boys at grocery no rites

50% of Parents Won’t Let Their Kids Go to Another Aisle in Grocery: Poll

Most parents believe it’s important for kids to develop independence in their elementary school years by doing things “away from direct adult supervision,” according to a new survey by the University of Michigan’s C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital. But in a national poll of 1000 parents, the hospital found “a sizeable gap between parent attitudes and actions.”

For instance, less than a quarter of parents of kids ages 5-8 let them prepare their own snack.

Meanwhile, only half the parents of kids age 9-11 were willing to let their children find an item at the store while they shopped in another aisle. The majority were unwilling to let them walk to a friend’s home, or play in the park with one. Just 15% said they would let their kids trick or treat without adult supervision.

Good intentions, but…

These results suggest parents “may be unintentionally restricting their child’s path to independence,” write the survey’s authors. “Some parents do things their child could do for themselves as a means of demonstrating dedication. Paradoxically, this ‘helicopter parenting’ can impede the child from gaining the experience and confidence necessary to become a healthy and well functioning adult.”

Parents do seem aware of this. But, the study found, they’re just too worried to loosen their grip.

The top parental fear? Safety. The parents of the 9-to-11-year-olds “worry someone might scare or follow their child.” However, only 17% actually felt they live in an unsafe neighborhood.

One fear: being judged.

Parents also worry that their child isn’t ready to do things on their own, or doesn’t want to, which seems sort of self-fulfilling. But then there’s the fear of being judged as bad parents, or having the cops called on them for inadequate supervision. And yet 25% have criticized another parent for not adequately supervising their child.

The upshot is that this generation of parents knows that their kids desperately need some autonomy. But they can’t let go.

Let Grow is breaking that cycle.

That is exactly the mission of Let Grow, the nonprofit that grew out of Free-Range Kids. We’re working to make easy, normal and legal to give kids back some independence. Let’s start with the legal part.

As the Mott study notes, there are states that may investigate parents who allow their kids to be alone. That’s chilling. But “other states have passed ‘independence for kids’ laws to ensure that parents can determine when and where their children are allowed to be without direct supervision.”

These are laws that Let Grow has promoted and helped to pass in eight states so far: Utah, Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado, Virginia, Connecticut, Illinois and Montana. “Reasonable Childhood Independence” laws say neglect is when you put your kid in obvious, serious danger – not anytime you take your eyes off them. California is the next state in our sites!

Our (free!) school materials help parents loosen up.

The other way to shift the “helicopter parenting” paradigm is by making it easy and normal for parents to let go. That’s what Let Grow is doing in the schools. We have a simple curriculum schools can access called “The Let Grow Experience.” And it’s free!

The centerpiece of The Experience is a homework assignment teachers can give students once a month, once a semester – whenever – that says, “Go home and do something new, on your own, with your parents’ permission – but without your parents.”

When all the kids in a class, grade, or entire school district are doing “Let Grow Projects” like walking the dog, running errands, or getting themeslves to school, parents have a little push to let go. That makes it easier. AND they have the added comfort of all the other parents letting go at the same time. That makes letting go NORMAL. Once the child does something new on their own, BOTH generations end up more confident and the culture starts to change.

“I had no idea my kid was ready to do this!” is the comment we hear second-most often. More often? “I’m so proud!”

One special story.

Last month I visited a school in Las Vegas where almost all the kids were doing The Experience. Kindergarteners were riding bikes, feeding their pets, and making a whole lot of their own peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

Older kids were visiting friends, cooking meals, running errands. That included one little girl who wrote this essay about her first Let Grow Project (in her exact words):

That girl is a fifth grader in special ed. But now she is also the kid whose parents trusted her with a grown-up task. The kid who went on a hero’s journey. The kid who discovered she is brave.

I suspect her parents are braver now, too.

A way forward:

The Mott survey documented a truth about this moment in America: We don’t mean to be stunting our kids. We don’t mean to be undermining their bravery, resilience, and pride. But thanks to inflated fears and stifling norms, that’s what, accidentally and collectively, we are doing.

“Some parents may be missing opportunities to guide their children in these ‘building block’ tasks of autonomy,” the study concluded.

It is not hard to start on a new, better, happier path if we just take a step back and let our kids step up.

Let Grow.


PHOTO CREDIT: Flickr by Virginia Department of Education at

4 Responses to 50% of Parents Won’t Let Their Kids Go to Another Aisle in Grocery: Poll

  1. Mark Headley October 24, 2023 at 12:12 am #

    Most touching Special Story. Bravo Lenore!

    Conversely, I am irate, disgusted, to learn that 25% of parents have accused others’ parenting. I’ll ever be hopeful, supportive of your heroic efforts. But it’s hard for me to be optimistic of turning things around with this in our society. Disgraceful! Wretched!

  2. Mark Headley October 24, 2023 at 6:10 am #

    My working mother didn’t have time for such nonsense. My younger bro’ and I took our time figuring out what cereals, what some other foods, we wanted for ourselves. Plus we liked to explore. I recall no stories of abduction anywhere local. Other than in domestic disputes.

    So discouraging, disgraceful to me to learn 25% of parents have criticized other parents. Overcoming that strikes me almost impossibly challenging for generations to come. On the other hand, I’m not sure that didn’t happen to us. If so, I expect I would have told them to stop wrongfully harassing us and my parents, mind their own business. We can care of ourselves, including against the wretched likes of them. Or so I imagine.

    My parents actually did talk to us about the role of childhood services. That they had a role, but should generally defer. We worried some about home-schooled kids. Violent parents. Brutal poverty.

  3. Common sense October 25, 2023 at 8:50 am #

    Why does this surprise you? In a world where parents have cps called on them for reading a book while at the playground, instead of staring constantly at their kids, what sane person would let their child go to another aisle in a store? It’s filled with busy buddies who know better than anyone else how children should be raised and YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG! They enjoy the sense of power and superiority they get for ruining peoples lives by calling “the authorities”. Until this mindset changes we can believe in our child’s abilities all we want, we’re still going to have to explain it every time to cps, the police or a judge.

  4. Dixie October 25, 2023 at 2:33 pm #

    Worse than that, because of these restrictions the children themselves are afraid to go a few yards away from their mothers. One time I took my 11-year-old and a friend to a craft store and left them in one aisle while I went a few aisles away, and the friend got almost panicky and insisted to my daughter that they come find me. So frightened.

    I’m glad if parents are starting to think twice about this and try little experiments! Small stores like Aldi or Michael’s or Trader Joe’s are good places to start a kid off on this if they (or you) are nervous.