving part, but knowing every street, yard and kid around was a wonderful way to grow up. Everyone out running hard, sweating and laughing, parting ways with a wave when the streetlights came on.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      oh my gosh, that’s amazing!!!!!

  131. Colleen says...

    I live in Cape Town and sadly kids in the suburbs don’t walk anywhere on their own due to the high level of crime (and paranoia). On a trip to Scotland recently I noticed how much freer both the kids and parents were. Everyone was much more relaxed. I won’t lie; I was envious!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      i felt the same on our vacation to cornwall this summer. the kids would run to the playground together without any adults — it was only a short distance — and they loved it so much.

  132. Laura says...

    There was so much food for thought in that article and I look forward to reading the comments here, but something that really gave me pause was this paragraph:
    “When a person intimidates, insults or demeans a woman on the street for the way she is dressed, or on social media for the way she speaks out, it’s harassment. But when a mother is intimidated, insulted or demeaned because of her parenting choices, we call it concern or, at worst, nosiness. A mother, apparently, cannot be harassed. A mother can only be corrected.”

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      agreed, laura.

  133. Amy says...

    Such a timely post! We have just moved from a very suburban, drive everywhere location to a more “in town” spot & my kids can finally walk somewhere (Juiceland is the fave) They are 11 & 14 so certainly very capable to do this, they just never had the opportunity. I’m so glad that they can now experience a bit of freedom. I cannot imagine sending them off to college (just four short years away!) without some experience at being independent

  134. alison says...

    I live just outside of Boston and let my kids walk to the corner store (maybe a third a mile away from home) when they were 8 and 6. I worked up to it where I stayed on the other side of the road, stayed far behind them, and then finally let them go it alone. They LOVE being able to go out on their own but apparently on one of their first trips, a woman stopped in the car and asked if they were ok?! I think people are not used to seeing younger children walk alone but it is such an important step in growing up!

  135. This is so real and confusing for me right now. My five year old recently started biking and would love nothing more than to go around the block by herself. I let her go up and down our sidewalk but I’m myself too nervous to let her go around the block. I thought I was more confident about letting my kids explore independently but I have a lot of my immigrant family’s fears within me as well. So curious to hear other moms’ perspective, I would love to live in a world where we were all freer, children and moms!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      my kids used to run around the block together before bed, now and again, and i would time them on my phone. but now toby is too worried about being asked questions by passersby! such a bummer, although i understand the well-intentioned desire to check on kids you see running around alone.

  136. Lena says...

    Those were different times in a different country and I wouldn’t give my son the same liberties these days but I used to take public transportation to school since kindergarten. And it wasn’t one stop, it was multiple and very common among all my friends 7 years of age.
    One time, when I was 6, the mini bus driver who drove my kindergarten route every day forgot to let me off at my stop and when I quietly said at the next stop that he forgot me, he apologized and turned around the whole mini bus with other passengers to take me back one stop :)

  137. AE says...

    I’m a native NYer and we not only walked to/ from school every day as kids— starting around 5 (kindergarten) but we also took the trains by ourself starting around 10. I found that my neighborhood (which is currently being destroyed by gentrification) had tons of neighbors and familiar faces that not only made us feel safe but made our parents feel safe. If we got lost on the way or were running late, there were at least 5 people between my home and the several blocks to school who I knew were keeping an eye on me. Sometimes they’d be on the stoop, sometimes looking down from windows, or sometimes it was the rogue parent walking their kid to school. I’m not sure when everyone got so weird about kids being independent but it’s a real shame.

  138. GJ says...

    Interesting that the question from strangers is “where’s your mom”, not “dad” or “parent”.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      i agree! i’ve thought the same thing. or maybe “do you have a grown-up with you?”

    • GJ says...

      Yes! That would be a perfect way to say it.

  139. Anna says...

    I grew up in rural NC, at the dead end of a dirt road. My neighbor and I had free reign over the woods around our house and my mom would call me in by ringing a huge cow bell that hung on our porch. It was a wonderful way to grow up. I’m raising my 5 year old son in suburbia, where we let him play in our yard on his own and ride or scoot way ahead of us when we are out and about in our neighborhood. He’s a careful, cautious kid who takes safety rules seriously. I trust him, and I generally believe in the goodness of other people. But when we’re out and about I find myself worrying and making decisions based on what other parents/adults might think. Over the weekend I reluctantly walked from the enclosed playground we were on to the car to get his water, leaving him alone (for maybe two minutes!) only after he said, “it’s okay mama, I don’t mind staying here by myself,” and I realized how much he wanted the opportunity to show some independence. But I worried the whole time that someone might call me out on it when I returned. It feels so silly, and I’m grateful to my little guy for keeping me on my toes and allowing him some space to grow.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      “I find myself worrying and making decisions based on what other parents/adults might think.” = me too. although maybe others are more likeminded/accepting than we think? it seems like it from this comment section, which is making me hopeful!

  140. Caitlin says...

    I work in disability services and in my field we often talk about the “dignity of risk” which I just love. It’s the idea that everyone deserves developmentally appropriate opportunities to take reasonable risks – and that doing so is essential for fostering dignity, self-esteem, and self-determination. As scary and uncomfortable as it might be for us, I think it is so important to help children learn how to manage risk and personal safety because ideally we won’t always be right there to help them navigate the world!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      i love that, caitlin.

    • Jessica says...

      I work at a large elementary school (around 700 children) and recess has just become sad. Every time a kid gets hurt there is a new rule. For example, kids aren’t allowed balls and can’t run in the mulch because someone got hurt. I feel bad for kids because 1. It’s hard to keep up with the random rules and 2. There’s not much they are allowed to do. When are we going to realize that kids will get hurt occasionally and that’s okay.

  141. Yael says...

    It’s easy to forget the tremendous role of privilege in shaping one’s perspective on this issue. Many of the societies in which children roam free are relatively homogenous (e. g. Japan) and enjoy a high level of social trust. If you’re a minority in a diverse society, then sending your child out for a free-range jaunt in a neighborhood dominated by folks who not only might not be looking out for your kid as one of their own, but also might even view him or her with suspicion is a serious concern. I have seen so many discussions of this in the US just completely ride over the fact that “freedom” is not simply a matter of your individual ideology as a parent. All parents do the best with the tools they have, and taking the time to understand how parenting situations vary by race and class would be very helpful to these discussions.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      that’s a really good point, yael. thank you. one of the grandmothers at toby’s school was recently telling me that her granddaughter (and toby’s classmate) isn’t allowed to leave the apartment when she gets home from school. they live in the projects and the family doesn’t feel she will be safe out of the apartment on her own. we don’t live very far from there, but i realized what an enormous contrast that is to anton playing safely outside our building.

    • Wendy says...

      Being a person of color, this REALLY resonated with me. This is why I was not raised free range and this is why I am a little bit more protective of my own children. Thank you for adding your comment.

    • Katherine says...

      Yes yes yes, Yael, this is what I came here to say. I am white and live in a middle class neighborhood and will be welcoming a baby girl to our family in November, my first child. While it will be awhile before I have to make decisions about her playing or walking somewhere alone, if I were mother to a young black boy, no doubt my parenting instincts would be much different. I am in favor of giving my child the freedom that comes with independence, and I know that even if the cops are called on me (ie a white mother) for questionable parenting choices, likely nothing will come of it, or I’ll have the resources to resolve and fight it, should it come to that, because of my place of privilege.

    • H says...

      My youngest brother is black, I am white. He came with me once to pick up a friend’s daughter at school. I left him outside while I ran in. I came out to find that two white adults had approached him. I reacted defensively. I felt bad afterwards, maybe I should have given them the benefit of the doubt. But now, years later I think my reaction was appropriate.

    • Rach says...

      Glad this comment appeared so early in the discussion as it was my first reaction to this post as well. I work with families who have open child welfare cases in Brooklyn and unfortunately, though not surprisingly, catching a case for “inadequate guardianship” in NYC is patterned by race and economic level. Sometimes letting a child (even as old as 9) travel briefly alone is the only reason for a case to open. Even if the case is found to be unsubstantiated, the call and investigation stay on a parents’ record forever. Most poor parents and parents of color often feel rightfully dis-empowered to make this personal parenting choice. As a therapist, I find myself more often supporting parents in reconciling with this fact of inequality in our society and system, than in discussing their ideal choices for their family. All of my clients live below the federal poverty line and live in Fort Greene, Carroll Gardens, and Williamsburg, where perhaps they live side-by-side with families who are more empowered to let their children explore independence at younger ages. Thanks for providing this space for everyone to share their thoughts and experiences. It’s very interesting to read all the thoughtful comments.

  142. Sarah D. says...

    We live in SoCal and let our kids have an incredible amount of freedom. Our 1st grader often walked to school alone last year. He regularly bikes the neighborhood and stays home solo. Younger sister is 5 and she’s asked to stay home solo while I run short errands and I let her. She walks to the top of our street alone, but hasn’t ventured beyond…yet. We’ve taught them to say, “I’m getting a little alone time”, when asked by strangers what they are up to. Love the idea of kids getting to build self-confidence and self-reliance one little adventure at a time.

  143. CathyMA says...

    Haha! This brings good memories. Maybe it’s NY? I was a 5 year old in Brooklyn, too, and NEVER went anywhere by myself. I couldn’t even go to the corner store alone. However, at the same age, we visited my grandparents in Italy for a summer. Guess who went to the bakery for bread with just my 4 year old sister? And this bakery was down a couple of blocks and around a corner, so we couldn’t be seen from the house. Same parents, but the threat of danger was not felt the same. Same when we were teens and visiting our family. My sister & I had MUCH more freedom there than when we returned home. My mother said it was because she felt more eyes were on us and didn’t believe that was the case in NY.

  144. denese says...

    Yes! And it scares me every time! Last year I started letting my 8yr old daughter take our dog for a walk around the suburban block. We live on a busier street with no sidewalk, but, so did I when I was a child and had to walk to my 4 block-away-bus-stop.

    I equipped her with role-playing on what do to if a car pulled up beside her, threw a whistle-on-a-string around her neck and a glass of wine in my hand.

    My next fave thing to do is to send my 10 and 8 year old through the grocery store with their own cart, on a hunt for milk, eggs and the like. they are THE PROUDEST KIDS EVER when we meet and reconnect in produce. Giving them independence isn’t always easy, but so necessary!

  145. mallory says...

    Just last week it was cold and foggy out (SF summer) and we were getting bored at home, so I took my 2 yo and 4.5 yo to see the new Winnie the Pooh movie. It was my little one’s first time in a theater and she did great, but naturally had to pee, twice! Each time I took her to the bathroom, I let my older daughter stay in the theater on her own. I knew she was safe but I was more worried about the other adults in the theater reporting me or something (to who? the theater? the police?).

    It felt so weird I even took an instagram poll to see what others would do! (90% said they’d do the same :)

  146. C says...

    When I was growing up my parents would often leave my siblings and I in the car while they went to a restaurant and had dinner alone. We’d put the seats down in our station wagon and play cards or draw, or build blocks we had brought with us. Those were rare occasions where we got to eat fast food for dinner and I loved those siblings-only car picnics. I think it made us closer, knowing we were alone and responsible for ourselves and each other. It was great. It felt like such a treat for us kids and my parents got some much needed solo time without having to spend money on a babysitter, and they were just right inside the restaurant if we needed them, so it was perfectly safe. I’m not sure what people would think nowadays if you left your kids in the car while you were off enjoying cocktails and adult conversation.

  147. Trista Cooper says...

    My son just turned 6. One afternoon this summer he decided to open a lemonade stand. We live in a suburban neighborhood on a long culdesac with no traffic. He sold lemonade to two neighbors. We tried to let him do it on his own, but I looked out the window probably 30 times and walked outside with him when the neighbors walked up. It’s tough letting go regardless of your neighborhood.

  148. Lillie says...

    I walked from my moms apartment on 42nd and 9th to her boyfriends on 42nd and 10th once in 1988. They both leaned out of their apartment windows and watched me, but I was alone on the street and it was one of the best most thrilling moments of my life. :)

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      oh my gosh, that is so so so sweet, lillie :)

    • Nadege says...

      I have a vivid memory of staying with an aunt and her boyfriend in Montreal, I was 5 my brother 7 and she sent us to the corner store to buy pancake mix. Just as you describe Lillie, THRILLING. I honestly remember, not just “feeling grown up” but was certain people would look at us and believe we were grown ups, husband and wife out getting pancake mix. The memory of this feeling is so meaningful, I honestly might be looking forward to day my son can do the same as much if not more than he is!

  149. Abbie says...

    Oh gosh this is such a topic of space in my mind! I live in suburban FL where it is safe as heck and people live in (seemingly) CONSTANT fear.

    I desperately wish we could all agree to just keep watchful eyes on children, as if they were our own, but not running interference unless real danger is present.

    • Paula says...

      I’m a Polish living in the UK and the restrictions on kids independence here are enormous! My 7 year old son is really scared to walk into the super market alone even when I’m standing right outside, he worries strangers will stop him and ask him questions, as they always do. But when we are in Poland he is pretty happy getting an ice cream from a truck tens of meters away from where we are because that’s what kids do there. It’s amazing and a little scary how kids pick up on those things and how easily they adapt and behave in a way that’s expected of them. We really do need to be careful not to affect kids confidence just because of our fear.

    • CathyMA says...

      “just keep watchful eyes on children, as if they were our own”

      This is how my Mom explained it to my sister & I when we would rebel we didn’t have the same freedom in NY as we did when we were in our parents town in Italy.

    • Una says...

      here, here!

    • Nadege says...

      YES! Do other Canadians remember the Block Parent program? Where families in the neighbourhood could put that red sign in their window and you’d know to go to that house if you needed help? I also just wish “looking out for” was part of our culture.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      yes! i remember that. we had “seeing eyes” or something like that in the michigan suburbs. you’d see a poster with a hand on it, and you knew it was a safe house to go to if you were lost, scared, etc. xoxo