I Let My 7-y.o. Sit on Our Stoop, Unsupervised. My Husband Said, “That’s Bad Parenting!”

Readers — I was just on a radio show talking about  how we reflexively inflate the dangers facing children, and while I was on, this email came to Free-Range Kids. It  illustrates what I spend most of my waking hours dealing with: The belief that our kids are in constant danger, so only constant supervision can “save” them.

Can you please help this woman convince her husband that her child-rearing decisions are safe and sane? And, while we’re at it, can you convince everyone else, too? Because I’m shaking from the radio thing. (Details: A caller insisted that a 6-year-old is NOT safe waiting in a car for 5 minutes while his mom picks up a prescription. I asked how could the child be harmed, because I’ve found that the fear, “Anything could happen!”  is often dispelled if you ask folks to actually enumerate the dangers. So the caller said, “The kid could be knucklehead and put the car in gear.” When I replied, “Wouldn’t you take the keys with you?” He said, “Well, if you’re going to negate everything I say, then of COURSE things are going to seem safe.” Grrrrrr!) – L

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Dear Free-Range Kids: I’m new to the site.  I just started looking around because the other day I let my 7-year-old son ride his scooter in our driveway with the garage door and front door open (storm door was closed), unsupervised for 10 minutes or so while I was helping my 4-year-old daughter inside the house.  When my husband found out later he called it bad parenting and irresponsible.  What??? I wasn’t even sure what to say.

I also let my son sit on the porch while I walked around the block one more time, as he was tired and didn’t want to go with me. (His sister and father were in the house.)  My husband proceeded to tell him to get in the house and didn’t understand how I could let him sit on the front porch unsupervised.

We live in a relatively quiet suburban neighborhood.  I feel a little shaken right now and need a little support that I am not crazy for letting him have a little freedom.- Normal Mom Feeling Abnormal

Okay, readers! Support away! She needs it and, frankly, so do I. It is hard to calm a hysterical society. – L

Aren't kids SUPPOSED to play outside in the suburbs? Isn't that why parents MOVE THERE?

Aren’t kids SUPPOSED to play outside in the suburbs? Isn’t that why parents MOVE THERE?

 

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78 Responses to I Let My 7-y.o. Sit on Our Stoop, Unsupervised. My Husband Said, “That’s Bad Parenting!”

  1. RG March 13, 2013 at 5:56 am #

    My 4yo and 2yo play outside with that kind of “supervision” – door open so I can keep an ear out for them, and I’m usually able to see them through the windows most of the time, but we are not necessarily outside with them. They are like little satellites – they orbit close to the house. And they always stick together. I check on them often, but I don’t feel the need to be out there with them.

    We prefer living in the city, but you’re right – we moved to the suburbs, to the end of a quiet cul-de-sac, so that our kids could have this kind of independence. My chief fear in the city was cars – not really an issue here. They love playing outside,and it’s good for them.

  2. hineata March 13, 2013 at 6:00 am #

    No, you’re not crazy. A seven year old should be able to play outside his own house without direct supervision. Heck, in the company of friends he should be able to play at the park for a while without adult company, but one thing at a time.

    Have you tried sitting your husband down and asking him to go over the scenarios he thinks are possible? Maybe if he actually voices his specific fears, he might see how unlikely they are…

  3. MichaelF March 13, 2013 at 6:25 am #

    I do this sort of thing now and again, even my wife does, so we don’t have that problem. Although we do live near a major roadway so mostly we try to keep the kids in the back where its fenced in; not enough for a 3 year old to find his way out unfortunately. That is another story. We did move out to the suburbs to have the space for the kids to play, my kids spend time digging in the backyard, something they could not easily do in the city. It’s all about risk mitigation, and my attitudes have changed since I came across this blog and read the hysteria and found I worry about the wrong things.

    Sure “anything can happen” but when you leave yourself open to that in everything then you are better off doing nothing. You can get hurt doing some things, heck you can watch a toddler bump his head on just about any object from chairs to tables to the floor, but you cannot stop them from learning to walk or give up living just because “anything can happen”. That gives in to the irrational fear, which continually feeds itself by finding new threats. Take a moment, calm down and assess the risks then go ahead and do things safely but remember the basis of the old adage one hurt twice shy. Until you try, or get hurt doing something, you will never know what it’s like, but common sense will dictate there are just some things that you should NEVER try.

  4. Kenny Felder March 13, 2013 at 6:37 am #

    The standard opener is to ask your husband about his own childhood. Was he forbidden to ever be outside unsupervised? Does he have fond memories of playing outside? Would his childhood have been less rich if he had never played on the street or in the woods?

    Have that conversation first. Then when he says “Yes but the world is different now,” you can start hitting him with all the statistics that show that yes, the world is different now: it is less violent and safer across the board.

  5. Susan March 13, 2013 at 7:05 am #

    No you’re not wrong!! I let my 8 year old walk to her friends house down the road. My 12 year old leaves the house after school and I don’t see her again until dinner. And yes I get a lot of slack for it!

  6. Michelle March 13, 2013 at 7:26 am #

    I am often reminded of one of my favorite quotes, from Mark Twain:

    We should be careful to get out of an experience only the wisdom that is in it – and stop there; lest we be like the cat that sits down on a hot stove-lid. She will never sit down on a hot stove-lid again and that is well; but also she will never sit down on a cold one anymore.

    Our society is obsessed with the fear of cold stove-lids. Something bad happens to some child, somewhere, sometime, and we go out of our minds trying to avoid anything that even resembles it in an attempt to keep our own children safe. It’s just not rational.

    Normal Mom, I don’t think you’re doing anything wrong. In a safe neighborhood, a 7 year old ought to be allowed to play outside without an adult. My recently-turned 8 year old has been allowed to play outside for two years now. She started out by sticking close to her older siblings, who made sure she remembered the traffic safety rules and kept close to the house. Now she’s old enough to supervise her 6 year old sister in walking two houses down to see their friend, or two blocks to the park. As long as they stick together, I don’t worry, and they’re learning the skills they need to be independent and successful adults one day.

  7. NicoleK March 13, 2013 at 7:37 am #

    Sheesh. I let my two-year-old play in our fenced-in back yard if she wants. I can check from the kitchen or various windows. Usually she wants me with her, though. This is very silly.

  8. Hillary March 13, 2013 at 8:03 am #

    I have a seven year old. We live on a safe but busy suburban street and she plays in the front yard unsupervised. Our front yard is not fenced but she knows not to go in the street even to retrieve a ball. Seven year olds are generally quite responsible if given a chance!

  9. Linda Wightman March 13, 2013 at 8:07 am #

    We need to consider just where we are getting our ideas of good and bad parenting, and how reliable they are. It seems to me that the prevailing “wisdom” is that all other parents in history, including our own, were bad!

  10. Tara March 13, 2013 at 8:37 am #

    Does she live on the war torn streets of Afghanistan? Does she live in inner city Chicago where kids are dying on the “gun free” streets? Is the child special needs where he really can’t manage himself? Is he blind, deaf, mute or otherwise unable to move or see danger and be able to move into the house?

    If the answer to any of those questions is “no” then I think the child, who is likely in the second grade where they learn cursive, multiplication and by then should be perfectly capable of tying shoes and wiping their own bums, should be able to sit on the front step for 5 minutes or play alone in the driveway.

    Mom, talk to hubby. Ask him what he’s afraid of, not “anything could happen” but what he’s really afraid of. Work through those concerns with child and give child opportunities to show Dad that he’s growing up and is able to manage himself for short periods of time. Playing in the yard is not playing unsupervised. I still peek out the window to watch them sometimes and mine are 6, 8, 9 and 12!

  11. Captain America March 13, 2013 at 8:42 am #

    I do this sort of thing all the time. It builds independence in your boy. At 7 years old, certainly he can handle it: where’s the difficulty?

  12. Laura Petrie March 13, 2013 at 8:43 am #

    Your husband is the one who’s mistaken. I’m not calling anyone a bad parent; surely he has your son’s best interests at heart. But at 7, kids are ready to exercise a little independence, and it’s our responsibility as parents to give that to them gradually. Playing outside alone and waiting on the porch while mom finishes her walk seem like decent first steps.

  13. Ben March 13, 2013 at 9:07 am #

    Letting a kid sit or play alone in your driveway is perfectly safe IF he knows what to do in an emergency and how to handle talking to strangers (or not). Kids won’t magically become capable at a specific age, so the only way to make sure they are prepared is to teach them and let them practice.

    I’d ask the dad how he expects his kid to become a capable adult without any practice. Or even better, remind him of his own childhood and cite lower crime rates today.

  14. Christina March 13, 2013 at 9:17 am #

    Surely the kid is smart enough to yell and/or run into the house if by the wildest chance possible a child abductor came onto the lawn or driveway. This guy is not only wrong about his wife’s parenting, he is actively undermining his own son. The dad thinks he’s being protective, but what the son hears is that he’s incapable (which usually gets translated to ‘stupid’ in the seven year old mind).

  15. Jenna K. March 13, 2013 at 9:27 am #

    Well, if that makes her a bad mom, then I’m an awful mom because I left my three older boys, ages 9, 8, and 6, at the park yesterday while I drove my 5-year-old daughter (and the 2-year-old came with me) to her dance lesson. They were there without me or any other adult for about 20 minutes. When I came back, they were still happily playing, with each other and all the other kids that were at the park.

  16. Merrick March 13, 2013 at 9:36 am #

    Oh good lord. My seven year old dons his watch and says “I’m going to [friend’s] house, when should I be back?”

    And then he leaves not only my sight but our property, heck, even our BLOCK.

    Does he go super far? No. His two close friends are around the corner. Did he just start doing this at random? No.

    First he had permission to be unsupervised in the backyard, then our whole yard, then to ride his scooter between our house and the corner, etc. Alone on the front porch is a baby step toward independence (one my kids took a lot younger than seven!).

  17. lollipoplover March 13, 2013 at 9:43 am #

    Normal mom feeling Abnormal-
    No, it’s not bad parenting- just indirect supervision. As your son gets older, you will be doing this more and more- it’s called teaching responsibility and building trust, something he will surely need to develop into an independent, capable adult who does not require anxiety medication.

    Kids at early ages can be trusted to play with indirect supervision given boundaries and consequences. This is required parenting with more than one child. Honestly, how do you get anything done if you couldn’t trust the buggers to play where you told them to? What’s abnormal is the paranoia associated wih playing outdoors and sitting on the porch while someone was inside. My kids sit out front with me inside, waiting for friends to join them and get game going.
    This is childhood.

    What’s abnormal is the lack of kids participating in free play outside. Nothing worse than hearing “There’s no one out to play with” and then the turning on of electronics on a beautiful day. THAT has me in hysterics…

  18. Brenna March 13, 2013 at 9:45 am #

    Call me an awful mom – I send my just turned seven year old daughter outside to play all the time, and have been since she was five. By herself. I live on seven acres, so it’s not like I can see her all the time, either. She generally has a blast, comes in dirty and tired and smiling. It’s NORMAL for a seven year old to start showing some independence. I’m with Christina; the more we try to “protect” them, the more we teach them they’re not capable of taking care of themselves.

  19. sandy March 13, 2013 at 9:58 am #

    Ask your husband how he expects your son to learn independence. As others have stated, you need to start with small steps. As he learns to be outside on the porch or backyard on his own you can expand slowly. Find out what his concerns are. Kidnapping? Bullying? Have him teach your son to deal with the eventualities. Just be sure not to frighten the boy with unlikely scenarios.

  20. CrazyCatLady March 13, 2013 at 10:00 am #

    Before you have the talk about your husband’s childhood, call up the local school district and ask about when they allow kids to walk to school by themselves. If it is kinder or 1st grade, he is behind the game. If it is 3rd grade (which is the highest I have heard on here) he needs to get ready.

    Get ready not because you are going to have him walk to school, but get ready because you want him ABLE to walk if needed. Because some times you do drive him to school and sometimes the car can break down or someone can cause a fender bender. And he shouldn’t be late to school because you have to wait for a tow truck or the police.

    Get ready because….everyone else is doing it. He may go over to a friends house and they may be riding scooters or bikes in the driveway there. Or, gasp, even up and down the road that has a speed limit of 5 mph. (That would be my road.)

    My kids were playing in the front yard since they were about 3. It was the only place in the yard that they could put their feet in the grass because it wasn’t full of glass.

  21. Krista March 13, 2013 at 10:18 am #

    My 5 and 3 year old play in the front by themselves with me checking on them every 5-10 minutes. They play in the fenced back as long as they want with even less supervision.

    The front yard thing started with my son when he was 2 in a very quiet culdesac. When we moved to our current home on a busier street he was 3 and I watched him at first. When I was sure he had the rules down he was able to be by himself. When his sister turned 2 and I felt my son could handle keeping and eye on her, and she understood the rules, she joined him in the front.

    I worry all the time what other people think of this arrangement, especially since I check from the window so it doesn’t look like I supervise. But, as well, my neighbor across the street, the kids’ adopted grandma, says it warms her heart to watch my kids doodle with chalk on the sidewalk and have grand adventures. So I know I’m not crazy.

  22. John March 13, 2013 at 10:23 am #

    My 5yo has been playing outside with that level of supervision since he was 3. He has boundaries on the sidewalk that he is not allowed to cross (although they are two are houses down, he knows those boundaries well). My 2yo has been playing outside in the unfenced front yard since he was old enough to walk, albeit with more supervision. Now that he is older (I know 2 isn’t “Old”) he is allowed to play outside in the front yard with the same level of supervision that your 7yo got a taste of. He doesn’t leave the front yard, except on the sidewalk when he is pushing his little plastic car back and forth. His boundaries are much narrower and he knows them well.

    Our oldest has made best friends with the two kids that live across the street and has been safely crossing the road, by himself, for the last 2 summers. Can you believe that? He has enough brain cells to stop, look both ways, and then… not get hit by a car. It’s like he is a capable human being or something.

    I see other kids that are not allowed outside unsupervised, so naturally they are never outside. They seem like nice kids, but they aren’t getting to develop their independence, and what really breaks my heart, is that they don’t get to enjoy in the type of friendship where you can just put on your coat, run across the street, and be with your besties for an hour or two. Or run around the bit of the neighborhood in front of our houses playing with swords (sticks) and hitting bad guys (tree trunks). It’s disgusting and a bit disturbing to see these kids sheltered when the three or four families on our street allow our children to run about the neighborhood and enjoy life and have been safely doing so for 2 years.

    Is it scary at times? Hell yes it is. Twice last summer we had to comb the neighborhood looking for the oldest. Once he decided to hide behind a neighbors garage (testing boundaries) and the other time he was playing in the backyard of one of the more sheltered kids (that’s my boy!). Sometimes we don’t see him for an hour or more because he has taken it upon himself to visit a neighbor friend and was invited in for treats and video games.

    In the last two years we’ve had the cops “bring home” our oldest twice because he looked “too young” to be playing outside without an adult hovering over him. Both times he was running on the sidewalk in front of our neighbors house, not 30 feet from our open front door. We say “Thank you”, bring the boy back inside for 5 minutes, and then release him again to the wild… by wild I mean our front yard. Some would see this as irresponsible parenting, I see this as allowing my very very capable boy independence.

    Sometimes… you just have to let go a little bit. They need to be unsafe. They need to figure out how to be safe on their own. They need to make decisions without your input. They need to make relationships that you didn’t shepherd. They need to know that the world around them is safe. It is.

    I am lucky to live in the neighborhood I live in. It is low income and, consequently, very diverse. Most folks on our street speak English as a second language. I believe this has made our neighborhood a better place for free-ranging. Our neighbors have come from other cultures where the idea of free-ranging lacks a name because it’s just how it is. Just as it was done here in the states 50 years ago.

  23. Lola March 13, 2013 at 10:24 am #

    These sort of discrepancies are bound to distance parents from each other, and it will only get worse if this mum takes a confrontational path. I would certainly not advice that.
    Maybe it would help if the 7 yo shows off his capabilities in front of his dad. Get them both doing a lot of father-son things, get their chores done together. For me, it worked when Son (then almost 6) offered to wash the family car inside and out, for a very reasonable fee. Then I got Hubby to walk the kid to the candy store to spend his earnings. When the kid showed he knew the neighbours better than his father does, knew his way around and was reasonably sensible crossing the streets, things got on easily after that.
    Just let your son show his father on his own that he isn’t a baby anymore, he’s getting to be a Big Boy, and proud to follow his daddy’s steps. Because these arguments about the kids tend to turn into angry quarrels that use children as weapons. Good luck.

  24. zozimus March 13, 2013 at 10:28 am #

    Your husband’s attack on your character indicates that he is experiencing a fear response. Good studies show that actually telling people to be reasonable makes them unreasonable – seems like that’s a built-in recalcitrance. I’d suggest further discussions with him to find out what the limits of his fear actually are: can he name them? Is there a reason for them? Overcoming fear is going to take some firm, but compassionate, discussion. It’s important to know, and have out in the open, what each parent’s expectations and limits are with regard to child rearing…along with money and sex, it’s the biggest source of disagreement between couples. Chief among your expectations should be the expectation of understanding and civil, respectful discussion: you may differ in your opinion on the best way to raise your child, but neither of you is doing it maliciously or negligently, so words like “bad parent” should be off the table from the beginning.

  25. DH March 13, 2013 at 10:33 am #

    A couple evenings this winter, my 6-year-old has said “mom, I need to go outside and run in circles.” I just say “remember to put on your hat and mittens.”

  26. Warren March 13, 2013 at 10:44 am #

    @Normal Mom

    My advice is to look at how his mother raised him. My experience tells me that he get’s his parenting skills and ideals from his mother. And unfortunately, even today he is going to listen to his mother first and you second when it comes to issues on raising kids.

    If you are able to have his mom support your ideals, then this becomes easier. If not then it is an uphill battle. Keep doing what your doing, when it happens try to find out his motives, and talk it thru.

    I fear it won’t be that easy. A man that will override his wife infront of the children, calls his wife openly a bad parent, is not a respectful person. Until he learns respect, this may only get worse.

    I wish you all the luck, and if there is anything I can do to help, let me know.

  27. Taylor M March 13, 2013 at 10:45 am #

    Hello Normal Mom Feeling Abnormal, you’re normal. In a world gone mad it’s the normal ones that are made to look crazy. Unless drive-bys are a problem, I think you are A-OK. Good luck with your husband. I’m sure he means well.

    I wish more kids would play in the front yards on my street. Sometimes it seems like there are only a few kids on the whole street, but I’m pretty sure that’s not the case.

    @DH – What a remarkably self-aware 6-year-old. 😉

  28. Are we there yet? March 13, 2013 at 11:07 am #

    Seems to me the bad parent is the one who doesn’t sit on the porch with the kid he’s worried will be stolen. Why does the kid have to come in?

    I think mom needs to go away for a day and let mr Responsibilty=Control manage things. Debrief them after she gets home and see how it goes.

    I agree this is all learned behavior, from his own childhood and the culture of fear.

  29. Renee Anne March 13, 2013 at 11:07 am #

    If your child is responsible enough, there’s nothing wrong. Your husband is being silly.

    With that said, I’m the parent that keeps a firm hand on her two-year old when we’re out because he’s a runner and (1) doesn’t understand that you’re not supposed to run across the street and (2) doesn’t stop when instructed to do so.

  30. Trish March 13, 2013 at 11:31 am #

    You’re the normal one, Mom Feeling Abnormal! Lenore, you’re in a good fight. I’m with you, trying to “calm a hysterical society.” It’s not always easy to keep the fear at bay, but I am rewarded when I see confident, helpful, happy kids.

  31. AW13 March 13, 2013 at 12:08 pm #

    Hi, Normal Mom – you are not a bad parent! It is perfectly fine for your son to be out in the driveway while you’re in the house, or sitting on the front stoop while you’re on a walk (and his dad is inside).

    I agree with one of the earlier posters that you should not be confrontational, though, since that will most likely lead to both sides digging in their heals and accepting nothing short of the other’s complete capitulation. Maybe start a discussion with your husband asking WHY he thinks that the world is so dangerous. Ask him how he feels about your neighborhood in particular. Acknowledge that his fear is real, even though it is unfounded. (I still have trouble shaking off the worries that “something” might happen, and occasionally have to swallow some fear when my son asks to do some things.) At a later point, maybe work in your son to the discussion – find ways that your son can demonstrate his responsibility and common sense, set goals that when A is demonstrated, he gets freedom B as a result – and if he does not continue to demonstrate responsibility A, then freedom B gets taken away. This is going to be a long discussion and series of compromises, but it is important to your son’s (and daughter’s) sense of competency that you begin the conversation now.

    Above all, try not to be offended at the charge that you are a bad or irresponsible parent. He’s operating out of fear, not logic. Maybe suggest reading Lenore’s book (which really put things into perspective for me) and also read Last Child in the Woods, which discusses how skewed our relationship with the outdoors is, and why we need to change this. Good luck!

  32. Julie March 13, 2013 at 12:27 pm #

    My 7-year-old plays out front unsupervised. He is also allowed to ride his bike around the block (it’s a loop), and go to the park (literally around the corner) by himself for an hour at a time. We have built up to these responsibilities gradually, and we have made it very clear that if he blows it–like say, by not coming home on time–then privileges will be revoked until I feel he can be responsible enough to handle himself.

    In the next year, we are planning to allow him to ride his bike further afield (once we know that he knows how to get home from a few streets over) and possibly let him stay home alone for short stints (about a half an hour or so.) We will prep him for these things, just as we have prepped him for going to the park alone.

    And part of it is knowing your kid and what he can handle. My 7-year-old has been allowed out front for a couple years now. My almost 5-year-old only plays in the backyard unsupervised. She wants to be out front but she is also a wanderer who doesn’t really pay attention to where she’s going and doesn’t always look for cars. So, she can’t be out front alone. I will let her out with her older brother for short periods, though.

    I like the idea of letting your kid show your husband what he’s capable of doing. And I think a discussion of what your husband fears is also in order. I think most 7-year-olds are perfectly safe in their own front yard with an adult inside. He can get the door open to come in, right? He doesn’t have a certain quirk that would make it less reasonable for him to be out there?

  33. Emily March 13, 2013 at 12:30 pm #

    You know, a few things stick out here:

    1. When I was maybe nine or ten, I used to read Ann M. Martin’s “Babysitters’ Club” and “Babysitter’s Little Sister” books, and the protagonist of the BSLS series, Karen Brewer, was seven years old. In one of the books, she mentioned that, “I am not allowed to go more than six blocks in any direction.” This wasn’t that long ago–I think these books were written starting in the late 80’s/early 90’s or so. Now, my parents were overprotective, so that would have seemed like too much freedom to them, but my brother and I were allowed to play outside in the yard alone since we were maybe two or three years old.

    2. When I was in elementary school, the schools didn’t set any rules about when kids were allowed to walk to and from school alone. It didn’t occur to them to do that, because it’s a parenting decision.

  34. Donna March 13, 2013 at 1:39 pm #

    My 7 year old has been playing outside by herself and walking the dog around the block by herself – in the city – for a couple years. She has also begun to stay home alone for a few minutes while I run to the store.

    You never know what things may happen to make these skills necessary. Sunday I was wiped out by a nasty stomach virus. Since I’m a single parent, my daughter was largely left to her own devices all afternoon/evening. I’m sure she was bored, but she didn’t go crazy and was even able to fix her own simple lunch and dinner. I can’t imagine how much more awful the day would have been if my child didn’t have some independence. I look at some of her friends who are so demanding and needy and realize that they could never take care of themselves for an afternoon while mom is wishing for death in the bathroom. And independence starts by letting kids do things.

  35. Neil M March 13, 2013 at 1:47 pm #

    This sounds fine to me. I live in a big city, and the neighbors let their kids play on the sidewalk all the time when the weather is suitable. They’re fine, and in my opinion the neighborhood is enhanced by the sounds of children at play. Makes us remember that things are not nearly as dangerous as we’ve been told.

  36. Sharon March 13, 2013 at 1:48 pm #

    1. The first question my school asked my fifth grader safety patrol is how and you getting to and from school. If she is old enough to walk kindergarteners to the classroom and to the bus isn’t she old enough to know where she is going?

    2. My free range parenting will kick in next week. My daughter will be alone two mornings about an hour each day. I expect her to leave the condo, walk to the elevator, go down it, behave in the lobby, walk to the front of the building, and get on her school bus. The second day she will need to remember her violin.When she was younger I would have driven her to day care or stayed with her until the bus came.

  37. AnotherAnon March 13, 2013 at 1:56 pm #

    When I was a kid, I was part of a pack of children that wandered up and down the streets of our quiet Chicago neighborhood (Lenore, since you’re familiar, I lived in West Rogers Park in the little corner that’s almost Evanston and almost Skokie). By the time I was 7, my friends and I knew how to cross side streets to get to each others’ houses. By the time I was 9, we were allowed to cross major streets at intersections to go to the Quik Stop to get candy, to go to the park to play, or to go to McDonald’s for lunch. I was born in 1976. It wasn’t that long ago.

  38. Lori March 13, 2013 at 2:01 pm #

    I live in a pretty quiet neighborhood in a city, and we have a large field directly across the street from our house. I allow my 9yo to play outside our house or in the field unsupervised (he is a LOUD kid and I feel perfectly confident that I’d hear him if he needed me), and if I’m going to be on the first floor and able to peek out the window every 5-10 minutes, I’ll let him play outside with his 3yo sister, with a few more boundaries than he has when playing alone. The other day the two of them built an amazing snowman in front of our house while I was making dinner.

  39. Tiffany March 13, 2013 at 2:03 pm #

    My 4 & 5 year olds play outside all the time. My only concern is cars, although we live on a quiet street. I do not supervise them unless they’re riding their bikes. (I do check on them from time to time though.) They’re also allowed to walk to our neighbors’ houses (within sight) as long as they tell me first. The other kids on our block (ages 6-12) have the run of the street as well. We love it because they all play together. A 7 year old absolutely should be able to play outside without supervision!

  40. Thomas Arbs March 13, 2013 at 2:03 pm #

    Together, our 7- and 9-year-old can go to the playground in a park (down 2 roads, but without traffic). Together, they go to school (abt. 1 mile, traffic-light crossings) every day. Each on their own can visit friends down our own road (which has almost no traffic). And of course they can play in the driveway till they’re blue in the face, on their own, though we have an enclosed back garden so they’d usually go there. Our neighborhood is relatively quiet with the exception of the odd wino from a nearby asylum, whom I deem mostly harmless. And yes, I’d actually trust the 7-year-old slightly more than the 9-year-old, so the absolute age is only one indicator of what a parent deems safe for any particular child.

  41. Elisabeth March 13, 2013 at 2:05 pm #

    We moved to our neighborhood when my son was 6 and he loved playing in the front yard. Sadly, he was usually alone because of the dearth of other children in the area allowed to play outside. Many of my older neighbors still comment on how much they loved seeing him out there, playing away. They said it reminded them of the old days. They ask why they see less of him now that he’s 10. The truth is he got tired of being alone out there! Send your kids out! Encourage others to send their kids out! It makes your neighborhood a better place to live, not a scarier place to live!!

  42. Thomas Arbs March 13, 2013 at 2:08 pm #

    Ah, and yes, they can sit in the car if they don’t want to join me shopping, which may well be up to a quarter of an hour. And they can stay at home alone for about an hour, but they mustn’t open the door nor answer the phone. (The last one is a bit tricky, what if it is you yourself who wants to tell them about some change of plans, but still, with so many unwanted callers, I wouldn’t want them to buy that magazine subscription.)

  43. April March 13, 2013 at 2:20 pm #

    You know, the fear that “anything could happen” is contagious, but so is the free-range attitude. My new neighbor did not, at first let her 4 and 7 year-old children play in the front yard unsupervised. But when she noticed I let my 2 and 5 year olds play out front unsupervised for short periods, she felt more relaxed – like if I were doing it, the neighborhood must be safe enough. She told me this. I know we free-rangers periodically catch hell for letting our kids “run wild,” but it’s good to know the opposite happens sometimes, too.
    We have to respect that other parents (even spouses) know their own children’s individual personalities well enough to know how much freedom they can handle. Some two or three year olds are capable of sticking to a “don’t go in the street rule, and some are not.” I would argue, however, that most seven year olds certainly are capable of handling a few minutes outside, loosely supervised by an adult in the house.
    Stick to your guns, Normal Mom, but be compassionate with your husband. He has your kids’ best interests at heart, probably. He just needs to think about what his real fears are and realize the benefit of letting kids play outside far outweigh the risks in most cases. Also, though, name-calling is a no-no. I don’t know what your relationship is, but calling a spouse a “bad parent” is so not cool with me.

  44. Brandi March 13, 2013 at 2:22 pm #

    You are definitely NOT crazy! I have a 7 year old boy as well. He walks to and from school each day (about half a mile each way). He plays outside, all day, and is allowed to walk a couple streets over to his friends house (as long as he asks first. My 4 and a half year old has the kind of “unsupervised” play that you allowed your son… He can play outside, in the yard, and I keep the door open to hear him, and occasionally peak out and wee how he’s doing. And if my 7 year old is with him, my 4 year old is allowed to walk a few houses down the street to a friends house. I even let my 3 year old play in the backyard alone. I just don’t see the danger. I’ve been told countless times that my kids are too young for this kind out unsupervised play, but no one can give me an answer as to why they are too young, or why I need to be there… other than “anything could happen”.

  45. Rachel Stutzman March 13, 2013 at 2:29 pm #

    Lenore … when I read above about the radio caller, I thought, “And if you’re going to keep negating everything I say (and the corresponding stats), everything will *seem* super dangerous!”

    Feeling Abnormal: Our neighborhood is technically suburban but it’s only a few blocks away from a fairly depressed urban area with occasional spill-over violence. However, I still let my 10 & 13 girls walk to the park, corner deli, CVS, etc on their own and have since they were 7 or 8 – especially in the summer. I was so proud when they felt capable and independent enough to go buy some ice cream, eat it at the park, meet up & play with friends, and come home exhausted but happy — all without me! Hang in there and be patient with your husband — hopefully he’ll come around!

  46. Molly Eness March 13, 2013 at 2:36 pm #

    The fact is anything can happen at any time even when you are a helicopter parent. A seven-year-old who has been trusted to take care of himself for a few minutes will handle an extreme situation (like a parent dropping dead of a stroke or an escaped lion from the zoo) better then a kid who has never been trusted to use his judgement. Love, Molly

  47. Dawn Pedersen March 13, 2013 at 2:40 pm #

    I often have this kind of conversation with my husband.

    Ex.1) 2-1/2 year old son is riding a baby ride at the amusement park. Husband worries aloud that if son reaches his arm down it might get caught in the machinery. Me: HOW?!!

    Ex. 2) Son is doing this: http://i.imgur.com/RpiqXKB.jpg
    Husband views photo and says: I hope he doesn’t fall and crack his skull or something. Me: HOW?!!

  48. Fear less March 13, 2013 at 3:00 pm #

    At 7 my kids were generally allowed and encouraged to do the following:

    1. Walk to the bus stop alone and wait for the school bus.
    2. Use a steak knife to cut their own food.
    3. Set the table, take out the trash, feed the pets, go bring the trash cans in from the curb.
    4. Ride their bikes on the street with helmets on, between two houses I had designated. Around seven is the time I would let them go around the block, but this varied between my four children a little as abilities were different in this regard. All of my kids were ready to ride bikes around the block at 8.
    5. Go out in the back yard unsupervised (starts around age 3 possibly younger if there are siblings about.)
    6. Play on our street unsupervised. Go to the park around the corner with a sibling or friend.
    7. Be home for dinner, or in the winter by dusk.
    8. Use a hammer and nails to build things. Use basic tools.

    Some kids can do things a little earlier and some need a little more time.

  49. Chaille March 13, 2013 at 3:01 pm #

    Right after I read Lenore’s book, my husband had a mild panic attack over my “new” view on parenting. Now, he rolls his eyes at all the helicopter moms who hover at the playground…and he gets enraged right along with me about how kids’ freedom these days is so stifled by society. So my advice is to be patient, and keep reminding him of the FACTS. It also helps to bring your kids into the discussion, bc your husband just might see how much your children benefit from the freedom. And also, you can still talk to your kids about “what if” situations (while stressing that most of those situations are highly unlikely), and your husband can see that your children are prepared. Emphasize that you really can’t protect your children from life, but you can prepare them for it! :-)

  50. millse March 13, 2013 at 3:04 pm #

    Ugh my husband does this all the time too. He doesn’t want to actually watch the children, but he protests when I give the children too much “free rein” when I’m watching them haha.

  51. Maggie March 13, 2013 at 3:10 pm #

    Ask your husband what, specifically, he feels the risk was. Is he afraid your son will run out into the road? At 7 he should know better. Is he afraid of kidnappers? Your son could have screamed for help, or gone into the house before anyone came close enough to grab him.

    I was walking to school by myself at that age.

  52. elsiroomom March 13, 2013 at 3:26 pm #

    Things we have permitted, and at what ages (please note that we live in a cul-de-sac):
    Play in the snow in the front yard, with mom or dad engaged in activities that allow them visibility through the window: 5
    Play in the back yard, with mom or dad in kitchen or family room, visibility through the window: 5
    Play in the front side or back yard with little supervision, other than periodically looking out to be sure we can spot them: 7/8
    Play with older siblings (10/8) in yard unsupervised , other than periodic check: 5
    Walk to neighbor’s house, out of view, two blocks away – no sidewalks, with expectation that neighbor is expecting their arrival: 7
    Walk to school, or supervised playground program with sibling or other older child: 8
    Walk the dog around the neighborhood with sibling (8/10 together)

  53. Stephanie March 13, 2013 at 3:35 pm #

    My husband is the more protective of us too. He wasn’t happy when I started letting our kids play out front with minimal (through the window) supervision, but with some discussion and time, he got used to it and now approves. He wasn’t happy when I started letting the kids run or ride scooters around the block, but now he’s used to it. It takes time each time for him to accept that our kids should be doing these things, but it has helped when he thinks back to what he did as a kid and realizes that these ought to be normal things.

    Our two oldest are now 8 and 10. We were at Disneyland yesterday. In the afternoon, we gave the kids my cell phone, instructions on how to call their father’s cell phone, and told them to go have fun on their own for an hour (most lines were a half hour or so). I took our 4 year old to do things that only interested her, my husband went off to get Fast Passes for Splash Mountain.

    The kids handled it great. The one thing we forgot to tell them was what to do if they realized a line would keep them beyond the agreed upon meeting time, which of course happened. But they figured it out and called while standing in line so we’d know that they would be late, exactly what we would have said to do. We let them know how proud we were that they handled the situation so well.

    Aside from that, the only problem was that I realized partway through the time that I didn’t have a watch, so I had a harder time knowing when to get back. Fortunately, the four year old was tired after a while, so we returned to the meeting place to let her rest and it all worked out.

  54. Idgi March 13, 2013 at 4:36 pm #

    My brother-in-law started working for his dad when he was 8. All the men in their family are arborists, therefore Reuben was climbing trees *with a saw* at 8 years old. By 16 he was using a chainsaw one-handed in a tree. He’s 23 now and the best technical arborist in the county.

    My husband can’t wait to send our kids up trees. With saws. I love him!

    BTW, we live in Northern Idaho, and kids here do a lot of things like walk/bike to school/store, play outside, etc. The stores sell kiddie ATVs and kids can get a small game hunting license at 10 (14 for big game).

  55. vjhreeves March 13, 2013 at 5:00 pm #

    Don’t feel bad. My 4 y/o daughter fell off the monkey bars and broke her arm, while I was about 10 feet from her. When we got home from our 12-hour ordeal at the ER, my husband was furious–at ME. Blamed me for the entire thing, because I wasn’t standing right next to her with my arms around her. I was stunned.

  56. ifsogirl March 13, 2013 at 9:18 pm #

    I let my 5 and 8 year old girls play outside unserpervised in the front yard of our t/h complex. I used to leave the door open but then they wouldn’t stay outside and kept coming in every 5 min to ask a question or say they were hungry. I closed the door and opened the blinds to keep an eye on them. Usually all the kids play in front of our place. I let them walk to the park that is about two short blocks away alone as well.

    Kids need to learn to navigate this world on their own. Taking the time to let them out in small increments means that you ARE doing this safely. What happens when at the age of 13, 16, 18 or whenever you deem your child old enough to do things on their own, but they can’t because they were never allowed to. I work with a 21 year old that has never taken the bus because her parents drover her everywhere and then bought her a car when she got her license.

  57. Donald March 13, 2013 at 9:43 pm #

    “Well, if you’re going to negate everything I say, then of COURSE things are going to seem safe.”

    That line can be used both ways.

    Well, if you’re going to negate everything I say, then of COURSE things are going to seem dangerous, life threatening and parents that allow their children to play in their own front yard should have their children taken from them by CPA and the parents jailed for child endangerment.

  58. Peter March 13, 2013 at 9:59 pm #

    my 6-year-old has said “mom, I need to go outside and run in circles.”

    I love this. I need to go outside and run in circles. Not a want or desire–a genuine need to go outside and run in circles.

    Priceless.

    In regards to the caller, tell her that a responsible parent would (a) leave the car in gear and (b) enable the parking brake. If your kid is clever enough to put the car into neutral and is clever enough to release the parking brake, he’s clever enough to know better.

  59. Jen Connelly March 13, 2013 at 11:23 pm #

    That’s the kind of “unsupervised” outside play we started with when my kids were like 2, 3 and 4. They were on our front porch (that had a gate on the stairs) with all the windows and door open while I ran in for a couple minutes to use the bathroom. Then when they got older it progressed to me staying in with the windows open while they played on the porch then in the front yard and finally down the street with the door closed (and the AC on).

    Now they are 12, 11, 10, 7 and 2 and play outside by themselves all the time all over the neighborhood (except the 2yo goes out with one of the older 3 as supervision… he’s allowed in our fenced backyard unsupervised though).

    The porch thing was while we were living in Chicago (within the city limits). Nothing ever happened to them because despite the crime in Chicago most neighborhoods are friendly places to be where neighbors will look out for each other. Plus it was the neighborhood I grew up in and it wasn’t all that different from when I was a kid.

    Maybe you should buy Lenore’s book and have your husband read it.

  60. Earth.W March 14, 2013 at 1:19 am #

    Dear Dad,

    You’re children will be fine being left alone. It is actually best for a child’s development to not have an adult around them at all times for they need to explore, learn and develop. If you look at those young adults who were raised without this ability of childhood independence, they cannot make decisions for themselves and that is dangerous.

    Doctors in Australia have started asking parents to let their children run free because this protective parenting is seeing more children with bone breaks simply because their bones are not developing the strength needed, that is developed by a child being active.

  61. Earth.W March 14, 2013 at 1:24 am #

    If husband keeps calling his wife a bad mother, I see him losing his wife.

  62. mollie March 14, 2013 at 1:27 am #

    Here’s hoping she never ends up leaving this guy, because wow, I can only imagine how it might go if you were arguing about custody.

    But I digress. Crazy? Hell no. But then again, I don’t label anyone crazy anymore. Clearly, this man and this woman both care about their son’s well-being. The conflict lies in how they decide to express and encourage well-being.

    I found that with my ex, when he freaked out about my letting our seven year old walk to school and up the street or whatever it was, the best tack to take was to connect around what it was he cared so much about… which was safety.

    Also, his own peace. “If anything ever happened to that kid, I don’t think I could live another day,” kind of thing. So the fear is mostly about their OWN well-being and peace. So it’s good to connect around that, and acceptance, etc.

    What I said to my ex was, “So when you tell me you want to call CPS because I let him walk to school by himself, I’m guessing that you just want him to be safe and okay, right?” And he agreed, and then the whole thing about he couldn’t live without our son, and I said, “Well, are you interested in how my decision to let him walk was also about safety, from my point of view?” And then I told him about how kids who are allowed chances to make independent decisions as young children are less likely to feel intent on proving their maturity in destructive ways later on, when the stakes are really high… drugs and sex and all that.

    He actually agreed with me, but wouldn’t relent on the walking to school thing. He said he wasn’t sure when he (dad) would be ready… but he totally agreed that our son WAS ready.

    So at least there was some awareness of who it was my ex was protecting… himself… and some shared reality about what our son was actually capable of. And no more harping on me about what a bad mom I was.

    Sadly, my son had to wait another couple of years to walk to school, and I do think it was a terribly tragic delay. C’est la vie.

  63. Emily March 14, 2013 at 1:30 am #

    @VJHReeves–It’s not your fault that your daughter fell off the monkey bars and broke her arm. I think you were absolutely right to let her climb, swing, and explore the monkey bars independently, without you holding on to her–that would have completely spoiled the fun and challenge of the playground, and if your husband doesn’t see that, I feel kind of bad for him.

    Anyway, this brings up a memory from my childhood. When I was a kid, playgrounds were still made of wood and metal, and a lot of them were made from wooden pillars with holes machine-drilled in them, either for decoration, or to allow for the wood to expand and contract with the changing temperatures, which was necessary here in Canada. Anyway, the playground near my house had some hanging rings, that were later removed, and changed into a zipline type thing, with T-shaped bars that kids would hang on, and then slide to the other side by pumping their legs. The only problem was, the bars were too high for a lot of kids to reach independently. So, my mom actually encouraged me and my brother to get around that by finding thick sticks to put in the holes on the pillars, and use them as footholds to reach the bar. This wasn’t perfectly safe, and it’d probably be frowned on nowadays, but back then, I thought it was brilliant. Sure, sometimes the sticks broke, and I might have gotten a scratch on my legs once or twice, if I was wearing shorts,
    but it was worth being able to use the zip line before puberty.

    Anyway, I have other, similar stories (three-storey metal slide at the waterfront, brother got pushed off school monkey bars and broke his foot, the “whirlybird” ride that was tons of fun, but could result in a banged head if used improperly), and it all sounds crazy now, but I was born in 1984, so it wasn’t that long ago. Most playgrounds nowadays (with the exception of a few really spectacular ones) are pretty empty of kids, because the equipment has become so “safe” that it’s no longer fun for anyone beyond toddler/preschool age.

  64. pentamom March 14, 2013 at 8:23 am #

    “Well, if you’re going to negate everything I say, then of COURSE things are going to seem safe.”

    Well, if you’re going to raise objections that can be refuted without even having to think, then of COURSE I’m going to refute them!

  65. Lesley March 14, 2013 at 4:20 pm #

    I have adopted kids so I’m not fond of the whole young kids out for hours type thing, but at 7, I did all of those things with all my kids that you mention as they are at their own front door with an adult in the vicinity. I didn’t let mine leave the street as it’s a busy rat run at the bottom of our street, despite being in suburbia.

    The compromise was the front and up and down the cul-de-sac, but neighbours were the problem as they didn’t want to hear the noise of kids playing.

  66. Emily March 14, 2013 at 4:30 pm #

    @Lesley–Why would your neighbours move into a cul-de-sac where kids lived, if they didn’t want to hear the noise of kids playing? That doesn’t make any sense.

  67. Let_Her_Eat_Dirt March 14, 2013 at 9:08 pm #

    That husband is insane — perhaps from years of worrying too much about his child’s safety. Of course it’s fine for a seven-year-old to play unsupervised! Maybe not in a basement full of dynamite and matches, but in general.. Indeed, it is not just fine but absolutely necessary — it helps kids develop a sense of self-reliance and independence.

    Let Her East Dirt
    http://www.lethereatdirt.com
    One dad’s take on raising tough, adventurous girls

  68. SaneDad March 14, 2013 at 9:09 pm #

    My six-year-old son plays outside all the time. He chats with every neighbor who walks down the street. He has a great time. He also has ride-around-the-block privileges, and he regularly walks down the street (solo) to visit friends.

    All of this was developed gradually. He knows what is safe and reasonable, and what is not. He has earned our trust, and earned his autonomy.

  69. Cynthia812 March 14, 2013 at 11:08 pm #

    Good night. My not-quite-7yo has the run of the neighborhood (just a 1/2mi loop), and has since he learned to ride his bike 18 months ago. His 5yo sister is allowed to go with him to their friends’ house around the corner and down the street. My 3yo plays in the yard while I’m in the house, and even the 1yo gets a little time just supervised through the window.

  70. mollie March 15, 2013 at 1:42 pm #

    Lesley says, “I have adopted kids so I’m not fond of the whole young kids out for hours type thing,” as if there were some kind of logical connection between having adopted kids and letting them play outside for more than a couple of hours.

    I can’t say my own experience of having a child I adopted is the same. Mine is 12, and was out playing for hours yesterday. He caught some serious heck, though, when he came home at 5 instead of 4:30 as agreed, and we were waiting in the car to go out for dinner.

    Today, he’s off again, this time with a watch. He left at about 8:30, and I told him to be home by 5.

  71. Erin March 15, 2013 at 2:58 pm #

    I, too, don’t understand the “adopted” comment. I have three adopted kids (ages 6, 4, and 1), and my two older kids play wildly, creatively and independently outside (both front and back) for hours upon hours.

    I do think, however, that the “ask him what how he was raised” might not always work. As a 38 year old, you’d think I had a wonderful free-range childhood. I did not! I had to check in each time I rode my bike around the block (age 10), and I remember my mom having a conversation with me about how to dodge a bullet while running (yeah right!). Some parents, even in the 70’s, were overprotective and reactionary.

    To this day, my mom is the one who is the most uncomfortable to my free range tactics (no surprise): tactics like letting my child go the bathroom by herself, running wild at an arcade, or going into the post office to buy stamps… you know, the REALLY scary things in life!

    All to say, reader’s husband might have been raised the same way…

  72. Scarlet Paolicchi March 16, 2013 at 11:40 pm #

    This is a great topic that I think a lot of parents, especially inexperienced ones, worry about. I definitely believe in instilling independence and responsibility in our children from a young age.

    I agree that children should be unattended only if they know the boundaries & what to do in cases of emergencies.

    @Kenny Felder I think that’s a great suggestion! Communicating & understanding why he feels that way, while presenting current facts in a rational way can help this couple now & in the future. :)

  73. Amy U March 21, 2013 at 11:10 pm #

    To Normal Mom Feeling Abnormal: Keep doing it. Your husband will soon see that your child is completely safe. I’m so glad you’re not both like that. You are your kid’s chance at turning out normal. My husband gets the same way (how he was raised) and I just call him Mr. Paranoid but I smile when I say it. (: He’s loosened up quite a lot. I’m just glad I found Free Range Kids, because I was beginning to think I didn’t love my kids enough…

  74. ACsMama March 23, 2013 at 7:49 pm #

    We have lived in our current apartment for just over a year now, since my daughter was 2 1/2. We have a nice grassy backyard, but it’s not fenced at all, and there is a storage shed in the middle so that it is divided into 2 areas. Our street is a quiet dead-end, but we are near the corner of a busy street. When we first moved here I started teaching my daughter where was okay to play and where wasn’t. I did keep a close eye on her for the first few months, because of the busy street. Now, though, I will hang laundry up on Saturday mornings on one side of the yard while she plays on the other side (it’s shadier on that side and not quite so hot), and I will even go inside to get a drink / get the next load of laundry / etc. for a few minutes and leave her outside playing. She knows not to go out of the yard, and not to go with anywhere with anyone without asking me first (there are a few other kids that live in the complex and sometimes will invite her in to play).

    The only consequences from giving her these freedoms are that she enjoys getting fresh air, exercise, and time to use her imagination and enjoy nature (she plays with sticks, leaves, flowers, snail shells, rocks, etc. making up elaborate stories).

    I am also a teacher, and must stay after school often with my daughter (she attends preschool in the same school). Thankfully I have several co-workers who also lean toward free-range, so on any given day there will be my 3yo, a 4yo, 2 1st-graders and sometimes a 4th grader (all children of teachers or staff members) on the school playground together after school with their various Moms busy inside. They know where each of the Mom’s classrooms are if they need anything, and the older ones look out for the littler ones. Whenever the next-to-last one leaves they always walk the last one to his or her mother before they go, and they have all become great friends.

    The chances of something happening are so small, and the benefits of some alone time (and especially outside time!) far outweigh any risks IMO. Teach your children to be sensible and what to do in an emergency, and give them gradually more freedom and they will be just fine!

  75. ACsMama March 23, 2013 at 8:27 pm #

    Oh, and just for another bit of perspective, my husband (who did NOT grow up in the USA) at 7 years old was going to school and at the same time working 2 jobs – cleaning/yard work early every morning, and helping sell fruit from a truck on the side of the street (busy streets – with crazy drivers!) in the afternoons. By 13 he had 2 businesses of his own, and bought himself a motorcycle!

  76. Rachel July 18, 2013 at 4:53 am #

    I was allowed to wander around my yard and the neighbors yards as a four year old and never had any issues. No fence either,as a seven year old I wandered around the town with friends with no supervision. Nothing happened then either.

    I didn’t know children where no longer allowed to play even in their own yards alone anymore?

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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