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. Amanda says...

    I allow my two year old to play out on our deck while I’m in the kitchen cooking (it’s a kid friendly space). I can see her out of the window playing kitchen or digging in the plants. I think it’s great for her. She’s surrounded by her friends at daycare all day so I think moments alone allow her to unwind, gain independence, and be imaginative. My biggest fear – not her getting hurt or kidnapped – CPS being called.

  2. Mollie says...

    There’s a great episode of Invisibilia about this subject and they say it’s wayyyy more safer for kids to be out and alone now than it was in 1970s — when all the kids were actually out alone. I hope people get a chance to listen to it, as a parent it help put rational thought back into the balance between fear.

  3. Meg says...

    I was given a lot of space to play, ride my bike and be independent in my neighborhood as a kid. And I would definitely wait in the car while my parents grocery shopped or did errands. But I haven’t felt comfortable giving my eight-year-old daughter as much space as I had. This spring we started letting her bike around the block on her own. She takes one of her toy walkie-talkies and leaves the other with me. I recently started reading a book (The Self-Driven Child) that begins by talking about how children/teens have a lot of trouble with anxiety and depression today and it’s linked to their feeling a lack of control over their lives. I’m starting to look for more ways to allow my daughter independence. It’s challenging though! I’m a worrier by nature, but I for sure want her to grow up with self-reliance and confidence.

  4. Karyn says...

    Reading that piece in the Times made me feel really guilty and interfering because a few months back my family was driving along a fast-moving interstate at twilight/almost dark and I saw a small kid, elementary school age, standing alone beside a stalled car that was pulled off in the ditch beside the interstate. I looked and looked for an adult and then called 911 “just in case” because I couldn’t stand the thought of the little one getting scared alone in the dark, being hit accidentally by a car, or meeting trouble if someone cruel/demented/etc. saw them or (god forbid) took them. But now I’m worried my call to 911 could have caused or later did cause trouble for the parents :( There is just no way to tell sometimes!

  5. Lindsey says...

    We live in Switzerland in a suburb of Zürich, and the norm here is for children to begin walking alone to kindergarten when they are 4 years old. Although our village is quite safe with cows & goats along the way and the children wear little reflective vests for the first three years (until they are 7). My kids love the independence!

  6. Heather D says...

    There’s no way I would ever let our little guy go out unattended even in our small, relatively safe town. Child abduction and trafficking is REAL, folks. I’ve read reports of it attempts even in my small, quiet midwestern town.

    • Susanna Burt says...

      I agree with you Heather, 150%. I have loved this blog for nearly 10 years, but this post is probably the first in my history as a reader that I do not agree with. As heartbreaking and maddening as it is, the reality of our parenting generation is that the fear component is there for good and valid reasons. I am in my mid-30’s and in my memory, the world is such a different place than it was even 10 years ago. In efforts to minimize bad things happening to children, we now have laws that protect them when parents innocently cannot see the dangers in seemingly safe activities. Crime has no address. For the people who say “the chances of that happening to me are slim because of where I live/I’m 2 blocks away/etc.”, I say “the chance isn’t zero and I’d like to see my child grow up”. Parenting is truly the hardest job, one where nearly every parental decision can be scrutinized these days, but there are key protections we need to not lose sight of for the safety of our babes.

  7. happycamper says...

    We moved from Los Angeles to Salt Lake City a couple of years ago and one of the differences we talk about the most in our family is the fact that the move has allowed our children the opportunity to experience developmentally appropriate independence, which has been a massive benefit to our family’s well-being. The kids are 6 and 9– they walk to school alone, go to the neighborhood pocket park alone, and can go to visit friends in the neighborhood alone.

    Of course this is made possible through layers upon layers of privilege– that , in Utah, we can afford in to live in a walkable, leafy, urban neighborhood full of character (where there are lots of pedestrians about), that we live in a cultural context that supports (in fact expects) this kind of independence, and that due to our kids’ ethnicity (white and asian mix), gender (both girls), and our family’s socio-economic status (professional class), folks regard our kids’ maybe boisterous or mischevious behavior while out and about, with joy rather than with suspicion or concern.

  8. cgw says...

    I walked alone, in a group, and biked around as an older kid (10-on) for school and in the summers, it was glorious freedom. I knew how to be street smart and stranger aware. Fortunately nothing bad happened to me, yet, at 16, on my way home from school while waiting for the streetcar, I was approached by an older man who pulled up in his car and told me a lie about the streetcar being broken down and he’d give me a ride. Of course I said no. In fact, I ignored him and walked away from the curb because I was afraid he’d try to snatch me. A few days later he came back and tried the same tactic. Luckily the streetcar was coming. But the scariest part was that I got on the streetcar and saw that he was following the streetcar. I literally had to ride an extra mile until it reached the tunnel/underground part of its route, then I went one more stop (underground), and then turned back around to get home so I could lose him.

    All that to say, for some reason, even though in my head I knew it was something I should have told my parents and probably the local cops, I didn’t. I was embarrassed that somehow I created the situation. I never told an adult, I’m 48 now and my parents still don’t know. It’s the same thing with sexual harassment, I never told anyone.

    How do we make sure our kids never suddenly lose their common sense and dignity if something happens, and ensure that they will tell a trusted person?

    • CD says...

      Thanks so much for sharing this story. At a counseling retreat, the lead therapist shared a similar story and it’s stuck with me – while I don’t want to live in fear for my own son, I want to teach exactly what you pinpoint – that if something ever did happen … if a situation even presented itself…it wouldn’t be his fault.

  9. I don’t have kids yet but I was surprised by the answers to your question, I understand the need for independence and learning to do things by themselves, I was also left to roam free as a kid to play outside and it was awesome, however I cannot stop thinking what if something happened to the child while they are out by themselves or left in the car or on their way from school? I know the chances are slim but still..No parent would ever forgive themselves if something happened.

  10. Emily Ionescu says...

    Thanks for this post. I too am raising children in NYC and it gives me hope that there are other mothers out there who feel like i do. This is really important!

  11. Stacey says...

    My son (12) rides his bike or walks to school and back every day. Since he turned 11 we allow him to go to the park a few blocks from our house. He also goes to a Democratic Free School that has an open campus for kids 9 and over which means he’s been wandering the neighborhood for three years during school both alone and with his friends.

  12. Sarah F. says...

    I grew up in SE Asia in the late 90s/early 2000s. My mom would ask us which direction we were going in (!!!) and we had to be back at 5 sharp but aside from that, we had absolute freedom. I am not sure if I will be able to give the same childhood to my children but think that that independence gave us the best experiences, learning opportunities and memories, albeit crazy ones! I live in Germany now and love the freedom and confidence given to children here… it inspires me in motherhood, reminding me of what I loved about my own childhood!

  13. Tonia says...

    I love the IDEA of letting children be more independent and “free range”, but I could never forgive myself if something happened and I wasn’t there. How do we balance safety with freedom in this day and age with threats like human trafficking seemingly lurking around every corner?

  14. Jocelyn says...

    I grew up in Indonesia and stories about how kids being kidnapped, girls being raped, adults kidnapped and then found weeks later by the side of the highway with their organs gone very often goes around. My mum and auntie (who I live with) are very protective of me and my siblings even until now, maybe slightly overprotective (maybe also because they’re both single mothers). Im 23 now and they would get furious if they found out i ride the taxi by myself.

    In a way I understand them but I think in the midst of fear and worry, as a parent you need to build trust with your children and one way to show that trust is by giving them freedom, somehow. This topic has been on my mind these past few weeks as I’ve just come to a realisation that I have no confidence in myself. I know I sound like I’m blaming my mum and auntie but I think I do agree with D.H. Lawrence that to educate a child is to leave them alone. Stellan skaarsgard, the great swedish actor, has also said he never encourage nor has he discourage his children to act, which I think is great parenting advice.( or at least one which resonates with me).

  15. Lane says...

    I try to let my oldest (9) have more freedom for such things, but my husband really freaks out about it. However, yesterday I had to go get gas in my car after picking him up from school and he wanted a drink. Rather than making him wait until I was done, I just gave him $5 and told him to get a drink and snack and bring back the change. This at the store around the corner from our house where all the cashiers know him, and he was SO proud of himself! These little things really do make a difference.

  16. Summer Lampron says...

    I live in a country town in Connecticut where there are no side walks. I have a 6 and an 8 year old – and they have yet to go anywhere alone. Just very recently I left my 8 year old in the car alone parked in front of the convenience store while I ran in and grabbed a coffee. I was scared someone would call the police on me! I walked to school alone with my little brother when I was 7 or 8 years old – everyone did….It was no big deal. Things are just so different now. Maybe it has to do with where I live. I do notice that in the more urban areas there are children walking to school etc…

  17. Katherine says...

    I remember when I first started driving, I went to the store for my Mom to pick something up. I parked next to a car that had the windows rolled up, and a baby inside but no mother. I can’t remember the kind of day it was, but I remember being so shocked. I stood around the car and called out to passers by to see if they could go in the store and find the mother. I was incensed. How could a mother leave her baby in the car!? Call CPS! But then, the mother came TEARING out of the store. She had completely forgotten her baby in the car. When I told my Mom this story, still blaming the mother for being so irresponsible, Mom said that she had done the same thing when she was a young mother. She said sometimes we were just so good and quiet in the back seat. We were so content to look out of the window that she forgot she had brought us along, and would just get out of the car and go into the store. I turned out great, and the idea that my Mom could have ever been accused of negligence is absurd. We need to cut people more slack. Children need a range, not a leash.

  18. People honestly believe the world is more dangerous but…there’s no real evidence of that.
    I grew up *IN* the city of Chicago. We went everywhere in our neighborhood alone! We would take the city bus places as young as 8/9 years old. My kids were about 7/8 when they started venturing out alone to the park (no streets to cross) or to the convenience store/gas station (across a street but with a crosswalk and light). They’re 18 and 20 now. They survived! :-p

    Now of course, having toddlers 15ish years ago means I am baffled and confused by every 3 year old walking around with $400 iPads, glued to a screen — that was not a thing when my kids were little. But somehow outside is too scary. Not judging…just amazed at the mindset!

  19. We live in a very unique place here in the U.S. On our island off the coast of Maine, there are only 400 year-round residents. It’s common for children to do a lot of things at a young age here, like row their own boats or go fishing or race through the woods without parental supervision. From a very young age they are taught to be safe and to respect nature, since we are surrounded by water. In turn, parents always keep an eye out on children when we see them racing around town, but we rarely worry. The other day I was at the beach with my 14 month old son and I sat next to him but let him splash in the water and even crawl around in it solo, picking up big rocks and letting them plunk back down. Near us was a couple “from away”, the Mother would not let her son near the water without holding his hand. I completely understood the fear, but I also couldn’t help but think, when will she realize that letting go isn’t so scary? It is in fact liberating (for them both).

  20. Amy O'Dell says...

    I LOVE THIS DISCUSSION SO MUCH!!!

    Last year we moved from a small town to a big city. At my daughter’s old school it wasn’t uncommon for kids to start walking home from school in kindergarten. We let her ride her bike home a few times because I felt it was good for her to learn the lay of the town and have a little independence. When we moved to the city we moved one street over from the elementary school. My daughter was now in grade two but I had to get special permission from the principal to allow her to walk home from school. I was pissed off. It made a big deal of something that should’ve been easy and that made my daughter worry.

    The world is no more dangerous than it was in the ‘70s and ‘80s in most of North America the media is just more keen to report and sensationalize rare incidences of random violence.

  21. Blaire says...

    I listen to way too much true crime to let my kids run to the store by themselves! Haha

    • Alexis says...

      SAME. (Casefile is my favorite, BTW)

  22. Lisa says...

    I wasn’t left alone until I was SEVENTEEN (not even in the house on my own) and it was awful. As soon as I had the chance to get some independence I did. I grew up in Johannesburg South Africa which had the highest crime rate in the world at the time, but still.
    My kids are still very small (8 months and 2.5) but I try to give them some independence, though my husband is more successful at it. I tend to panic and have to really restrain myself (and this is just letting my son run around in the play area on his own). But overall, I want my children to feel free and independent. I know (now that I’m a mom myself) that my parents were trying to protect me, but how it felt at the time was that they didn’t trust me to look out for myself. I think it has created issues in our relationship as a result and because I have my independence I guard it fiercely

  23. Michelle says...

    I’d like to see a post like this with regard to older kids (in their teens). It seems like younger kids are more supervised than in the past but I get a sense that teens are being pushed to grow up more quickly.

    As a teen in the late 90s, I had no cell phone and my mom never really knew where I was. I frequently spent Saturdays driving around exploring, sometimes to neighboring states, but that was definitely not the norm among my friends.

    • Liz says...

      I was a teenage in the early 2000s (white child of immigrants and suburban middle class, for context) and had a similar experience. I resisted getting cell phone for as long as I could because I didn’t want that kind of “leash,” as I thought of it, from my parents. As soon as I got my driver’s license, my friends and I would drive all over NJ (where I grew up) or NY, and sometimes into Pennsylvania (and often just end up at random waffle houses and drive back), just to explore. Also, when I was 14, I started hopping on the commuter bus that stopped near my house to go into NYC just to walk around, explore and practice taking pictures on the old SLR my uncle gave me. I’m pretty sure that my parents had no idea I was doing it, but they trusted me (maybe a little too much) enough to know that if I needed help I would call them. Although I know that sounds extreme, I look back at that as a really formative time for me to develop confidence in myself and learn how to navigate the world on my own. I’m always taken aback when adult friends I have aren’t even brave enough to explore places (nearby cities/states or whatever) on their own, let alone go on a trip somewhere without help. These friends tend to also be the ones with really strict parents. Although I know everyone’s situation is different regarding safety/social economic background/race, it makes me kind of sad to see that the norm is treating teenagers like children until they go to college. I think that a little bit of danger is a good thing. Sometimes you need that to awaken the senses.

  24. Anna says...

    My husband and I are contemplating moving BACK to NYC with our 5 kids after moving south a few years ago. We are back in Brooklyn for a month giving it a go. My 10 year old realized she defintely would love living here again when we allowed her and our 12 year old to go wandering alone the other day. In the neighborhood where we currently live, we’d have child protective services at our door if we allowed them this freedom. They both relished it and look forward to many more adventures together!

    So trust me, if you think your kids should have more freedom here, try moving out to the suburbs pretty much anywhere in this country and you’ll see that by comparison, they have a lot more in a place like NYC!

    P.S. we visited The Yard playground at Governor’s Island. I love that they literally tell parents they CANNOT follow their kids into the playground and must allow them to play independently!

  25. Grace says...

    I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently! I was Skyping with friends in New Zealand, and they let allowed their almost-2 year old so much more freedom than American parents I know. They faced me while we talked and didn’t worry about keeping her in their sights, they let her climb up onto her stool to reach the sink and play with cups and water, they let her bother the dog, knowing that if the dog got annoyed, she’d have learned a lesson. They didn’t try to help her find solutions when she was stymied, just patiently waited for her to get there on her own.

    It really opened my eyes to how my American friends who are parents never let their kids out of their line of sight, always try to manage frustration or disappointment, and always remove them from any potential accidents or danger. Which is so understandable! But maybe not always helpful?

    • “It really opened my eyes to how my American friends who are parents never let their kids out of their line of sight, always try to manage frustration or disappointment, and always remove them from any potential accidents or danger. Which is so understandable! But maybe not always helpful?”

      THIS! It’s how helicopter parenting starts. I recently commented to my husband, who was feeling burned out trying to manage our very high-energy three year old, “What if we just didn’t care so much about watching her every mood and managing her at every turn?” I feel like American parents live with this pressure to meet every obstacle, annoyance, emotion, or outburst with some type of “parenting.” If my child is being a little wild, I should admonish her. If she’s having trouble climbing, I should help her. If she’s bored, I should set up an elaborate activity for her. I just don’t buy that parenting has always been this hands-on. Something has shifted in our cultural expectations, and as rates of teen and young adult depression and anxiety continue to rise, it doesn’t seem to be doing kids OR parents any favors.

      Thanks Joanna and the COJ for covering this topic! I also read this NYT article and have been thinking about it ever since.

    • Cynthia says...

      Lauren, you hit the nail on the head. Parenting has never before been this hands-on. I grew up in a midwestern suburb in the 60s and I like to say my mother parented with benign neglect. We three sisters were out and about on foot and bike in our hood from morning to night, in and out of others’ homes, in the park, and sometimes riding so far we weren’t quite sure where we were. I raised my sons in an urban setting in the 90s and allowed them to stay home alone while I went grocery shopping for about an hour when they were 8 and 10 and also let them ride their bikes to a hamburger stand about one mile away to get a summer lunch or milkshake at that age. They always played outside in our fenced yard and spent many nights sleeping in a very high treehouse. They were navigating city buses independently by 15 and we allowed them to drive from Seattle to San Diego and back (over 6 weeks) when they were 16 and 18. From there it was college far from home and independent travel all over the world.

  26. Helga says...

    When our kids wanted to walk the three blocks to school by themselves we decided to give it a try. They were in 3rd and 6th grade and people acted like we were monsters. I truly worried that someone was going to call child protective services but the kids loved it. From that day forward we gave them a lot more freedom. My youngest got the full benefit because she started getting evey growing doses of independence at an earlier age. She’s adventurous and always knows that she is in charge of her own safety. When she started college, she wasn’t suddenly drunk with freedom. She has already learned that independence and personal responsibility go hand in hand. You can’t protect children from the world forever – eventually they have to make there way in it.

    • Sarah says...

      That’s such a great point. When I think back to my freshman year of college, the classmates of mine who exhibited the most risky behavior were usually those that had the most restricted lives at home.

  27. Elizabeth says...

    I’m re-reading Claire Dederer’s memoir Love and Trouble right now (which OMG if you haven’t read it, you must! You must! So great). Anyways–she has a section towards the end where she is thinking about her teenage daughter, whom she and her husband have allowed to meander the streets of Seattle since she was in middle school (!). I wish I had the book in front of me now so I could quote directly, but she says almost exactly what you say here–how her daughter’s cheeks are flushed when she returns from the city, eyes are bright, world is expanded just a bit more. That tension between safety and freedom is what she’s playing with as a mother–which is more important for our children? Safety? or Freedom? Because it may not be possible to always have both.

    I think this is definitely gendered as well, of course. I’m in awe of Dederer’s bravery at choosing freedom over safety for a young daughter. As your boys age, I imagine their maleness will provide a since of security that you might not be able to take for granted if you had daughters.

  28. Deirdre says...

    I would love to send my 7 and 5 year old (and eventually the 3 yr old) out further from my house – to the park or shop less than 1km from my home. But I have been spoken to by other parents for them just being out front of our house alone in the garden. It pains me to say that I live in fear of others and that affects how I parent my kids. Good for you for doing it!

  29. Ramona says...

    My mom is the very definition of a Nervous Nellie, and I still played outside around our block unsupervised, walked to school with friends starting in first grade, and sat in the car while she ran errands. I think parenting expectations have changed a lot between generations.

  30. Whitney says...

    This is one of the most pressing issues of parenting in our generation, in my opinion. When my son was 1.5 years old and just learning to really explore, I let him go in and out of our side door onto the deck outside. I was sitting inside the door, watching him in amusement until I was filled with fright and anger. A woman walked all the way across our yard (we have a huge front yard), along the side of our house, and around our deck to “check on him”. I understand seeing a toddler outside “alone” might raise some concern, but he was clearly going in and out and playing with the door, not escaping. In her mind she was being helpful, but to me she was a stranger walking across my lawn to grab my kid. Maybe in trying to “protect kids” well intentioned strangers are actually making kids and families feel less safe. Since then I certainly think twice before letting my kids out of the house without me quick at their heels.

    • Samantha says...

      I feel like the “if you see something, say something” campaign (aimed at TERRORISM) is part of the problem here. Why, why, WHHHHY on earth would a person feel compelled to enter on your property to investigate a situation that has absolutely nothing to do with them? I would have called the police on HER for trespassing!

  31. K says...

    I think about this a lot. LMy oldest, almost 6, is very responsible. I would have him walk home from school alone (2.5 blocks) but unfortunately I fear the adults who would have something to say about it.
    I think the best way to raise responsible humans is to let them be alone and actual be responsible. How can one learn to be a good decision maker if they never have to make their own decisions?

  32. Eleanor says...

    I grew up with a lot of freedom and independence; going to the library alone as a kid, going shopping with friends as a tween, endlessly roaming downtown as a teenager. I had more dangerous things happen to me in my college dorm than on those public streets, and that freedom is one of my favorite things about my childhood (I’m 40 now, grew up in mid sized towns in NC and the UK). Now, I live in a much smaller, more rural town, but I try to give my children the same opportunities, dropping them off on Main St or for a hiking trip. We live at a summer camp, and they spend months unsupervised by me personally, but still developing their independence in a safe environment. My willingness to do this has made me a ‘cool mom’ to some of my daughter’s friends, but I truly consider it essential to their development. I can’t imagine sending them to college without these skills, and it makes me sad that so many kids don’t get to do this, and grateful that my kids do.

  33. Natasha Oliveira says...

    Hello from Portugal! Around here people are also afraid to let their children walk alone, unfortunately… When I was little, I was only accompanied by my mother to school in the first days. Then I went on my own or with friends on a 20 minute walk. I would also go to do some errands like small shopping at the local bakery, etc.
    My eldest son is 6 years old and this year he starts school. I feel very insecure about letting him go to school alone, after all he has never walked the street alone! Will you have a good sense of direction? Will he pay attention to traffic (when he is with us, he is not very attentive …)? Will he be able to ask for help from an adult if he needs it? Or not easily attracted by someone more dubious? I know, if we do not try, it will be difficult for him to overcome these difficulties… And that it would be so important for him, to have a sense of responsibility.
    Although Portugal is a very safe country, I think that the constant bombardment of news about terrible things, particularly with children, creates a fear that prevents parents from allowing their kids to have a freer childhood, like the one they had!

    • Marina says...

      I am Portuguese as well. I have 4 kids, and we’ve been letting them walk alone and run errands (go to the bakery or mini-market) in our neighborhood, since they were 6. The oldest is 13, and he pretty much goes everywhere by on foot or with his bike, within a 5 km circle.

      People’s fears are simply irrational. Portugal is one of the safest places on earth. We have an astonishing low crime rate. The huge majority of crimes against children are committed by their own family or friends, not by strangers on the street.

      I think over protective parents are being a bit childish and selfish (at least my over protective friends are). Selfish because they are nor making a rational decision about the amount of freedom their children deserve. They are acting on fear or afraid of criticism, they are worried about themselves and how they panic when kids wonder around and not about the kids themselves (parents who grant freedom worry too; we just swallow our fears). Childish, because part of growing up and being a good parent is accepting you will never control everything, that bad things can happen, maybe they will happen, but we should not suffocate our children because of it. If you let a child climb a tree, she may fall and break a leg. However, she is also learning a lot of relevant skills by climbing the tree, which are probably more important than the risk of getting hurt.

      I think kids are safer when they know their environment. If something happens and we are not around, my kids know almost everyone in our neighborhood, they know how to walk to school, to the main shopping centre, to our workplaces, to a couple of friends’ homes. It is not something that happens overnight, it is a work in progress and every child is different and ready for different things at different times. But I hope they all turn 18 being well-adjusted, autonomous, responsible people, and not the big babies I see everyday in my work (I work at a university; believe me, we’re doomed).

  34. I’m pretty sure it’s illegal where I am for children under 12 to be unsupervised.
    While I haven’t let my children wander free just yet, one of their favourite games at the moment is pretending to be ‘lost’ at the Shopping Centre. I’ll say to them “Ok, you’re lost and I’m at [insert name of shop]. You need to get there to find me”. Then they’ll head off to find me while I trail along behind. They love the independence & don’t like me to give them clues or be too close. They get quite a few funny looks as people do think they’re all alone.

    • This is a very cute idea!!

  35. Lisa T says...

    I grew up in the ‘burbs and by grade 3 had free range of the ‘hood. Now I live in astoria, NYC. In the last 6 months there have been reports of a man maturbating in one playground, and an attempt to kidnap a child in another. Umm, yeah, I think my fear is founded. Our challenge then is to find new ways to give independence. I’m still searching….

  36. sharon says...

    Wow! I think it depends on where you live in the world. NYC sounds a bit like London. No one would ever let their 7 year old walk a couple of blocks to the nearest shop. In England and actually most of the UK, we are reluctant to leave little children to play on their own. Children have been snatched from a few metres outside of their home only to be found murdered on some hill. Fortunately my children are all grown up now, but it’s a different kind of world to the world I grew up in in the 60s and 70s. You don’t want your children to grow up in fear, but you have to use wisdom with the freedom you give them too.

  37. Bridgid Pesto says...

    I grew up in Australia in the 70’s and 80’s. My older brother and I walked to and from school everyday and fixed our own afternoon tea (I think the term “latch key kids” applied to the children of working parents) and we’re often left at home at night unsupervised. My parents ran their own business so quite often on our long summer holidays we would be dropped at the local public swimming pool at 9am and picked up many, many hours later…burnt to a crisp!!

    I now live in a lovely suburb and have always let my kids have some element of freedom fro probably the age of six. Walking the dog, walking to the shops, riding their bike to friends houses, etc. It is quite common here.

    Interestingly enough, my biggest critic has been my own mother. The one who left us unsupervised and exposing us to possible skin cancer! My kids are older now, but when they were younger she would ring me if it was raining to say I should go and collect the children from school rather than letting them get the bus. It is very frustrating! She wasn’t worried about me being unsupervised or getting the bus or walking home in the rain!

  38. Jenny R says...

    My younger sister and I grew up in Dublin (Ireland) in the 80s by a very busy road, so my mum was always very careful about where we could go alone. We were allowed to walk around the corner to our friends house (2 minutes away) from about age ten I guess, and I used to take the public bus to school from 10 or 11 too, but were otherwise quite restricted until our early teens. Summer holidays were a different story though. We had a mobile home by a lake where my dad would fish. We were allowed to roam free (well, between a bridge on one side and some trees on the other), and up into the fields behind the mobile. We’d be gone all day, just coming home for food. My husband grew up in rural Clare, and while he’s nervous of cities, he used to cycle country roads to his friend’s house and go fishing for the day, miles away! We have 16 month old twin boys now and live rurally. I’d love to allow them free range when they’re older but my main worry is traffic on the roads, rather than abductions etc. Thankfully they’re extremely rare in Ireland. Also, kids are generally let play on the street from a young age in housing estates in more urban areas, and in parks. My niece who lives in Oxford has just started taking the bus to school herself at age 12.

    I don’t think there is as much paranoia in Ireland and the UK as there is in the States, but I also think it depends very much on what your neighbourhood is like. I think it’s so important to for kids to have a sense of independence which builds self confidence, it’s just figuring out how to make that work.

  39. liza says...

    My daughters walk our dog by themselves all the time. They are 10 and 7. I have obviously talked with them at length about strangers and what to do if they are uncomfortable. I have started letting my oldest go into the stores alone and order or buy what we need. She feels so empowered and capable. I need to do this more.

  40. Brenna says...

    I went to Japan for vacation a few years ago and the biggest shock to me was seeing very young children going to school alone. Sometimes they would have a hat with what I believed to be the name of their school on it. The youngest children often walked together. It was very sweet and made me so sad that the US has too much crime (or maybe perceived crime) for children to do the same.

  41. Vicky says...

    We have been in Switzerland for a year and I am amazed at how free-range kids seem to be here. The local school actually doesn’t have an enclosed yard! During breaks, kids just go out to the town square with minimal supervision, and are expected to just come back for class. The walk/scoot/bike alone to school from a very young age. You also see unsupervised kiddos around the neighbourhood Riding their bikes or playing. It is thrilling, as I remember loving that feeling of freedom as a kid. It is a different world today of course but apparently not in our tiny Swiss town!

  42. Anni says...

    I am from Germany and for me the thought of the fact that in the US strangers call the police when they see kids without adults walking around just gives me chills down the spine. When parents think it is safe to leave their kids the space they need, there should be no one interfering! We need to give the children the feeling that it is totally fine to explore on their own (in safe environments, of course). My daughter aged 7 walks to school with her friends, which is a 20min walk over fields and through small streets. For me as her mother it was quite hard at the beginning to let her go. But she is so proud and explores the neighborhood, rides her bike to the bakers a couple streets away, walks to her friends houses, just like I did when I was her age. Where does this Stranger Danger in the US come from anyway? I always wondered.

    • Lil j says...

      These are just my two cents – I hope maybe it describes the mental backdrop of my experience growing up and now as a parent. First of all, America has quite the range of experiences from highly populous cities, to ‘bedroom communities’, to out on a dirt road in the countryside. I believe the fear of the stranger stems from at least two areas of concern – one, US society has become very fragmented with little continuity in a neighborhood. You don’t know your neighbors over a lifetime and people create a public façade. Families used to live in the same town, and you had aunts and uncles nearby – enough for news to travel fast if you had gotten into mischief. Now, your neighbors are strangers. Not all – some communities are tight-knit and at least join in an online forum to visit and share events/news/concerns/problems. Communities are pretty fluid (people move residences/cities all the time) and neighbors don’t know each other any more. They pull their car in and go inside, never interacting. Even people walking on the roadside/sidewalk is notable (in a bedroom community – we’re highly car-based city) – and always adults, not children. Some cities don’t have any public transit of note. Secondly, as others have mentioned – the worries and concerns of trends (child trafficking being one, the pervasion of child pornography another, abuse in schools/colleges/churches by trusted adults in authority) and also kidnappings have always been sensational and closely followed by the media and populace. Gripping, as you can imagine. There is seemingly not a collective morality that is widely accepted in regards to children. There are so many differing views now about what people (strangers, neighbors, communities, legally) think is ‘right’ that you have over-reactions and under-reaction equally. For every frantic, well-meaning 911 call of a watchful stranger regarding something simply explained, you alternately have a child being held hostage in a dog kennel that no one on their street knew about. So, there are well-founded concerns, but responsible adults are always searching out the ‘best’ environment they can afford to raise a family safely because of all the perceived or anomaly freak occurences that weigh heavily on the parental mind here. When I was growing up, we suddenly couldn’t go trick or treating because of fear of razors in apples. Except we could go to houses where we knew the family. It’s things like this that begin to curtail the range of safety smaller and smaller. We’re trying to talk about how to safely expand those boundaries wisely and safely to keep from crippling our kids and empowering them to trust their instincts and practical ways to continue expanding their territory.

  43. Stephanie says...

    This resonates. I grew up in a small town, roaming freely with throngs of other neighbourhood kids and riding my bike a half-mile to school from the time I was 6 (accompanied by my then-8-yr old sister). I had a whole after school universe my parents weren’t any part of. Over the dinner table and at bedtime I could share stories about it with them or not, as I chose. As an adult living in Toronto (downtown, not the suburbs), I never allow my 5 year old anything close to this level of freedom. He and his friends get together on play dates at homes and parks and have no opportunities to be alone together outside. The other day my son saw a child (maybe aged 8 or 9) riding her bike down the street alone and remarked with a concerned tone – “Mama! That kid must be an orphan – she’s outside with no grown-ups!” It was so sweet/hilarious, but also a bit of a gut punch – I promised myself in the moment I’m going to work on getting over my own fears (mostly of other adults’ potential judgment about my parenting) and find ways to foster opportunities for him to build his own adult-free spaces.

  44. Brynja says...

    It is really normal here in Iceland to see little kids out by themselves. When the weather is really bad we get a special kind of weather advisory that adults should walk children under 12 to school so they don’t blow away :) Otherwise, kids walk themselves to school, go play with their friends, take the bus all on their own from a very young age.

    • Samantha says...

      “we get a special kind of weather advisory that adults should walk children under 12 to school so they don’t blow away :)”

      THIS IS THE SWEETEST THING I HAVE EVER HEARD!

  45. Livia says...

    Where I live (Copenhagen in Denmark) children go to school when they turn 6: already during their second year some of them start going alone, especially if they have older sibling or friends to walk with; by the fourth year (aged 8/9) most of them are walking to school alone.

  46. We moved from Seattle to Vienna in June and I was immediately struck by the independence of young children around us, riding scooters alone down the street or taking the tram home from school. I’ve started experimenting with my 8-year-old, sending him to the recycling bins outside or letting him stay home while I run to the ATM. I’m not sure who is more nervous, but we both find it exhilarating with each new step. When I read that NY Times article it dawned on me that most of my fears were driven by reaction of strangers. Would they call me a bad mother or call the police? Among many others, this is one issue I gladly leave behind in the US.

  47. I talked to my mom about this recently, and she said that she was never too worried about someone kidnapping me and my brother – if someone took us, she reasoned, they would quickly give us back!

  48. Sherri says...

    I think I understand both sides and see benefits in both approaches. I’m just not sure that quoting statistics is helpful, because if your kid happens to end up as the “statistic”—well, imagine? When you let kids roam free you are saying that, to you, their learning independence is worth the risk. Because it is a risk.

    • Leah says...

      I totally get it. However, there’s no risk-free lifestyle. And there are real risks associated with not allowing kids to move freely about the world. I risk my baby getting shot if I send him to school, but I’ve determined it’s “worth” the risk. I risk his life every time I put him in the car and drive onto the freeway. Same when I let him bike to his friend’s house. But at the end of the day, he has to be allowed to live a full and free life.

  49. Liisa says...

    Growing up in a Finnish suburb in the 90s, I and most kids I knew were allowed a rather high level of freedom and independence from age 7 after starting school. We walked or took public transport to school and hobbies, fixed after-school snacks at home by ourselves and of course just played outside every day of the week, in the neighborhood and the surrounding woods. My parents even put me alone to a long-distance train to visit my grandparents at age 6, with the conductor keeping an eye on me – a little extreme even by Nordic standards.

    This freedom allowed for the most imaginative games and deep friendships to develop, and it personally served also as a refuge from a stressful home environment. I’m forever grateful.

  50. I grew up in south England in the late 80s and early 90s. As kids, we often played in the street, rode our bikes 10 houses down to our friends house and spent all day there. At 11 we moved to South Africa – it was the mid-90s, and Apartheid had just been overthrown. We still had some necessary freedoms, walking to and from school and to the shops (necessary, as my dad was a single, working parent).
    Fast forward to today and I have my own child, he’s 3. If he’s out of my sight for a second, I completely panic. These days, kids are rarely seen without a parent nearby. Groups of parents will watch each others kids, but we do not trust strangers. We are fear driven, and we need to be. South Africa is a dangerous place for a child, with kids often being kidnapped, raped and murdered. It breaks my heart that he can’t have the same freedoms we enjoyed as kids, but unless I literally want to risk his life, it just cannot be.

    • Becky says...

      I also grew up in South Africa in the late 80s, early 90s. I had a very independent childhood, walking to school from age 6, taking off on my bike for hours with friends, running barefoot down the road to get ice cream at the shop. It makes me sad that I can’t offer my son the same childhood. ( I live in California which is obviously much safer.) Not out of fears for safety but because of other adults getting involved, the same fear many others mothers have.

  51. Tiia says...

    I’m from the Nordics, where it’s totally common e.g. to leave your baby sleeping outside a cafe with a monitor while the mom sits inside (tourists are always panicking about these ”forgotten” babies!). And when kids start school at 6 – 7, the walk there on their own. Of course, e.g. kidnappings never happen here…

  52. What an interesting topic! This has been on my mind a lot since I’ve become a mother.

    I used to run errands like doing running to the supermarket for forgotten grocery items or going to a little shop to buy my own bubblegum since I was around 7 to 8 years old. I too grew up in a major city but it was all good and appropriate. Nobody worried or bothered me. Although I now live in a small village there are no stores at walking distance; I will have to find another way to teach my daughter a similar sense of responsibility.

    What occupies me the most is how I used to roam the woods alone weekends on end all by myself. I’d leave after breakfast and wouldn’t come back until dinner. As the woods and fields around our campsite were pretty vast (for Dutch standards), there was no way of calling out to me so I could hear it. Also, I was rarely at the same spot all day.

    This is all I wanted for my kids when I ever got them. But now that I managed to find a place to live near the woods (the open fields and trees actually start 5 doors down) I can’t imagine letting my daughter play in the woods all by herself all day. Granted, the forest here is in fact a lot busier than the places I used to play (a lot of people walk their dogs there day around) but I never see any children play by themselves. Truth be told, I never even see kids in groups build forts or play in the streams by themselves, either. There’s usually a parent picnicking nearby.

    In fact, even when she’s old enough to play outside for longer durations with friends, I am considering buying her a gps bracelet with an alarm button. Although I highly value my kid’s privacy, the idea of her needing my immediate help (stranger danger) without me having any means to find her, punches the air right out of my lungs.

    On one hand I feel silly. I know crimerates have in fact decreased over the years. But, as me and the Mister seem to conclude whenever we have this conversation: Times are different now. Havung a child play alone somewhere outside (especially away from supervision, like alone in the woods) isn’t the norm anymore, and I wouldn’t want my daughter to attract unwanted attention.

  53. Leah says...

    At ten, mum let me make a maybe five-minute cycle ride to the Five and Dime (this was rural TN in early-90s) to pick up some household thing for her. I was elated. We’d just moved into a rental house in town while our next home was built. I made the trip and no one said a thing.

    Fast forward six years, I’d just passed my driving test, and my first solo drive was into town to visit the post office. Fifteen minutes in and fifteen minutes back. Mum had at least two phone calls asking if she knew I was out in the car. :-|

  54. O says...

    In the Soviet Union, all kids were on the streets or in the woods all day every day (outside of school hours), often not even coming home for lunch nor dinner. Parents often had 2-3 jobs to earn enough money to provide for the family, so me and my little sister were on our own most of the time, sometimes for several days when we were 8 and 5, respectively.

    Since we were given independence and were expected to partake in the daily cooking, washing, ironing, cleaning & other household stuff basically from the day we were born, it felt natural, so we knew our way around the house and felt safe.

    But now I’m a parent myself and I see, that the fear for their safety is ingrained into me by the daily news.
    We have a huge fenced yard outside the house, so I let them play there for as long as they want, but I have to admit I’m scared to let them go to the playground 1,3km from the house – there’s no sidewalks in our village and couriers drive their vans far above the speed limit.

    @Joanna, what have you taught your kids to avoid the evils of this world? I’d love to see an article on how to prepare kids to keep them safe, even when the parent isn’t around.

  55. Clare says...

    I feel like it’s a Catch22 problem here, in the UK and maybe the same in the US; you don’t see any kids about on the streets, playing, so your kid doesn’t get to know local kids so they don’t play outside like we probably all did. Kids are kept ‘safe’ indoors at all times, the media and society has told us the outside world is dangerous and something awful will happen if they’re not supervised 24/7. It’s really sad, my childhood was formed from playing freely outside with my friends :-( My daughter is having a completely different experience

  56. Saliormoon says...

    Recently we have moved to Shanghai away from USA. There is a huge sense of fear in Shanghai where strangers will come and kidnap your only child. We left our 14 month old with our babysitter (an ayi) for a date night, and most people in the building judged us when they found out (‘you did what? We could never….). Also my neighbors were shocked to find out that we have yet to install a nanny cam. My mother has taken it upon her self to send us articles regarding child abuse and kidnapping as well. My husband and I feel like we are living in an environment of fear!

  57. Loos says...

    I grew up in the Netherlands. When I was 6 me and my 7yo sister together took our 4yo brother to school, on the back of my bike!

    Growing up in brentwood, my 6 and 8yo kids love to play on the sidewalk, only to be interrupted by shrieking (well-meaning?) people: WHERE IS YOUR MOM??!! Why it always has to be mom is topic for another day I guess..

  58. Abby says...

    I live in Australia, work as a Child Protection Social Worker and my husband is a policeman, and we NEVER let our children out of our sight.
    Why? Because of our jobs we know that child abduction and sexual assault (and attempted abduction and sexual assault) are more common than the public would be aware of. Saying “No one is going to touch my child” just can’t be guaranteed I’m afraid.
    We have had recent high profile kidnapping cases in Australia such as 3yr old William Tyrell who was kidnapped (now presumed dead) from his grandmother’s back yard whilst she and his Mum were inside; Daniel Morcombe – a 13yr old raped and murdered by a paedophile whilst he was waiting for a bus by himself; as well as lesser known cases such as the man who dressed in camouflage gear and hid in bushland, abducting and sexually assaulting 2 separate girls as they walked to school (only 4kms away from my house). And for all of these ones that make it into the media, there are all the other ones my husband and I are aware of because of our jobs.
    Yes, we try to give our children freedoms, but we know the reality of life as well, and we don’t want them to become a ‘statistic’ either.

    • cgw says...

      It’s nice to hear from a completely different perspective, but one that isn’t judgmental, but rather based on personal work experience. It helps to keep perspectives in balance.

  59. Kamisha says...

    This has been on my heart a ton this summer. My boys are 8 and 10 and craving adventure beyond our reach. They have spent the summer going further from home on bikes. A couple blocks at a time. They ride off to the park now or to buy a drink. They love the freedom.

  60. We just did a year-long adventure with our children, ages 4 and 7, and it included a stop in Norway. We were about to embark on a three day road trip while in the country and needed to do a quick grocery shopping trip before we hit the road. We decided to be like the cool Scandinavian parents and let our children play in the adjacent playground while we ran around the store for 20 minutes gathering groceries. Upon emerging from the store, we found two proud and delighted children – they’d had an absolute blast and were thrilled with both the freedom and responsibility of their outing.

    In true Norwegian hospitality, a group of daycare children were also visiting the playground and their teacher simply folded my two into her group when it came time to sit down at the picnic table for their midmorning snack. Everyone was happily munching crackers while bundled up to their ears in toasty outerwear. It was so sweet.

    Not only did we love the trust placed in small children to be independent people, we especially appreciated a society that sees childrearing as a group activity – everyone looking out for the smallest members of the community.

  61. Hannah says...

    We live in Chicago— definitely not a safe place. I often grapple with our decision to stay in the city for this exact reason. But I find ways to help my littles feel independent and empowered. I’ll often have them run into a shop to grab something on their own… it gives us all a thrill :-)

  62. Jillian says...

    Growing up, my family spent almost every Friday eating dinner at one restaurant with several other families, with the adults all sitting at one table and all the kids sitting outside or at a table on the far side of the restaurant. It was an order-at-the-counter place, so no burden for waiters, but the rule was generally “figure it out,” whether that applied to fights, spilled drinks, boredom, or anything else (and there were a lot of fights and spilled drinks). It was such a wonderful lesson and gift to learn to figure out, amongst the group of kids (ages 5-10), how to handle things as simple as dining together on our own and entertain ourselves (sans phones!) for hours while our parents had fun, and it was even better to see a model of our parents having strong friendships and enjoying good conversation together that we weren’t, shouldn’t have been, and didn’t want to be a part of while we formed our own. Not exactly the same as walking around alone, but something I’d suggest nonetheless!

    • L says...

      I love this! I haven’t thought about trying it at restaurants. When we have dinner with friends, we always set a separate kids’ table, no matter who is hosting. The youngest in our group is still a toddler, but it’s assumed that the older kids will help the younger ones. Every kid loves the set up because they have so much more independence and lots of funny conversations. It’s great for the grownups too. Separate restaurant tables will be up next!

    • Cynthia says...

      Oh Jillian, you are reminding me of something else we did with our boys to foster independence and fun…when we’d stay overnight at a hotel that had an adjoining restaurant, we’d allow the boys to sleep in as desired and go down to breakfast together and charge it to the room. We, the parents, did the same and often saw our boys come in to the restaurant while we were eating our own meal. They loved it and were probably tweens when we started doing this.

  63. J. says...

    I read an interesting article about how full temper tantrums generally only occur when there is an adult around; when kids are alone, they realize that type of reaction doesn’t result in good responses from other kids often. More importantly, kids need to be able to build rules for games/play and then choose how and when to fairly enforce them, whether they’re playing house or kickball or tag or something make-believe. Even if they’re within eyesight, this is so important to help kids figure out all the things they’re going to need to do everyday as adults.

  64. One of the truest joys about raising our two children in Switzerland is the societies collective notion that children need independence. It is not uncommon to see children riding trains, and trams alone. In addition, children walk alone on the street, visit playgrounds and pop into grocery stores. Not to mention they are encouraged as early as kindergarten to walk alone to school. I love that about this country and encourage our children to relish in this freedom.

  65. Emily says...

    Thanks for this post, Joanna! I’ve had the experience of being mom-shamed for leaving my littles in the car (windows down, 70 degrees, could see them through the giant window the whole 3 minutes while I bought a sandwich for my sick mom. In the suburbs – No danger whatsoever!!) and I was so so SO ashamed. The woman who yelled at me told me what I did was illegal. It wasn’t! Ever after that, I have been hyper-vigilant about how I LOOK as a parent (in public, ha!). Once, I got an actual compliment, while checking out at target with my four rowdy kids. Some lady said, “You are SUCH a good mom.” I thought, yeah, cause I knew you were judging me. I said in my sweetest voice, “Aww, thank you! That’s so nice!” What would she have felt the need to say to me if she thought I wasn’t doing a good job?? My kids are obviously reasonably well looked after (i.e. somewhat clean and well-fed). JUST LET ME LIVE! I don’t want your complaints OR your compliments!!! I have lost all faith in my fellow (strange) women. (Not friends, what would I do without them?) So basically, I’m more afraid of strange, “well-meaning” (amnesiac) women who’ve apparently forgotten what it’s like to parent small kids than I am of kidnappers or murderers. FOR REALS!!!

    • Michele says...

      100% agree!

  66. Molly K says...

    You guys should listen to this encouraging episode from the Edit Your Life podcast, “Letting Kids Experience Risk”. It has helped me decide how much to let my kids go and do things on their own.

    Oh, and they also discussed the question of WHEN should you intervene when you see kids out by themselves. Their advice was that the only time you really need to do something about it is if the kids are actually in danger. Not if you think they could get into a dangerous situation, but if they are actually in one right now.

    https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/edit-your-life-show/id1027400535?mt=2&i=1000365935348

    • L says...

      I always think that if all the adults who yell at parents or call CPS because someone let their kids out alone instead just kept an eye on those kids to make sure they are safe, the kids would get to learn independence and experience the fun of being out without their parents and would be safe.

  67. AB says...

    I live in a city with 36 houses on my long city block, 15 or so of them families with small kids. It’s an upper middle class neighborhood. Number of kids per family ranging from 1-6. This is no case study but I witness the kids who are unsupervised are the ones biking in front of cars without helmets, hurting younger kids, and being sassy to adults. Mainly rude behavior, at times slightly dangerous. One 11 year old took a 7 year old to target to steal things and when they came back he told him to hide from his mother in the alley and has since harassed the mother, telling her and everyone she’s an idiot. Another young boy went out on a slanted roof with 2 friends when their parents weren’t home and tried to kick each other off while it was raining and slippery. Other friends of mine who live within the neighborhood on other blocks also constantly complain about these unwatched kids. Sure everyone survived but Not sure what all this ‘street time’ is always teaching. The parents who are more involved (read- involved and not hovering) really do seem to have better behaved kids. Their parents are available for them. I think there has to be a distinction between letting it be a free for all and giving kids age appropriate freedom and independence at increasing frequency when the child has proven capable of handling it. Which isn’t contradicting what most these comments have said.

    And though I have fond memories of growing up roaming the steeets myself, I secretly craved more guidance and structure. My mother was warm and loving but she was a single mother who worked a lot so I was left to my own devices.

  68. rae says...

    Growing up in Hong Kong, I still remember we had much freedom strolling around, my mum would drop me and my brother on a bench outside a hospital drawing, and she went in taking care of my grandpa; or if she had to run an errand, she left us in the toys department of a shopping mall. My parents didn’t let us go too far though, but my husband said he went to the kindergarten on his own, and he was free going wherever he wanted, which included taking public transportation.
    But now it’s more crowded here in HK, I don’t have the nerve to do this on my kids! Thanks for bringing this up, we will find some safe routes and let them have a go~

  69. Hannah says...

    I grew up in Turkey, and my family moved from Istanbul to a nearby rural town when I was 4. Before the move, with the fears of living in a big city and during a time of anarchy on the streets and martial law, I had spent almost my entire childhood at home and only socializing with other kids who lived in our apartment building. Then, a coup happened, martial law was lifted, and all of a sudden we were in this village that was sandwiched between orchards and the sea. I definitely made up for lost time, and my parents’ anxiety about watching over us constantly visibly melted away. During the summer, I’d leave home after breakfast and only check back in for lunch and tea time. Sometimes we’d play in the orchards and sometimes go to the beach with our friends. Someone from the village was always around, and if we started causing trouble, they’d just tell us to behave the way our parents would want us to. During the school year, I’d walk to the village school alone. My parents moved us back to Istanbul when I turned 10 (the village wasn’t near any good middle schools), and I always say that our little village life was everything we all needed at that time.

  70. Alex says...

    I think so much of it depends on the kid. My 3 year old daughter is very responsible and listens when I give her serious safety directions. I think part of it is because I give her a lot of freedom to make 3-year old decisions (what to eat for snack, what clothes to wear, if she wants to go barefoot at the playground, if she thinks she can climb that ladder…) so when I say she has to do something my way she takes it seriously. I can already trust her to sit on our stoop if I need to run inside to grab an umbrella or poop bags for the dog (for literally 5 seconds people! don’t call CPS on me!) But I think if you have a kid who is extra mischievous or easily swayed into things, then you gotta be careful.

    Also the snark in me wants you to teach Anton to respond to those strangers with the same question back – “Where’s your mom little boy?” “She’s inside. Where’s YOUR mom?” “Are you lost?” “No, are YOU lost?”

  71. Carly says...

    This really resonates with me as a mother of two small children. I live in fear of critical strangers. Once I left my infant son in my car for ten minutes, parked in my parents’ driveway in deep shade, car locked, on a 50 something degree spring morning. Some ladies hanging flyers on doors saw him and called the police.
    I know that something bad MAY happen to my children if they are unsupervised. But I also know that something bad absolutely WILL happen to my children if they are never given the opportunity to take unsupervised risks and play on their own. How will they ever grow into capable adults?
    All of my mom friends have expressed similar fears and had similar experiences. We are certainly living in a culture of fear.

  72. I love this! Roaming is so good and important to children! Recently, a neighbor posted on our nextdoor site. She said that she wants to help create a neighborhood where kids are playing in the streets and running to each other’s houses. She posted an article with statistics showing that it’s safer than it’s ever been to be a kid-and I’ve read similar things. I told my 6 year old daughter about this and the next day she walked three blocks to their house and knocked on their door and they played. I’m stoked to find more playdates for my children!

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2015/04/14/theres-never-been-a-safer-time-to-be-a-kid-in-america/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.13280d037b12

  73. Heather says...

    My husband and I had very different upbringings in this regard, and it really shows in our parenting, now. His childhood was highly supervised and structured. Mine was… borderline neglectful by today’s standards but solidly normal 80’s parenting — loads of time roaming outside and going to different friends’ houses and not checking back in with our parents until dinner. There was an old barn on our property and my little sister and I would play in there for hours unattended.
    It was full of rusty nails and OMG, when they finally tore it down they found DOZENS of snakes.
    We were fine, though. I’m not saying I’d let me kids play in a derelict building… I’m just saying that the freedom we had made us feel tough. This difference ends up being a source of conflict for my husband and I, because he’s so over-protective with the kids and I’m more of a mind to let them try things, make their own decisions,have a little independence and even get a little bit (just a little) hurt. We’ve been at this little beach town this week and I DGAF if my kids wear shoes. There are almost no cars here and I haven’t seen a single splinter of broken glass all week. But tonight my husband was in a heated argument with my 5yo son bc my son didn’t want to wear shoes to walk to the park, and was saying, “but Mom said it was OK!” Sigh….

  74. Nicole says...

    This is a tricky one for me–I grew up in a bucolic, middle class neighborhood in the 1980s, and was nonetheless assaulted by a stranger at 6. There were other adults visible and in earshot, but the bystander effect was not in my favor! Fortunately, I was able to escape before he was able to kidnap me as well. It must have worried my mother immensely when she let me ride my bike around our neighborhood a few years later, and I hope to also let my own kids learn to manage risk and have independence as they grow older. Just an alternate viewpoint.

  75. Nadine Hughey says...

    Funny you asked, because I was just telling a friend from where we used to live that my 15 year-old daughter hangs out with her friends in the touristy downtown area of where we live now. I still might say no it she wanted to go to the convenience store closer to home. And even though I flew by myself as a child, there’s no way I’d let her do that & I can’t even say why, except that I wouldn’t want her to be alone if something were to happen.

  76. Ange says...

    In our suburban neighborhood all the children walk to school or are dropped off by parents, but most walk to and from school unsupervised. I have 3 children in elementary school and they all walk together. They also go to the parks down the street by themselves. I do like them to go in pairs. Every day neighborhood kids ride bikes to my house and play all day, no one worrying where they are at. We appreciate that this is a neighborhood norm and have not been shamed for the choice to alllow our kids these freedoms.

  77. Anonymous says...

    I am a physician married to an immigrant and we are currently residing in Texas with two small children. We recently had someone anonymously call the police to report they heard my husband talking to our children in a foreign language while he loaded them into the car, and then heard a slapping sound, and they wanted to be sure the kids were OK despite not hearing any signs of distress from my children or seeing anything else unsettling. The police tracked our license plate to our home and came (I was home alone at the time) and asked for all our identification, names, DOB and then filed a report with CPS. CPS then went to my daughters school and interviewed her completely alone (she is four) without our knowledge and then came and did a home visit. The case was then thrown out and it was determined that nothing amiss happened and that my children are happy, healthy and thriving. But I cannot begin to tell you how humiliating, scary and devastating the two months were that we dealt with this situation. I had PTSD reading this article.

    • OH MY GOODNESS! People are insane! I’m so sorry that happened to your family; how terrifying.

  78. Emily says...

    I’m not sure what the statistics are on ‘real’ dangers. But where I live, the most likely danger is an overzealous person calling CPS.

    We live in an extremely safe, privileged town. My husband and I are good parents to our two children, yet a neighbor anonymously called CPS because of an innocuous parenting moment they didn’t agree with (clearly).

    An agent came to our house and inspected our children’s bedrooms. We had an open record with the state for a year. While my toddler son was learning to ride his balance bike, I had to tamp down all of my terror that he would fall and cheer him on so that he could actually learn. All I could think is, what if we end up in the ER? What will happen?

    Our children are so safe and loved…. the whole experience still makes me sick to my stomach. We will mostly likely move. But selling our house is a big deal, and it feels awful to leave because of this. But I don’t know which neighbor called, so I feel watched all the time. In this small, beautiful little town. I wish they had just knocked on the door. It would have been the brave thing to do, and so much easier for everyone.

    I grew up with plenty of freedom, and plenty of nosy neighbors. But when they were unhappy about something, they spoke straight to us kids, or went to our parents. The culture of fear we now live in is based on anonymity and lack of connection. That’s what I most hope to shield my children from.

    • elise says...

      “The culture of fear we now live in is based on anonymity and lack of connection.” I agree with your statement 1000% and I too hope that we can correct our society’s lack of connection. All too often we simply observe and assume instead of taking the time to interact and understand.

  79. Lindsey says...

    I’m 25. One of my earliest memories is being about 5 and walking to my neighbor’s house for piano lessons. =) It wasn’t long after that that I would spend afternoons romping through fields and building forts with my sisters in the woods in Michigan, summer ride bikes around town with friends, filling my basket with library books, buying candy at the gas station, going to friend’s pool to swim, all without supervision. I’m so thankful my parents gave me this freedom and trusted me. I think I can attribute those experiences to the freedom and bravery I have now to travel to new places and explore on my own. Thanks for bringing back these sweet memories!

  80. Karen says...

    Yesterday, I went to a housewarming party for my niece. Inevitably, the party divided into two groups; friends and family. A four year old girl from the friends group kept wandering over to our group. Her mother quickly arrived apologizing, and sternly telling her daughter not to bother us. We tried to assure mom it was fine. She was no bother. The little girl was just sitting on “our” bench, quietly watching, while eating a hot dog roll. This happened five or six times. One time, the father was the scooper-upper. We were all, both groups, sitting on the back deck of a fenced-in yard. Our group included four nurses and an elementary school teacher. One of us had a two month old baby. Not a rowdy group. Drinking coffee and soda. No alcohol. She could see her daughter, she could hear our conversation. We were discussing what colleges my 17 year old nephew was thinking of applying to. We were baffled by her behavior. Sad for mom and her daughter.

    • cgw says...

      It sounds like the mom (parents) were more concerned that the daughter was impeding on a family gathering. Even though you were all at the same gathering, it naturally ended up being separated by (as you stated) family and friends. They most likely felt like their daughter shouldn’t bother y’all.

  81. Emily says...

    Joanna, I’ve followed your blog for so long I feel like you are one of my closest friends, which is why I need to tell you how alarmed I am to read this blog post. I, too, live in NYC – Long Island City, to be exact. It’s a very safe, very residential, lovely neighborhood, but it’s going to be YEARS before I let my 5-year-old and 3-year-old walk two blocks to the deli, and I’ll tell you why: Leiby Kletzky. I’m sure you remember that horrendous tragedy. I still get goosebumps thinking about it today. I know you can’t live your life in fear, and I know you can’t let one horrific tragedy guide all your life decisions, but geez, god forbid anything happened to my child while I was allowing him to walk around unsupervised on the streets of New York City…. I would never be able to forgive myself. There are so many other ways to allow our children to be “left alone” without actually leaving them alone. Not yet at least. Not till middle school.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      yes, i think it’s just such a personal decision for each family. i totally hear your concerns, and yet i feel comfortable and confident in the small ways we give our children independence. thank you so much, emily xo

    • Elizabeth says...

      I could not agree more. I think a persons response might depend on whether they we fortunate to be safe themselves. I was once robbed while asleep upstairs and the cop who later arrived said I’d be safer moving forward simply because I had lived through it.

  82. Katherine says...

    My family frequently traveled internationally when my brother and I were growing up. I have memories of my father telling us we needed to find our own way back to the hostel or hotel and would take his own route while my brother and I had to navigate back on our own. I think the point was he wanted us to find confidence in the unfamiliar (often this was in countries where we didn’t speak the language!) and be a more engaged with our surroundings and experiences. It’s amazing how much more you pay attention to when you know that no one will be leading you back home at the end of the day. We learned to pay attention to street names, recognizable landmarks, and how places and people and things fit together at such an early age. I have no idea if he actually just left us out on our own or if he was always secretly trailing us to make sure we were fine…but of course we always were!

  83. Cynthia says...

    All I did was roam when I was kid! I was allowed to cross the two lane road to play at my elementary school play ground unattended and I would ride 1 mile to my swim team’s morning practice in the summer. I was probably 7 or 8.

    When I was in middle school we would walk to Taco Bell (haha oh suburbia). Parents would call my mom asking if she knew my friends and I were walking along the main road. Yes she knew! If my parents couldn’t trust 12 year old me to walk to Taco Bell safely how where they going to trust me to drive a car in a few years

  84. E says...

    I grew up in the country and running free and unsupervised for all those years was a normal part of our childhood. I’m raising a little girl in a city though- and it’s not a huge city- but there’s gun violence everywhere these days (I’m in Ontario, Canada), and a lot of it is random, and there’s constantly sexual assaults everywhere, and I ask myself- how could I ever let my child roam outside unsupervised? I trust her, but I don’t trust other people. I’ve experienced too much, and I’ve seen too much. Playing by herself while I’m around doing my own thing? We’ll leave it at that for all of our sakes. I believe in moderation in all things- and moderate parenting isn’t easy because you’re always walking on the line (and deciding what the line is), but it’s a compromise I can live with. Falling on her face at the park when I wasn’t looking because I had my own face in a book, or was talking to a friend? No problem there. We can all live and grow in that place.

  85. Ouma says...

    We live in a gentrifying/trendy neighbourhood in Toronto – but it still has its rough patches. When my daughter was six and walking alongside me as I pushed her little brother in his stroller, a man who was not in his right mind leapt at her and shook her by the shoulders, screaming in her face. She was utterly terrified, it made a huge impact on her. Two years later, it has taken her all this time to even be able to walk along that strip of the main drag where that incident took place without experiencing distress. I cannot imagine her walking alone or running an errand. Our neighbourhood has wonderful aspects but the mental health issues and rampant substance addiction makes it pretty tough to see a future where children run free with joy. There are many many families in our neighbourhood but you see virtually zero children under age 12 unaccompanied.

  86. Yasmine says...

    Am I the only one freaked out about children wondering around alone? When I was a pre-teen growing up in Sydney, I had several creepy incidents happen to me. When I was 13 and walking home from school, a man drove passed me rubber-necking and then turned around and did it again. He stalked me for months and would park outside my house and knew the hours my father worked. Back then the police said they couldn’t do anything until he actually did something. We finally moved. The other day my 12 year-old daughter and her friend walked to the convenience store in our upscale neighborhood, and the guy behind the counter asked if he could take photos of them on his phone right there in the store. She’d been in there several times and he was casually friendly, so she didn’t want to be rude so she said okay, but she felt uncomfortable. Sometime’s kids can’ gauge what’s inappropriate, and don’t know how to speak up. Like the METOO movement. My point is, yes, it’s important for kids to learn independence, but there’s an alarming amount of really awful people out there that prey on kids. I don’t know what the solution is, but I don’t have a lot of peace when I send my kids out, which is most often. Also, those busy-bodies. I’d rather that than people who don’t care at all.

  87. Breanne says...

    i grew up in both california and oregon. in california my sisters and i would roam the neighborhood for hours with the neighborhood kids, only coming in for dinner, and then back out to play flashlight tag in the dark. i was 8 when we moved to oregon and my parents were small business owners. i was home alone on our lakefront property for hours on end, wandering down to the dock for a swim, and making myself pizza bagels from the freezer and drinking tang. this was the 90’s, so not exactly forever ago, but still. i think about when my son gets older and it nearly makes my heart seize up thinking of letting him have the freedoms i did. more from the fear of what other adults will do than any danger he might be in on his own.

  88. T says...

    If it takes a village to raise a child, should we be outraged when the village tries to help?

    Sure, their ideas are different from yours and we could all learn to be more moderate with our feedback – but in the end, is your child not better off for having a community care about their well-being? I’m beginning to wonder if the over-sensitivity of people in general and the countless articles on “what to say if…” and “what not to say to…” are creating a disconnect between people and it becomes much easier to just not get involved – and for kids who truly are at risk, the community “minding their own business” is exremely dangerous.

    I guess I’m wondering – what does the middle look like?

    • Dani says...

      Some tips on how to be helpful:
      1) Take a deep breath.
      2) Refrain from calling the police or CPS. (see other comments for the traumatic effects that this has on the family)
      3) If you’re in the vicinity, keep an eye on the kid and only intervene if they are in actual danger.
      4) If you know the parents, start a dialogue. Ask, don’t assume.

    • Amanda says...

      To me, I think “the middle” looks like honest, non-judgemental communication and having trust in people’s parenting. For example, instead of calling the police when someone sees children in a car with the windows down and nice weather–maybe they can take some time to stand by the car and watch to make sure nothing happens until the parent comes back. Then they can tell the parent they kept an eye out in case someone on their high horse called the police for no reason. That’s the “village” I would want to raise my children in. The people who have commented here that CPS was called on them for letting their kids play by themselves outside breaks my heart. Outrageous. Instead of making that call, maybe go and talk to the parents or keep an eye on the kid for a little while? Use your judgement. Terrible things happen all the time, so I understand being scared and feeling protective. But we need to take responsibility for our village if we want it to help raise our children, no? Maybe I’m being too hopeful :)

    • T says...

      I agree with both of you that this CPS stuff is extreme, but I can also see how it has also escalated to this point. I’ve been shouted at before for asking a parent if they knew their son was still asleep in the car in their driveway on a very hot day. I had waited for about 5 minutes not knowing what to do. It turns out they did know and I should ‘mind my own business’. Meanwhile a few kids die every summer from this awful mistake. I will never be the type to call CPS as a first port of call but I can see how others are torn. So maybe we need to work on our grace in accepting the community feedback and vigilance?

      I might be alone in this but I guess my point is maybe this article would be better framed as “how lucky are we that I can send my son on an errand and know my community is looking out for him” rather than “people interfere and judge me for neglecting my kid”? Thoughts?

  89. Having grown up in rural Michigan, I remember playing outside in the woods or going over to a friends house by myself in Kindergarten. I now live in Tokyo and kids who go to private school often take the bus or train to school from their house by themselves, starting from first grade. Every April (when the school year starts) these tiny kids come onto the packed train in their spanking new school uniforms and it’s really heartwarming to see all the adults subtly making sure they don’t squish them or guiding them off the train at their stop without them ever knowing.

  90. Katie Larissa says...

    I was definitely left in the car by myself while my mama ran errands. She would leave it running if it was hot and tell me to lock the doors behind her. Now, I am almost certain I’d have the cops called on me if I did that with my young kids. The other day, I did leave my youngest in his car seat asleep while the car was running and I darted into the tiny Farmer’s Market building to buy tomatoes. I could see him through the glass windows the entire time AND there was an adult (with whom I’m acquainted) in the parking lot manning the bbq. Yet when I got out to the car 6 minutes later, a “concerned” woman was standing there with her phone out, ready to call police. It was kinda ridiculous. I get that horror stories happen, but as my child’s caregiver, I believe I’m entitled to asses the situation and decide whether they are in danger…or not. My parents certainly did it with me growing up!

  91. Jaime says...

    I love that you let Toby do this, Joanna. We live not far from you in the Heights and I recently let my six-year-old son run an errand to the fruit market for a couple avocados! I was most nervous about someone talking to him and getting into trouble myself. I had zero worries about him. He came back as Toby did, utterly triumphant. I haven’t sent him out again, but after hearing what strangers ask Toby, I feel like I’m going to have to arm him with a white lie, which is sad a. because we talk all the time about how important the truth is, and b. it shows how little trust I have in others in our community. That Times article hit me hard. But I’m committed to finding ways to give him the kind of independence I had growing up as a child in Northern Michigan, riding my bike alone for hours in the woods. Thanks for this post – it gives me hope that there are others out there in this community that believe this is important as I do.

  92. Ashley says...

    I was frustrated that the NYT decided to title this article “Motherhood in the Age of Fear” when Brooks’ book is subtitled “Parenthood in the Age of Fear.” Continually rebranding “parenting” as “mothering” seems to guilt trip females even more than they already often do themselves.

    • Good point! But the article also specifically notes that the overbearing cultural scrutiny does not affect fathers the same way it does mothers.

  93. Shane says...

    I grew up in downtown NYC in the 80s/90s and my parents were acquainted with Etan Patz’s family. I did not walk around without an adult until 5th grade and I would not allow it either if/when I have children.

  94. Jennifer says...

    My son is now 13. He hasn’t been left to fend for himself nearly as much as I’d have liked, and now that people don’t look at him so strangely out in public, he’s not emotionally capable of the things I wish he was. He hasn’t had the practice. I do wish that I pushed it more when he was younger, both pushed him outside of his comfort zone, but also the other parents I was around. It’s so hard when you feel judged, but now I’m playing catch-up.

  95. Jennifer says...

    My sister recently questioned my allowing my 11 year old to bike to school and to the library alone ( school is a 10 minute bike ride away, and library is a 5 minute bike ride). She cited “the rise of human trafficking,” as the reason why she would never let her kids do that.
    I mean…sure, that is an issue. But I’m more worried about my 11 year old never learning how to be independent than I am someone snatching her.

  96. Margaret says...

    I grew up in rural NH with four siblings during the 90s, and we definitely had that idyllic free-range childhood. I loved it. Now I live in a larger MA town and am a stay-at-home mom with a 14 month old. I hope to allow my son some freedoms when he’s older. We are starting to get to know the neighbors now by taking long walks with our dog. I’m hoping that by the time he’s ready for solo adventures, there will be lots of people around who know him (and me, and our enormous dog). Maybe that will help?

  97. Em says...

    I hope I have the courage to let my boys go out on their own when they are older. I’m so anxious thinking about it now, hopefully aa they grow out of toddlerhood I’ll feel better and trust them.

  98. Becca says...

    I definitely was a play-in-the-neighborhood-until-dinnertime kid. But the other day my mom posted a video on Facebook of surveillance videos of kids getting snatched away. So now I’m traumatized and I’ll be keeping my daughter on a leash until she’s 20.

  99. zivar says...

    we rent in park slope and are buying a country home upstate for exactly this reason. our kids need to roam free, explore the woods and their surroundings, but i sure as hell will not let them roam here in brooklyn. a child was kidnapped in prospect park a few months ago. people are mostly good but there are a few horrible seeds and i would never risk my kids safety.

  100. Emily says...

    When I was eight years old and visiting family in Guatemala my uncle sent me out to a convenience store a few blocks away to buy him a coke and a pack of cigarettes. There I was, in another country, walking about alone, and buying something I knew I shouldn’t be – but it was also just so normal. They handed me the glass bottle of coke and the pack of cigarettes like it was no big deal. I’m thirty now and still get a rush remembering it.

  101. Kerri says...

    That article was so good! I’ve left my three little ones in the car before when I went into a bakery to get them donuts and the front of the building was all windows and I was literally never 10 feet away from them but I still felt the need to ask them to be really quiet so strangers wouldn’t call the cops on me. Like, what is that?? My friend left her 11-year-old in the car and a police officer showed up at her house later that night. That is insanity!

  102. Laura says...

    Some of my fondest memories of growing up in the 90s came from when my mom told us “do not come back inside the house unless you are bleeding or throwing up.” Independent play is so important for kids to develop attention span and learn how to be alone with themselves.

    • Eva says...

      Hahaha love this!

  103. Nicole Roe says...

    My oldest two boys ages 5 and 3 play alone in the unfenced and on a lake yard. My biggest fear was judgement from the neighbors. They knew he rules and if they ever broke them they know they would loose the privilege. We were on a few acres and the lake was a long haul away that I had a very clear view of. The worst that has happened is a bee sting, although they came running inside yesterday saying a swarm of baby alligators with wings were flying at them. Dragon flys….

    • Tamara says...

      ‘swarm of baby alligators’

      hahahaha! I died.

    • This is just the BEST. A child’s perspective and imagination are so precious, and independent play seems to water it and nurture it with fertile soil. Baby alligators with wings!!

  104. PV says...

    I grew up in Tokyo and would ride the subway to school everyday by myself starting at age 6. Door to door, it took about 60 mins – with a transfer in between. It’s pretty common in Japan for kids to do this. Older folk generally look out for young kids and when you got older, you looked out for younger kids.

    • Margotherself says...

      How refreshing it is to know that kids in two very different countries and worlds apart ( Romania and Japan) did get to experience riding the subway ( transfer included) at such young age. I’m one of those 90’s kids who did all that and never got into trouble or feared danger. Talking to my mom years later, i have asked her if she ever feared for my safety and she admitted she did every day, but at the same time, she knew this was part of teaching me how to become independent and trust myself. I know we are far away from the 90s and those times when kids could play outside for hours without any adult supervision and come back home tired, with scratches, hungry, but oh so happy… We might have been the last ones to experience and enjoy such freedom…

  105. Jessica says...

    I appreciate your openness. Like you, I live in NYC, and I work with diverse families. Systemic racism impacts the choices parents make and can make in this regard, and the consequences. (Do nosy neighbors ask the child who is watching them or immediately call child protective services?) I’ve seen how parents who are Black, poor, and/or co-parenting with an abusive co-parent face more scrutiny and risk if they allow their children to have what I would consider reasonable and age-appropriate freedom without direct supervision. I love the sentiment of this poster from Just Seeds: “I don’t watch my neighbors. I see them.” https://justseeds.org/product/i-dont-watch-my-neighbors-i-see-them/

    • Alice says...

      I love that poster and agree that race and class play heavily into this.

      I mentor at an elementary school in NYC, and a lot of my kids commute by themselves in the morning (it’s a neighborhood public school, but their lives are often complicated). One third grader takes two buses and a train starting at 5:30am to get to school on time. Independence can be amazing for kids and their self-confidence, but when it comes from necessity not intention it quickly becomes complicated.

    • Kate Toussaint says...

      I love that poster and this comment. Thanks for sharing, Jessica

    • Ceciel says...

      Such a good point. As a white mother I didn’t consider that. I definitely like the idea of independence for my children and I appreciate your ideas, Joanna. And just as important—thanks Jessica for reminding me of my privilege and ignorance.

    • Rainbow says...

      <3 your points and <3 this poster. Thank you.

    • Sara says...

      Excellent point. Thank you for sharing!

    • Nina says...

      That’s such a good point. I was at our local council offices once when a young Asian Muslim mother came in, very concerned because her neighbour had told her that her child should be in school and not playing in the garden. Her child was too young for school. The council employee she spoke to was fortunately sensible enough to tell her that her neighbour was just nosy and probably a bit racist!!

  106. That article was outstanding! My sister shared it on her Facebook page the same day she was screamed at in the street in New York City by a woman who determined she was a “bad mom” because her son was squinting from a bit of sunlight in his face. She is a great mom, didn’t fall for the bait, and ignored the crazy woman – without even telling her how often she had been pulling the sun shade up and down for him to be cool, but also have a chance to see the street. Why do people think children are always in danger? My husband spent summers in the south of France, and would spend most of his childhood alone outside. He even escaped his nanny to climb along the top of the Pont du Gard aqueduct! I’ll concede that obviously wasn’t safe, but he survived his childhood in the end.

    Children have such anxiety today about being alone, but it’s unnatural to be an adult and never have made your own decisions. It’s not healthy. I hope we can relax and fear less here in the U.S. But if not, there’s a good chance I’ll be moving to France when I have kids.

  107. Betsie says...

    Not only was I allowed to be out and about, far from ear shot, all day as a kid, I was also allowed to ride my bike to friends’ houses (usually about a mile or more away) and ride our go-cart on the street to a neighbor’s house. But this was out in the country.

    In town, my dad would often pretend to run away from us when we were shopping with him, which left us stressed out but also meant we watched where he was with hawk eyes? (He’s German and has a weird sense of humor). By the time I was ten though, my mom would set me free with my baby sister to roam the supermarket while she did the shopping.

    I’m about to have my first child, and I have no idea how I will be able to recreate the independence and freedom of a country childhood in the city.

  108. Kristyn says...

    My husband flew from Atlanta to LA unaccompanied when he was five years old (this was in 1975). He was going to visit his aunt. This always seemed so unusual to me. I’m sure it wouldn’t be allowed today.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      five!!! wow!

    • Praxis says...

      I’ve flown back and forth from LA to San Francisco (divorced parents) from 6-10 years old with my younger sister as “unaccompanied minors”. The flight attendants always took such good care of us and we felt so special sitting in the front row seats of the plane. I’ll never forget the independence I felt being able to choose my own drink (sprite) and asking for raisins instead of peanuts! I still think about that time fondly. This was all pre 9/11 though, and we weren’t allowed to fly on the plane by ourselves after that. Sadly I’m not sure if the same experience would be allowed today.

    • gabby says...

      I first put my six year old on a plane by himself to see my mom for a week and recently sent his five year old sister along with him (he’s 8 now). It’s allowed! And they did so great.

    • Libby says...

      I remember taking my first solo flight from Chicago to LA when I was 7. I talked the ears off he poor couple seated next to me, but had a wonderful time. I can’t imagine letting my son do something similar today!!

    • Molly says...

      I did this too, from the time I was 6 on, for many years! I would fly back and forth between my parents who had divorced. They would each bring me to the gate/ pick me up at the gate and a flight attendant was assigned to me. It always seemed so normal to me, but I wonder if it’s done anymore these days!

    • Monica says...

      I did the same! Denver to Salt Lake when I was five and then at 12 I could connect by myself. I remember being a little nervous but the flight attendant helped me and my grandma would be waiting at the gate. Those are the earliest ages you can do both legally. My son turns 5 next month and I plan on doing the same with him! Confidence builder for sure!

    • Kathleenicanrah says...

      I’m the youngest of 4 kids, and 35 years old. We each got to take our first solo flight at 5 years old. I flew from Cali to Mississippi!

    • madison says...

      It’s allowed today, but probably with more regulations. It’s called being an unaccompanied minor (5-11). I flew as an unaccompanied minor with my younger brother from 8-11, so right after 9/11. Never had any problems, flight attendants were always so nice and made sure to take us to connecting gates if needed and we seat sat in the front row of the plane. I never thought twice about it. It gave me a sense of independence and confidence in that I could do something without my parents immediately next to me. I think that’s important for kids.

    • yasmara says...

      It’s allowed today but you have to pay a significant “unaccompanied minor” fee to the airline (Delta’s is $150 each way; Southwest’s is $50 each way), buy a special ticket, and go through a special process with the airline (parent or authorized adult present at drop-off and pick-up, special paperwork, etc.). At age 12, Southwest Airlines changes them to a “Young Traveler” and does away with the fee, but still requires a parent or guardian to be present for drop-off and pick-up.

    • My brother and I flew a lot accompanied to visit our grandparents (Boston to Ohio). The only thing I remember about it is that a flight attendant would lead you on the plane and off to your family! This was probably 2004, I think! Me 14 and my brother 10. Maybe earlier… not sure.

    • Em says...

      Any time that I get nervous about flying I’m going to conjure up the image of these little brave souls doing it at such a young age alone!

  109. Jane Richards says...

    We live in Hong Kong which is very safe, but it’s uncommon for children to be alone. Most families hire a domestic helper, and so monitoring is 24/7!!!
    However, about a week ago we moved to a boat with access by Sampan only. My son, who just turned 7 caught it on his own. He was thrilled! We intend for him to continue to expand his independence like this!

    • Gemma says...

      I was about to say – I grew up in HK, which is incredibly safe. But I remember my mother kicking my sister and I out of the car on Jardine’s Lookout when we wouldn’t stop fighting and we promptly got a taxi straight home with our pocket money. Hahahahah. Such an expat brat move…

  110. Erika says...

    I live in Utah, which just passed the Free Range Parenting law this May, allowing parents to be protected from people calling the police when they see a child playing alone in the park or walking home alone. It takes away some of the fear and anxiety and allows me to make my own parenting decisions without fear of arrest or DCFS at my door. There is still a good amount of judgement from other parents though. I’m more afraid of accidents and injuries while they’re on their own than anything, but seriously, no one is going to steal my kids.

  111. Laura says...

    I’m pretty sure it’s actually against the law where I live for children under 10 to be unsupervised in public. I grew up in a very unsupervised environment and I think it did me a lot of good but I can appreciate the need for caution.

  112. Cara says...

    I would love to give my toddler more of this type of freedom when he gets older… But I too am afraid of bystanders calling the police or CPS. I work with kids and I can’t afford a CPS call.

    I feel like we equate anxious and overprotective mothering with good mothering in America today. This morning I was at the playground, and my two-year-old was climbing on the little kids part of the playground. He loves to climb and is pretty good at it. I was standing closer than normal, just a few inches away, because this was a new, more difficult climbing structure. His climbing made a nearby grandmother very nervous, and at one point she swooped in to hold my child in place even though right there. I was astounded that she intervened even though I was literally a few inches away from my child and was watching him intently and actively. Either she couldn’t control her anxiety or she felt like her anxiety trumped my autonomy in parenting.

    • Molly says...

      I feel fairly confident this was my mother-in-law. (insert grimacing emoji)

    • Angela says...

      I’m in the same boat-wishing I would/could parent this way, but I’m nervous about being reported for allowing healthy independence. I also frequently feel like I’m not mothering right because I don’t helicopter as much as some of my friends.

      And I would love to hear from the older generation about their tendencies to swoop in like that. It’s always a bit of a head scratcher to me because- didn’t they grow up way more free range than we did? And didn’t they raise their kids that way? It confuses me.

  113. Lindsey says...

    I grew up in suburban/rural WI in the late 80s and early 90s, and though my mom worked from home and was around, she had no problem with me being gone for hours, as long as I knew what time I would be back, and where “home base” was that afternoon. I loved having that freedom from being watched, to just do whatever I wanted- explore the nearby streams and marsh, ride my bike to the convenience store to buy terrible-smelling body splashes and Bonne Bell lip balms, go to the library. Now, as an adult living in LA, I sometimes think how hard it would be to allow my child that same freedom. I’d be so worried something would happen, even though our neighborhood is really safe and is family-friendly. I don’t want to live in fear, and I would want my kids to have the same freedoms and independence that I had, but it sure seems like that kind of open-handedness would be hard for me to summon. Perhaps I would have less fear if I was raising kids in the same type of place I grew up? But on the other hand, in the city, there are so many people around that could offer help if your kid needed it, and that is a bit of a comfort for me.

  114. Julie says...

    I don’t have kids yet, but had a very helicoptery mom. I grew up in the 90s in one of the top ten safest cities in the US, and wasn’t even allowed to walk home the three blocks from school. I know she did it because she loved me, but I think a lot of my anxiety issues, fear of trying new things, and general agoraphobia are related to being cloistered up as a kid. If I do have kids, I’d like to let them ride bikes further than two houses down from ours.

    • Maria says...

      Thanks for your perspective. I’d like my toddlers to view the world as a generally good and safe place. It’s hard to create that nowadays but definitely worth it.

    • sabrina says...

      Julie, I can super relate to this. My mom was insanely strict. I grew up on a cul de sac and wasn’t allowed to play on the street, I had to stay on our driveway. I wasn’t allowed to spend the night at friend’s houses, because my mom was convinced I’d get sick. In high school I had no curfew, because I just straight up just wasn’t allowed to go out. My mom was constantly worried about my brother and I getting kidnapped or molested. I turned out fine enough, though I do have a lot of anxieties and fears. My husband and I aren’t interested in having kids, but I definitely think kids need at least a little more freedom than I had.

    • Gail says...

      Completely relate to being cloistered and having anxiety issues from that.

  115. rt says...

    I’m 42 and where I grew up most of the moms stayed home. Kids came home after school, had a snack, then went outside. Maybe we walked over to a friends house or rode a bike there but some adult was home when we got there. And I feel that is what is missing from the discussion here, the fact that parents are both working til 6 and later at night, no one is home so kids are in after school programs, or picked up by relatives or nannies. Parents work all summer so kids are in camp, not just wandering around all day or at home all day themselves. Now I can’t say if that is the same or different in these European countries we are talking about but that’s one thing definitely changed from my childhood. Also other factors including the fact that you can get arrested for leaving your kids alone for even a second (my parents used to have a snack route where they would leave me in the car for like a half hour or more distributing product, they would have been arrested a dozen times these days). I know for myself as a parent of an almost 3 year old and 5 year old I’m really mostly worried about crazy, terrible drivers, not abductions. I’m not sure why that isn’t a legitimate fear, I think our parents some of them just didn’t think about it as much (look at how they were driving around, no car seats, no seatbelts). Yes, things have changed. Some good and some not.

    • I am preparing to head to sea on a sailboat in a couple of weeks with my husband, and people have the craziest fears. When I point out that, as you have noted, DRIVING is the most dangerous thing anyone does regularly, and that there are more auto pirates looking to carjack folks than sea pirates looking to take your boat, they just refuse to process the information; it’s so amazing! This irrational story of large, unlikely, dangers combined with the willful ignorance of actual, everyday dangers that could easily be alleviated by driving sanely… oh. It gets me.

    • Maggie says...

      Plenty of families had two working parents when you were a kid – mine did, and I’m the same age. After third grade, that meant more time for independence – walking home and playing and having a snack with my friends and without parents there.

    • rt says...

      In the 70s only about 30% of mothers were full time in the workplace and now it is over 70%, it is a big change. Not saying there weren’t 2 working parents anywhere but there were significantly less. BTW, my mother was a teacher and working (my dad was a WAHD). I’m just curious about all these comments about freedom was it just mom or dad sending kids out to play or literally parents not being home at all? I really can’t image anyone I know leaving there 8 or 10 year old home all summer while they went to work, no camp and just letting kids fend by themselves. Not when I was 10 30 years ago and definitely not now.

  116. Rachel says...

    Though I didn’t grow up in the “Age of Fear,” my mom’s anxiety and better-safe-than-sorry approach to life meant that I wasn’t allowed much independence. I remember being terrified the first day I set foot on my hometown college campus and realized that it was the first time I had walked alone in my life.

    Now it makes my heart ache to think about how my trajectory was predetermined by this lack of independence. I always thought I didn’t go to my “dream school” because of financial reasons—now I realize that I never could have handled moving across the country.

    I’m determined to avoid the cycle with my own children, but in the “age of fear,” how can I?

    • Loesie says...

      Hi Rachel!

      Being an anxious Mom myself (raised very independent by my parents), I talked to my psychologist about this.
      I felt that I was keeping my 5-year old kid from his much needed freedom and fun playing solo outside (mostly with his 5-year old kid friends). Here in the Netherlands it is very common for kids to play outside alone or with friends. I could see my kid really needed to do that as well.

      My psychologist advised me to talk to other moms about this, and I have been doing so quite a lot this summer. I turned this summer into ‘the summer of letting go’. It’s been tough and it’s really kept my head very busy, but it’s liberating as well and I can see my kid growing because of it.

      My friend has a tracking device for her kid with a built in GPS and a beeper she can buzz her kid with when he has to come home. Doesn’t work for me, but I can imagine it works for some parents.

      I have a bracelet for my kid with his name and my phone number on it for whenever we go to big amusement parks or big events. It gives me some peace of mind.

      It will always be challenging though for me as an anxious mom in a (wonderful) free country.

    • I suppose the simple (but not easy) answer is: Choose love. I recommend reading Marianne Williamson’s “A Return to Love” as a nice introductory to what I’m referring to :) She also was interviewed by Oprah recently on the Super Soul Conversations podcast and I recommend the episode!

    • Rachel says...

      Thank you Loesie and Joyce for your thoughtful replies. I will be thinking about this more, talking to other moms and will definitely check out the podcast suggested. :)

  117. Laura says...

    I found the long version of her story from a few years ago to be a great, complex read (better than the short NYTimes piece), if you have the time: https://www.salon.com/2014/06/03/the_day_i_left_my_son_in_the_car/. Also, I agree that kids should be left alone more. The problem is this false idea of control we all have: if I feed my kids organic food, they’ll be healthy; if I send them to the right school, they’ll be successful; if I never let them out of my sight, they’ll stay safe. It’s obviously not true, but it’s hard to let go of…

  118. Hannah says...

    Once, on my way back from returning my grocery cart (7-8 cars down), I came upon a woman standing by my car looking in at my kids. It was a cool day, about 50* and cloudy. I had the sun roof open, they were both buckled in and the car was locked.
    She had her cell phone to her ear, and she was calling the police. I had been gone literally 30 seconds.
    She launched into a heated lecture about my negligence as a mother and the risk I was subjecting my children too. I held up my hand and said “Ma’am, please step away from my vehicle. You are alarming my kids far more than my less-than-one-minute absence. They are safe and I am leaving.”
    We drove away while she sputtered and barked into her phone.
    I was proud of myself for standing up to her, but my face was burning and I didn’t stop shaking all the way home. For months afterward, I felt so self conscious, so hyper vigilant—it was exhausting. I can’t comprehend what it would be like to parent in a less paranoid society.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      good for you, hannah! and i’m sorry that happened, how incredibly stressful.

    • Cal says...

      Wow, what a story. I can so relate to this shaken-up feeling that you get from being scolded by strangers who think they have the full story, when in truth they never do. I hate these interactions so much, they leave me shaking and with a gutted feeling for a while. Good for you for keeping your cool and handling it the right way.

    • Whitney says...

      Good for you! I think we’ll intentioned strangers cause more fear in children and mothers than anything else! The chance of someone harming our children is pretty low. The chance of a “helping stranger” freaking us out with threats, judgement or intervention are much, much, mich higher. Back off people!

  119. I’m 44 and feel like I belong to the last generation of untethered children. In the summer, our mother would send us outside in the morning, then whistle at 5pm. And oh the adventures!

    • Sadie says...

      Alaska is still growing wild babies left and right. :)

    • Lena says...

      I’m the same age and have the same feelings about our generational differences. My kids (4 & 7) are really missing out on the independence I loved as a child.

    • Yes this! My Mom would yell at the end of the day, we were all over the neighborhood. Somehow we could hear her and would run home. When we got to the back door, she would never ask “where have you been?” it was more, “Your hands are filthy, did you have fun? Go wash up, it’s time to eat!”

    • Whitney says...

      I am 26 and grew up this way. “Come home when the street lights come on” was my only rule for being outside alone.

    • yasmara says...

      Same! Growing up in the 1970s-1980s was a totally different thing. I recently showed my kids Terminator2 and they noticed that all the kids were alone w/o adult supervision in the arcade, riding bikes, etc.

  120. Nicole says...

    Recently a neighbor sought me out and yelled very angrily at me that my 10yo “thinks the whole neighborhood is his playground.” My son not gone into anyone else’s property, he just dared to play and ride his bike in our quiet suburban neighborhood, with my permission.

    • Emily says...

      Oh Nicole that makes me sad to hear!! The whole neighbourhood absolutely should be his playground.

    • madison says...

      I don’t understand where this shift came from or when it occurred. Why can’t a 10 year old or really anyone, 8 and over ride a bike in their neighborhood without their guardian right next to them? This is mind boggling to me.

  121. Liesbeth says...

    How did these people grow up? Did they forget? Follow your instinct and not someone elses fears, is what I’m thinking. I live in Rotterdam, Netherlands, and kids here go to school on their own. Mostly by bike or walking. The most dangerous situations are caused by other parents driving too fast to get their kids on time by car.

  122. Nigerian Girl says...

    As someone who isn’t a parent, I’ve observed that in my country the amount of freedom children are given is closely linked to social class. The higher the social class, the higher the parental paranoia. For instance, I’m from a middle class family. When I was growing up in one of Nigeria’s smallest, safest and sanest cities in the 1980s and 1990s, my parents never let my siblings and I walk to school or anywhere else unsupervised. It was unthinkable. We didn’t even walk. We were driven. And it was the same for other children in our demographic and higher demographics. On the other hand, children from low-income families walked or took Okada (motorbike taxi) to school. And they didn’t die. Today, parents are even more paranoid. My sisters never ever let their children walk anywhere or go anywhere unsupervised. They are super paranoid (even more than our parents were back in the day) thanks to numerous real life stories of kidnappings (often planned by family members and “friends”), child molesters and ritual killers (kind of like serial killers, but much more complicated due to culture, religion and superstition). Now, I live in Lagos, Nigeria’s largest, most commercial and most chaotic city with an estimated population of 21 million. Things haven’t changed at all. Children from middle and upper class families are still driven to school by their parents or family drivers. (In fact, my friends and colleagues would have a mega meltdown if their children suggest walking to school alone.) Children from low-income families still don’t have the luxury of riding to school in fancy cars. They walk short and long distances in the sun and in the rain often unsupervised. They take Danfo (yellow public bus) to school without an adult in tow. Yes, there are still one or two stories about missing children here and there. But you know what? Those kids who walk or ride to school alone every day are fine, mostly.

    • Jojo says...

      Thank you for your perspective. I think there is another factor. We live in poor countries and even if the country is not particularly dangerous, the medical care is usually horrific. The implications of what would happen if my kids were hit by a car are something that force me to take extreme cautions. When we go away, though, I try to go where they can walk around alone and spend time alone outside.

    • Nigerian Girl says...

      @Jojo Re medical care, I know, right? The last thing any parent in my country wants is a medical emergency involving their children. Many young lives have been lost for nothing.

  123. Vivi says...

    It’s fascinating to see how different perceptions of danger can be depending on the parent’s own experiences. My mother for example is used to living in a rather big city where navigating with metro and trains is completely normal. So as a child (around 9-10 years old) it was normal for me to ride the train by myself from our small home town to the next big city which was a 40 minutes ride. All the other parents that grew up in our small home town were terrified by this thought, but not my mother (even though I just realize she might have been a little bit afraid still haha). On the other hand, when it came to kids playing in the forest all by themselves it was the other way around. Our neighbours never feared that anything could happen in a peaceful forest whereas my mother was terrified and never let us play alone in the forest. I think this shows how fears of parents are sometimes a bit irrational. Of course there are dangers to be considered, but you can’t protect your children from everything. And a child that fears everything and never gets the chance to manage situations by themselves is in much more danger when it grows up.

  124. Tabitha H says...

    I don’t have kids yet, but I viscerally remember how scared I was when I was babysitting in high school and realized my youngest brother wasn’t in our backyard anymore. I checked 2 of his neighborhood friends’ houses, no luck, and I was petrified. It turned out he went to a different friend’s house around the corner, and couldn’t hear me call him. I told him if he went out of earshot to come tell me first so at least I’d know.

    I moved from a small town in VA to Houston, TX, and it’s so different because of traffic. I’ve seen middle and high school aged kids walking to and from school, or going to the store or movies in the summer, and that seems ok, but for a younger child I’d be too worried because people drive really badly and run red lights A LOT. So I think it depends on how busy the area is, really. I also think there’s safety in numbers — when I was in Girl Scouts the buddy rule was EVERYTHING (XD) so I’d feel more comfortable if my (future) kids were out and about with a sibling or a pack of friends.

  125. As an only child with divorced parents (including a mother who ran her own business), I had a ton of alone time. Looking back on it, I’m most grateful that my mom always framed it as empowering–and because of that, I grew to crave more responsibility and independence, and gained more confidence. Starting when I was about 6, I walked to school either alone or with friends starting, played outside until dinnertime, was allowed to stay home alone to read my books when my mom nipped out to an appointment. And it was all so fun! I attribute so much of my confidence now to those times, as well as my love of reading quietly and traveling solo–namely, my ability to enjoy my own company. One of things that worries me most about having children in this day and age is not being able to give them that same experience.

  126. Sanna Nilsson says...

    My som slept outside, every single day in all kinds of weathers between ages 2 months to 3.5 years. This included leaving him outside sleeping in his stroller while I went inside a cafe for a coffee with friends. It’s a norm here in Sweden.

    If you live in a city or a larger town, there are no school buses and every child 7+ is expected to get to school with a bike or a public bus/subway.

    There is always a bit of worry in the back of my head but I wouldn’t want to show it.

    • Molly K says...

      I probably overshare when it comes to my emotions, positive or negative! So I want to understand the other side of this. Why don’t you want to show that you worry?

  127. jac says...

    I was allowed to roam the forest as a kid all alone! There were serious wild animals all around in Northner Michigan! I had my dog and we would be outside for hours and hours. All day. I only went home when it got dark. I learned my phone number when I was three.

    I don’t want my kid to grow up sheltered! I think it tells them you trust them when you don’t watch them every moment. Give them tools to be smart about being out in the world, and leave it at that.

  128. olivia says...

    let ’em roam. survival of the fittest.

    • Em says...

      …until you have a genetically weak or disadvantaged child, then you might be humming a different tune than just “survival of the fittest”.

  129. Erica says...

    Thanks for this post! I wish it were more acceptable to let kids walk around by themselves. It’s SO good for them! I’ve got a 5yo and a 7yo and the other day they were playing in our front yard unattended and a well-meaning woman walked by and started asking them all sorts of questions …

    • Bethany Ball says...

      More and more I am of the opinion that these people are not as well meaning as they would want to appear. All of this mom watching is a form of internalized misogyny. Keep mothers where they belong, five feet away from their children at all times. Or else.

  130. Mali says...

    I grew up in the suburbs in the States, and I never went anywhere alone until I could drive. That was basically the only way of getting around. Now I live in Israel, where it is very common to let kids go places alone–but kids are not legally allowed to cross the street under age 9. (Many kids do anyway, but I don’t let mine.) My kids walk to school 15 minutes away as part of a group (friends, not organized), I send them to the convenience store to buy stuff for me, they go to the bakery, run down the block to neighbors, visit the library, and do other errands… Their independence, responsibility and awareness are amazing. They know not to talk to strangers, not to accept rides, and to call me if anything unusual happens. My 9 yr old also takes public transportation by himself. Was I terrified the first time? You bet. But it’s done here, and I see how much it has helped him gain confidence in himself.
    But the first time I sent my eldest, who was then five, to walk alone to her gan (preschool), which was only a few doors down, my heart was in my stomach the whole time. She was so, so proud.
    Upon relating this to my mother, she said, “When you have kids, it’s like having your heart outside your body — always.”

  131. Oneida says...

    I was scolded once when my children, who are very careful, walked out of the grocery store in front of me (with the cart in front of me). A woman ordered them to stop and then scolded me to watch my kids. I smiled and said, thank you, and continued to walk, telling my kids it was okay, they were fine, the lady was just trying to be careful because she didn’t know that they knew to stop. I’ve been scolded a few more times in grocery stores for going down the aisle leaving my child (not baby) in the cart with my purse. I’m always the parent who lets their kids play barefoot at the park and then other kids are begging their moms to do it too. A doctor scolded me for that too, because of drug needles possibly in the sand. My takeaway from this is that I’m glad other people are looking out for my kids. They may have a different perspective than me, and living in an urban city we obviously don’t know each other personally. What they see is a child potentially getting hurt and what I see is my sweet little girls discovering the world for themselves without fear. There are plenty of times, too, that I DO feel afraid when I let them do something or leave them on their own and then I am desperately hoping well-meaning people WILL step in and say/do something. So I don’t mind if they step in when I’m not feeling afraid. It could be annoying if I feel like they are judging me, but even if they are, I have to learn to be confident in my motherhood, parenting choices, and even being open to learning from others! No matter where I live or what I do I know that this will always be a process! That’s why I love hearing everyone’s perspectives! Thanks CoJ!

    • Meg says...

      Oneida thank you for sharing this. It is so easy to get angry and defensive when things like that happen … I love your perspective of being glad that people are watching out, and learning to be confident in your motherhood.

      I am about to have my first baby in a couple weeks, and I will need to remember this as she grows up and I get lots of “feedback” from other well-intentioned adults.

  132. I posted a comment and somehow lost it…trying again!

    I think we all long for our children to have small freedoms. We all long to be free from judgment for the way we parent our children. I would love for my girls to have the same freedom to roam the neighborhood that I had growing up. But I think my desire for that has its roots in my privilege.

    I had the luxury of a childhood unmarked by questioning of my right to be where I was, or my right to exist. My skin color afforded me freedom that I can look back on fondly. But for many Americans, no such memory exists. We have not afforded the right of unquestioned being to people of color.

    I want to make an effort in my own conversations to recognize that we do not all have a shared, glowing past experience. Rather than wishing for my children to have the same experiences I did, I am reminding myself every day to think (and work) toward the future instead. To work for a future where all children and all parents are afforded dignity, personhood, safety and responsibility.

    • Kaitlyn S. says...

      This is very thoughtful. Thank you for reminding us to consider another perspective. I would love to hear the thoughts of someone who had this experience.

    • Laura says...

      Wonderfully said!

    • Molly says...

      Yes to this!

    • Whitney says...

      This is a wonderful comment. Thank you.

    • Katherine says...

      Hear, hear. Love this.

  133. Audrey says...

    This post is so timely! Just yesterday, the kid next door was yelling over his fence for my girls to come play with him. I told the girls they could walk over to the neighbors house without me (we live in an urban neighborhood, so the home is less than 10 feet from ours). My 5 year old couldn’t believe the freedom I was giving them! I heard her telling her 7 year old sister as they walked out the door “Can you believe we can walk there on our own!!! It’s like we are teenagers!”. It was both super sweet and a bit sad. I had free reign of the neighborhood when I was a kid (granted I think I was a bit older…maybe 8 or 9) and I want that for my kids, but it really does feel much scarier now.

  134. Susan says...

    I just let my 11 year old son walk home from summer camp with another friend this year. Unfortunately, on the way home, they startled a person awake(just snoozing outside an apartment building) and that person thought they were stealing from them. He ending up chasing them for 6 blocks with threats and a socket wrench in his hand before they were able to get to another friends house. Meanwhile, folks called the police and reported a man chasing kids and a swarm of police officers found him next door to the house they were at. It was a frightening experience for sure- my son was shook up. Even though this happened, and I’m a worrier at heart, I will continue to let my son walk home alone this next school year. He is okay with and I don’t want him to live in fear! It sure was a bummer though!

  135. I live in Brooklyn, my kids’ school is in Manhattan, and we ride our family bike to and from. One day at the end of last school year, when I was 8 months pregnant, I left my 2 year old buckled in his seat on the bike with my 11 year old watching him while I ran into the school to help my 8 year old find his sweatshirt. I came out a few minutes later to find the school resource officers gathered at the door, obviously looking for someone—me! They asked if I had left my baby in the parking lot, and I told them his brother was watching him. I ran outside to find two moms standing by my bike, clearly very worried. My two sons were unphased. They said they had seen my kids and they were nervous. If my kids had been nervous, I could understand the complaint, but their nerves were not my business and my kids were safe and happy. But too underline the point, one of them, on seeing my huge belly, asked if I rode that bike—obviously we have different levels of risk tolerance.

  136. Lauren K says...

    I loved living in Park Slope, Brooklyn because I always could count on the fact that the ‘hood was so inundated with kids that the odds of mine being snatched were slim to none. So I didn’t panic when I lost sight of them in parks or sat and chatted with my friends. Now that we are in the ‘burbs, I know that my 8 and 5 year old are so loud and aggravating that a bad person would run the other way. At least ninety nine percent of the population do not want our kids. That’s a fact.

    • hah!

    • Julia says...

      Lauren, I love this! When my sweet, albeit anxious mom-friends worry over my son walking the dog by himself or running down to a neighbor’s house (he’s 6), I jokingly remind them not to worry because “nobody wants my gently used kid.” 😏

  137. Loesie says...

    Here in the Netherlands, we have (tv)campaigns in which parents are stimulated to ‘let their boys be boys’ and to ‘have your kids take more risks while playing.’

    • Deborah says...

      Interesting- what about the girls?

    • Loesie says...

      Deborah: no specific commercials or anything for girls, as far as I know.
      The one about letting your kids take more risks is made for both boys and girls though. They have a website on which there is a quiz you can take to see what you can do for your situation to have your kids take more risks.
      One of my results was to have my kid climb all the way to the top of the climbing rack, or to do woodwork with a stick and a pocket knife.
      Having a 5-year old and being an anxious person, I don’t care much for the pocket knife… but I did have my kid climb all the way to the top (on a very high rack where I couldn’t reach him anymore), and I have to say it felt liberating for both me and my son. I’ve made this summer into ‘the summer of letting go.’
      I will always remember how my parents would let me take a solo 2-hour train ride across the country (including a transfer in big old Amsterdam Central Station) when I was 11 years old, let me be an exchange student at age 16, or how they let me walk alone in New York City for a couple of hours in the nineties when I was 17 years old.
      I don’t know how they did it.

  138. Sasha says...

    What’s interesting to me is that in my neighbourhood is that I can see children of color playing outside on their own after school and in the summer: riding bikes, sledding in winter, etc. But the white children are almost always accompanied by their parents when doing those activities. Also, there seem to be way less kids outside compared to when I grew up- kids are indoors doing homework or on some sort of screen. Does anybody else see that as well? FYI, I live in a smaller midwestern city.

    • Alycia says...

      I notice this in Philadelphia, too. I have worked in after school programs and paid attention to who got picked up by a parent versus who could walk home with siblings or alone. The majority of kids with freedom were the kids of color. My neighborhood is pretty diverse but I still see only children of color out on their own until at least middle school age. If I do see white children out, it is directly in front of their houses, and on smaller streets.

      I have also noticed that immigrant families absolutely do not let their kids do anything alone. With the worries that come with being a newcomer to the US, along with the 24 hour news and gun violence, I guess I don’t blame them.

  139. eg says...

    Do they still have “Saven Haven” stickers for businesses in NYC? I remember that being a big part of our street smart education growing up here.

  140. Denise says...

    When I was a kid, probably around 8 or so, my siblings and I were let loose in the world after breakfast and told to report home by dusk for dinner. I specifically recall a time when we were playing “hobos” and we walked on the train tracks for several miles to another town and found out it was dusk. Oops. We knocked on a door, borrowed the phone, ate stacks the stranger provided while we waited for my Mom to drive the 20 minutes to pick us up. No big deal. My Mom did request that we not make that trip again without letting her know first. I don’t remember any danger at all, we didn’t get in trouble, there was no panic or drama. I remember a day well spent, eating a big pickle in the car on the ride home, tired after an adventureful day walking the rails. Kids these days are missing out!

    • I am loving this tale!

  141. Kelley says...

    It’s really frowned upon where we live in Providence, RI. The elementary schools have an age where kids are allowed to come to school on their own, but it’s not until they’re older, maybe 10? I have a friend whose son was in the same elementary school as my daughter and she was inclined to let him go to the store and walk to school by himself, but got some pushback. It was interesting to discuss all the cultural differences around parenting. I think there’s a lot of fear of censure from other parents and the authorities.

    • christy says...

      We just moved across the country from a smallish midwestern town to a similar sized northern California town. Our kids rode their bikes to school last year (k and 2) and while I went with them I was usually walking behind with the preschooler on his bike or pushing the new baby in a stroller so they were ahead of us. Our new elementary school says kids under 3rd qnd under cannot ride bikes without a parent. We live less than a mile away straight down a bike path not even a road. I am totally inclined to let them at least ride home by themselves and am pretty bothered that the public school has “rules” saying they can’t. I don’t even know how they can have rules like that honestly.

  142. Katherine says...

    I remember when my mom finally gave me permission one day to ride my bike to the gas station and back, alone. I must’ve been in the third grade, so this would have been around 1993. I grew up in a tiny town in Indiana, and there were no stop lights to navigate on my route, even though the store was about a 20-30 min bike ride away. I remember counting the change in my piggy bank, trying to figure out how much I’d need to buy my favorite candy bar, and the thrill of setting off on my own to do something so adult. I’ll never forget how proud and grown up I felt when I made it to the store, bought my Whatchamacalit, and then coming back home and triumphantly showing off my prize to my mom: a very melted chocolate bar, but man if that that was the best damn candy bar of my life.

  143. ana says...

    Wales in the 90’s, we roamed around as a pack of kids on bikes to the beach, the river, climbing up and down the cliffs miles away for hours. Bigger kids in charge keeping the peace, couple of quid for a bag of chips at lunch. The rule was when the streetlights came on we came home. Now i think my parents were so cool to let us do it all. I hope i’m that brave if i’m a parent but i doubt i will be.

  144. Haley says...

    I find it fascinating that America has such a cultural fear of leaving children alone, of the “boogeyman” coming out to get them, when the reality is that it’s really quite rare for strangers to abduct a child!

    I worked for years in advocacy for survivors and victims of human trafficking in NYC. When I mentioned my line of work, people often brought up stories of children being swept up off the streets and sold. While that does happen once in a blue moon, the more common possibility is being manipulated or hurt by people you know – parents, friends, partners, etc. So why are we afraid of letting children become independent?

    I would argue it’s even safer for a child to have some age appropriate independence. They learn about the world, they learn how to take care of themselves, and ultimately usually develop self-confidence! All the better to advocate for themselves – a lifelong and essential skill.

    • Emily says...

      Yes! I have some close friends in the same field and really learned a lot about the myth that is “stranger danger.” I’m not as “free range” as I would like to be but what I’ve long told my kids is “lost kids get found.” They know my phone number, how to describe me (they are bi-racial and don’t favor me so this is really important!!) and to find another mom with kids if they ever get lost.

    • Neile says...

      Thank you for this. Of course it is every parent’s worst nightmare that our children could be taken from us and harmed. But parenting out of fear can’t be healthy for kids either. And Elizabeth Smart was kidnapped from her own bed in a room shared with her sister. So we must carry on and try to give our kids opportunities to enjoy some independence.

      As a parent, I feel like I benefit from a bit of space from my kids too! We travel a lot, and my 8 and 10 year old learn how to get to the bakery or candy shop and then communicate and pay for their treats in the local language and currency. And they sometimes bring back a coffee and pastry for us!

    • Kath M says...

      Yes! Fear is such a badge these days, similar to being overly ‘Busy.” Like if you aren’t actively afraid of all the dangers in the world, you’re not being responsible.

      There are dangers and we teach our kids to deal with them, if by some small chance some worst case scenario does happen.

      I also encourage all parents to read “Last Child in the Woods” by Richard Louv. He describes the importance of inherent danger in kids’ development.

  145. Tania says...

    My Dad claims he used to ride the trains in Sydney as a child when he was 4 with his 2 year old brother in tow, back in the 1940s. Sans parents. I find this a bit hard to credit — I think he probably did do it, but he was older — but it makes for a lovely story, especially as they looked like newsies. But I wonder sometimes if we don’t make enough of some of the plus sides of today’s more involved parenting. Most of the people reading this blog may worry about sort of over-parenting — and its true, most middle-class parents have probably overcorrected for the more hands-off approach of their parents — but under-parenting, whether from abuse, neglect, or lack of time/ resources is still probably the thing most adversely affecting kids esp. of color or in otherwise disadvantaged communities.

    • Bec says...

      Please be less judgmental in your assumptions regarding how “under-parenting” has a an adverse affect for “kids of colour”. I am assuming from your view you have had limited to know engagement with POC and actually have know understanding of these communities.

    • Tania says...

      You’re right, and I realized how terrible that sounded too late. What I meant was that a lack of affordable childcare and other resources can mean that parents sometimes have to make difficult decisions about the care of their children. That’s a socioeconomic and political problem, particularly in the U.S. and nothing to do with race. But yeah, it didn’t come out that way and I feel like a jerk.

  146. Roxana says...

    Brava for letting giving them some independence! I think this is great.

    That said, I am scared to do it :(.

    I have a 7 year old (just last month), a 4 1/2 year old and an 18 month old (obviously, our youngest dude is not going anywhere by himself :)

    We live in a building that is situated between two streets full of flats and single family homes. We know a lot of our neighbors, but there are quite a few whom we don’t know, which is what gives me pause. When I was a kid, we knew almost all of our neighbors, even if we didn’t like them, we knew we could trust them. Also, in the summer there was seemingly always someone outside and by “someone” I mean other kids and/or a mom or friendly neighbor. These days it seems like every kid (in the summer, especially) is in preschool or day camp or inside playing video games? I don’t know where everyone is. I know that in so many homes both parents work, so that changes where kids are during the day and how their time is spent. Either way, I think this has really changed the social dynamic around kids being out. Many neighbors don’t even know each other :(.

    That, and there are always so many horrifying stories in the news :(. They’re hard to forget. However, I’ve read that the statistics haven’t changed (admittedly, I should look this up again), but that the crimes are reported more frequently, so it seems like an increase.

    Anyway, this is a great post. I’m looking forward to reading more of all these insightful comments!

    • The best thing is to get of the media and not watch the news it’s made to scare us.

  147. Carol says...

    I grew up in suburban Australia in the 90s and was allowed some freedoms and not others. My older brother and I walked to school alone from the age of 6 and 9 respectively, which involved crossing a very busy road. We were drilled on road safety and under very strict instructions about waiting for the green man at the traffic lights! But we weren’t allowed to just go off on our own around our neighbourhood. In contrast, one of my best friends had much more freedom, and I used to love staying over at her house. As long as we stayed within the pre-approved locations (the park at the end of the street, the deli around the corner, the next door neighbour’s house), we were pretty much left unsupervised, and I loved it. I remember being gobsmacked when we were driving and my friend’s mum pulled over, and my friend got out and went to the ATM to withdraw cash for her! That friend was always so much more confident and self-assured than I was. Knowing that your parents have faith in you is so important.

  148. Jill says...

    I never thought I would say this, but we have lived behind a strip mall for quite a few years and I absolutely love it. One of the reasons is that as my boys have started to get a little older (almost 8 and 10), they can walk there to make different purchases from different stores. I’ve started to let them go to a park nearby as well on their own for a bit. It’s not easy, but I know I will need to let go more and more. Amongst other things, it’s good for them to be empowered and have to make some decisions on their own. Situations vary from family to family, but for me, I know I’ll be doing them a disservice if I squeeze too tight! It’s interesting, I was just having a conversation with a friend about this very topic the other day. Thanks for the post!