Would You Take Your Child To The Park And Leave Them There?

I’ve talked about free range parenting before and mentioned the leader of the movement, Lenore Skenazy.  I stop in at her blog from time to time. Today I saw that last Saturday she had organized the third annual “Take Our Children to the Park and Leave Them There” day.  The event is exactly what it says it is. Get the kids ready, take them to the park, and wave good-bye.

At first glance, I was like- pretty cool. Completely understand the idea and am completely in favor of kids being independent and being able to play without adults hovering nearby at all times. But then, I saw that the age at which Skenazy thought it was appropriate for kids to participate.

7 years old and up.

Wait. Isn’t a seven year old in first grade? Take a first grader to the park and leave them there? I’m not so sure about this one. It’s not that I don’t think a first grader is capable of playing in the park by themselves or even getting to the park by themselves, but are they old enough to be completely unsupervised?

We live two blocks from a park and Gus could easily find his way there and his way back. And he’s pretty good at entertaining himself with his friends while he’s there, but he’s three so we wouldn’t have been able to participate. But just because he can do it doesn’t mean that he should do it. 3 is clearly too young. In my opinion:)

The other part about the event that caused me to raise my eyebrows was that parents were encouraged to use social media to make arrangements with fellow parents. This doesn’t seem like the brightest idea to announce online a gathering where there are going to be lots of kids hanging out without any parents around. I mean, I’m just saying…

I’m super curious. I know I have readers who follow Free Range. Did anyone participate in this event? If you did, what was your experience?

And for those of you who have a 7 year old or a kid who was 7 at one time, would you let your 7 your old be left alone at the park?


This entry was posted in General Parenting, motherhood and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

49 Responses to Would You Take Your Child To The Park And Leave Them There?

  1. T. says:

    When I was 7, I went to the park just under my home and spent there pretty much all my free time, playing with other kids and having fun. Mother were very, very rarely present.
    We knew we shouldn’t go with unknow adults, and the older kids -we pretty much knew all each other- got an eye on the younger, in case somebody was talking with suspicious grow-up.

    Ironically, the only time somebody did try to steal away a child was when my mother was present and was in a smallish playground. It was me who told mom that a strange had took D. away (my sis was 3 or 4). My mother got hold of the old lady pretty quickly.

    I don’t think it is a wrong idea :)

    I think it depends more on the level of maturity of the child than of age. A 7 years old can be mature enough to be left to play with other kid in a park and a 9 year old may not be.

    • T. says:

      Also, I forgot:
      The possibility of abuse by a stranger is low. It is the friends, the family members, the people you know and trust who are more likely to hurt or harm a child.
      Even in case of kidnapping (save from ransom reasons) mostly it is done by people you know, or that you have reason to trust.

      There is always the possibility of getting hurt. Sure. A child could fall down and broke something. Which is painfull, but can happen. Most probably, some of his friends in the park will have a cell phone and contact the parents.
      And, as above, the majority of incidents happen at home. So, kid is more likely to broke something falling in the bathroom than in the park. Don’t mean you have to bathe him at age 8, though, right?

      • Mommy Psychologist says:

        This is true. Nearly all abuse (not all, but most) occurs by someone the child knows and already trusts.

  2. Heather says:

    My heart just stopped a little bit. Statistically speaking your last commenter I believe it correct. While I may unrealistically worry about the being taken thing, there’s just too many other considerations. For me I guess it’s all about balance. Let the kids figure out how to play together, don’t intrude unless necessary, and have a cup of coffee with another mom on a bench over yonder. For me and my quiet child, I’d also want to be there so I could “see” into his life. “Did you like playing on the slide with that boy? Do you that that girl in red from school?” Every child and family is unique.

    • Mommy Psychologist says:

      Thanks, Heather. And she is right. The statistics show that almost all abuse happens by someone that the child already knows and trusts. Still…

      • Keith says:

        The relevance of those statistics breaks down when you introduce an unusual situation.

        One aspect of these statistics you may be overlooking is that people the children know generally have far greater access to them, and children spend far more time with these people. If you leave your children alone in a park and advertise that online, that dynamic changes. All of a sudden, anyone who knows about the “kids alone” meetup suddenly has access.

        As an analogy, statistics show that not many people get eaten by alligators in airplanes (I assume). This doesn’t NOT imply that you are safe if you are on an airplane with an alligator.

        • Mommy Psychologist says:

          Very key point! The whole social networking part of this event was the most troublesome part of the entire thing to me…

        • T. says:

          To make statistic on such an event, I would need to know wherever they have aready made such events and what happened. I think they had and nothing happened but again, there would need more datas :)

          The relative safety of the enviroment is different from the perceive safety, though. I was speaking peraphs more on a general “is it good to leave kids playing alone” than in the particular case :)

  3. Kate says:

    Seven is pretty big, and with a big herd of friends, I think it would be safe. But I wouldn’t leave my nearly seven year old without an adult around. I’m just a little to crazy for that.

    • Mommy Psychologist says:

      Maybe it’s because I live in such a huge city. I might feel differently if I lived in the house that I grew up in with a population of 3,000 people in the entire town.

  4. Kat says:

    No, I’d never leave my 7 year old alone in a park. Yes, I live in a safe neighborhood but still. Especially if they’re all meeting up online????

    Also, checked out her blog and there was a reader response at one point that was ticketed by the police for allowing her 7 year old to play in the complex unsupervised. The police noted that her child must have supervision until 16?

    My 11 year old is allowed within a certain area with friends and around the block with her scooter. At the mall her and a friend must stay together and check in with me hourly. That’s it. Even at 11 I don’t want her wandering off. Too young in my opinion.

    • Mommy Psychologist says:

      I was just saying above that it a huge factor is probably where we live. I mean when Gus is at his grandparents in the middle of the country, him and his cousins run around for hours unattended by any adults. Short of getting injured (which happens even if we are around), there isn’t a lot of serious trouble that could find them.

  5. A - Far from T says:

    When I was 7 (more than a few years ago), I remember being sent into the store to buy my dad’s cigars… Legal or not, that doesn’t mean I’m going to send my son to the liquor store for my bottle of tequila! Because I am not trying to start a war of words, I will stop there.

    Maybe I am just a little more aware of the ‘scary world’ because I am married to a police officer… maybe I judge too many of the ‘scary people’ I see at the park by their outward appearance… or maybe I am just THAT crazy mommy… Either way, I will gladly watch my children play, from a respectable distance, drinking coffee (or a margarita if I get that tequila myself) and chatting with another mom. But I would not leave my children or even my 10 year-old niece and nephew at the park without supervision.

    To my children: “Run… explore… find out about yourself and the world around you!! But know, I will always be close enough for you to share those discoveries with me.”

    • Mommy Psychologist says:

      I used to run up to the grocery store for my mom and get milk or bread all the time. And I was very young when I started doing that. However, we also lived in a town that had a population of 3,000 which meant that practically every person and house I passed was familiar. And lots of watchful eyes out the window.

  6. Meagan says:

    I think it depends on the 7 year old.

    @Kat I think part of the reason for this “event” is to fight against idiots like that cop, who bully parents into being overprotective. I’m 99% certain that NOWHERE is it illegal to leave a 15 year old unattended.

    • Mommy Psychologist says:

      @Meagan and Kat, I checked out a few of the links in the discussion and it is legal, but only if there isn’t a reasonable reason for doing so. I’m certainly not a lawyer, but I’m pretty sure leaving a teenager home alone to fend for themselves for a few hours is acceptable. It probably crosses a line when the parents do it for days…

      • Meagan says:

        I think the comment she’s referring to was a little girl outside playing at her condo complex. Some bullies picked on her, she ran away and got lost. When the police brought her home, rather than warning mom about bullies, or even warning her that she her daughter needed a better grounding in the area, they ticketed her, and told her it was illegal for a child under 16 to play anywhere unsupervised for any length of time. This is false, period, and it’s alarming that communuty members, who used to be the ones that helped, and MADE our neighborhoods safe, instead now prefer to blame, sidestep any community responsibility, and police every aspect of childhood.

  7. Angela says:

    To me this question just begs for parents to use judgement and common sense. It just depends so much on the park, the child, and the situation. I actually let my 3 year old go to a park without adult supervision recently. That sounds insane until you figure that the park in question was in my in-laws very safe, gated community. It was literally visible from their backyard and there were no hazards like streets or bodies of water anywhere near it. His older cousins were headed over there to play and originally I told my son he’d need to wait 15-20 minutes until I could go with him (baby needed to nurse and get put down for nap) but my nephew (age 8) promised to play with him until I got there and not let him wander off. He’s really responsible for an 8 year old and always very sweet and patient with my son so I allowed it.
    That said, even if he were 12 I’d hesitate to let him wander alone around somewhere like Central Park, especially given the fact we live in a small suburban town so it would all be unfamiliar. No parenting philosophy could ever take the place of good, old common sense in my estimation.

    • Angela says:

      lol, I meant to say “age 8” but I guess adding the parenthesis at the end made the computer think I was typing an emoticon instead.

      • Mommy Psychologist says:

        I thought it meant all the happy children:) I think it’s pretty clear it depends on the geographic location. That seems to be a huge factor. In L.A, the parks are filled with just as many drug addicts lurking around as there are kids.

  8. Tianana says:

    I do volunteer work for a child abuse prevention non-profit. I have heard stories of abuse by known people and by strangers. My answer is and always will be an emphatic no.

  9. Rach says:

    I read this this morning and decided to let it sink in and think about it.

    Part of me says it depends on the seven year old. Part of me says that as with any “movement” or “theory”, you are going to have extreme outliers, and maybe this is one of those times. If nothing else, it got your attention, right?

    Before losing Han I would say, “Oh, I would never be able to survive if I lost a child.” Funny that. I truly believed it. But, guess what? I DID survive. So now, I don’t say “I’ll never” or anything along that vein because I truly don’t know how I’ll respond to a given situation until I’m in it–and no, I don’t think this is a cop out answer. :)

    Not all seven year olds are created equal. Some seven year olds are really 50 year olds hiding out in a seven year old body. Some are really just three inside. Some are able to handle being left alone. Others (Lil) would freak OUT at the mere thought. I would say it would depend on the child, the parent, the park and the situation.

    I CAN tell you my gut response is I wouldn’t be comfortable doing a drop and run for either of the girls at that age, but again, I wouldn’t know for certain unless I was faced with it.

    • Mari says:

      Im so sorry you lost your little girl Rach

      I understand how the statement “Ill never” just doesnt cover it, meaning, we really dont know what life will throw at us, or how we will handle it once we are face with the situation.

      I also agree, it does depend on the 7 yo, mine are still too little, but I doubt I would let them, I would be too scared.

  10. Keith says:

    If I showed up to that park with my child, I would be a little freaked out to find I was the only parent around! I wonder if I’d feel responsible for the seemingly abandoned children.

  11. Linvo says:

    Just out of curiosity, what are the risks or dangers that would make you decide not to leave your 7yo at the park?

    • Mommy Psychologist says:

      I live in Los Angeles and we live in the middle of L.A. This means that there are just as many individuals using drugs at the park as there are children. So, in addition to the kid activities going on there’s lots of illegal activity that sometimes spills over. I’ve had instances with “troubled folk” in the park while I was there and I certainly wouldn’t want my son to run into this on his own when I wasn’t there. In addition, there’s also been a few incidents of alleged grabs. Finally, there is a significant amount of homeless people hanging out in the park as well. There is a woman who frequently has the police called on her for approaching kids and screaming at them. Police always end up being called. And pretty traumatic for a 7 year old if mom wasn’t there for it.

      Now if I lived in a less urban area, these issues are nearly non-existent. If I lived in a more rural community, I might feel comfortable letting my 7 year old play be alone in the park.

  12. Caroline says:

    I wouldn’t do it with a 7 year old, especially if it had been advertised on the internet. In regular life? I let my kids play out in our cul-de-sac, and just check on them periodically. But they can’t go in a friend’s house w/out asking me first, and I don’t let them go all the way down the street. I do think it somewhat depends on maturity and other circumstances (my youngest is almost 10, but she’s high-functioning on the autism spectrum, and I usually don’t let her go out w/out her older sister) but I don’t think that most 7 year olds have the capability of dealing with an emergency situation with no adult help, and that’s what clinches it for me.

  13. Buffy says:

    People, we are not talking about ONE park. We are not talking about sending a 7-year-old who has never been away from Mom to an empty barren park.

    We are talking about a group of parents, across the country and the world, letting their developmentally-ready children play at a park with other kids, alone, for however long you want them to, or that they want to, on a spring Saturday.

    • Mommy Psychologist says:

      Thanks, Buffy. I think most people were responding to whether they would let a 7 year old participate.

      • Meagan says:

        I think Buffy is responding to the comments about it being a bad idea because of all the media attention and “advertising” about doing it on a particular day. Keith’s comment above is probably the best example.

  14. army_wife says:

    Uh, not only no, but h-e-double-hockey-sticks no! When I was 5 and 6 years old we lived in a suburb outside of Houston. My parents let me go ride my bike on the streets of our neighborhood alone and play wherever as long as I was back at mealtime and before dark. They didn’t think there’d be any harm in it. I ended up being repeatedly molested by a boy in his early teens that lived a few blocks away. I try to teach my kids about “stranger issues” and things, but until they are old enough and mature enough I won’t be leaving them anywhere unsupervised. I keep up with the sex offender registry for our current neighborhood and we have a back yard with a privacy fence and a nice playset for the kids, and when we go play away from home they’re supervised more closely. It just isn’t safe anymore to cut a kid loose and say “come home before the street lights turn on”.

    • Mommy Psychologist says:

      I’m sorry to hear about your experience:( I appreciate you sharing your perspective.

  15. Wendy @ mamaonetothree says:

    Never. I don’t get this. Perhaps because I’ve interviewed an amazing woman whose beautiful daughter was abducted from her front yard, molested and murdered. Her organization, the joyful child foundation in memory of Samantha Runnion, empowers families without scaring them. I think my instincts are far off from free range. I wish all children and parents well. I just don’t see the point of taking risks to prove something.
    Thank you for stopping by my blog! :)

    • Mommy Psychologist says:

      Thanks, Wendy. I’m going to check out the foundation.

    • Meagan says:

      The idea isn’t to prove a point. The idea is that children grow into more successful adults if they are given the freedom to make mistakes and, within reason, get hurt. Which definitely doesn’t include rape and murder. :-( I’m not trying to convince you that they’re right and you’re wrong, but they AREN’T using their kids to make a statement, they’re trying to do what’s best for their children, just like we all do. The point of “Take your child to the park etc. day” is to NORMALIZE what they consider SAFE healthy behaviour. Not to take extra risks to win a pissing contest.

    • truffles says:

      As an experienced primary school teacher, I know that kids can deal with playing in a park without parents. Not only can they deal with it, they NEED it! Let your kids be kids! Teach them the skills they need to function in the world without you. Kids are resilient, smart and capable of making difficult choices. ‘Leaving’ your child does not have to mean abandoning them, it could mean taking a short walk around the park or reading a book a little way away. It means giving your children space to make choices and to fix mistakes. Children who are not given these opportunities turn into adults who cannot function in the real world.

      • Mommy Psychologist says:

        Thanks, Truffles. I definitely agree in the need to build resiliency in our kids.

  16. Ali says:

    There are so many children who die in car crashes every year. 4000-5000. There are terrible stories on the internet about drunk drivers snuffing out the life of a child in an instant. Yet to the media, it’s an everyday occurrence, -and it is!- so no need to report on it. And because it’s not sensational we all buckle up our kids and drive them all over the place, even though statistically it’s one of the most unsafe things you can do with your children, save maybe base jumping.

    Yet here we are, moms freaked out over the mention of a child playing at the park. No mention of the things that DO kill children: drowning, car wrecks, suicide. Yes, those are 3 of the top 5. Why aren’t moms freaked out about a neighborhood pool being a killer? Because the media doesn’t sensationalize it? Why not fear obesity because of the lack of exercise? Why not fear depression because kids are caged away into fenced yards with approved play dates and no chance to prove themselves to be capable?

    Why? Because the same mentality that leads people to believe they’ll win the lotto and retire on a million bucks is the same mentality that leads them to believe their precious child will be the one stolen from a park. No one else’s, theirs alone. And the cases to prompt this are 30, THIRTY! years old. Not yesterday, not thousands, two from 30 years ago. It’s time to reframe the discussion to include the real dangers to children and drop the fantasy ones.

    • Mommy Psychologist says:

      I appreciate your comments, Alli. However, I don’t think anyone whose commented was freaking out about letting kids play in the park alone. The discussion was mostly centered on whether or not it would be appropriate for a 7 year old to do so. And actually, there were a few mothers on here who have lost their children that have commented regarding this topic. I understand that there are other places where moms are freaking out, but I’m pretty sure this isn’t one of them.

  17. Ali says:

    With all due respect…when something as mundane as a trip to the park becomes a subject of umpteen blogs, including this one, it *is* a matter of “moms freaking out about a 7 yo going to the park alone.” When I took my kids to Nicaragua last summer we marveled at how ALL the kids walked to school by themselves, no parents in sight and the kids start school at age 5, just like here. I can assure you, the parents were not going up in arms over kids walking up to 4km to school at the age of 5. Yet here in the US, the idea of a 7 yo being by themselves at a park is a topic ‘worthy’ of discussion because of some rare instances that have occurred. It’s very 1st world. (side note, I did my homework and Nicaragua is THE safest country in Central America.)

    And yes, absolutely I let my 8yo go to the park. It’s not a topic of discussion, its a matter of course, similar to the way I approach driving her to activities. Each activity -park vs driving vs swimming-is approached with the understanding that everything has risk. Driving is a much greater risk and therefor I take greater precautions. A visit to a park? Infinitesimal risk of death or snatching or pedophile. Again, why talk about the things that should be mundane vs the things that do bring considerable risk to kids? Because people have “freaked out” over the sensational media frenzy stories, not the things that are a proven risk.

  18. Jen Connelly says:

    I saw your post on the Free-Range kids site.

    My kids didn’t “participate” in the Take You Kids to the Park day because that’s every day with my kids. Every day after school, homework and chores they are out the door. We’re lucky enough to live in a small town but the older kids grew up in Chicago and the last year we lived there (2010) the kids were allowed to go play at the park by themselves (it was around the corner and we were in the city limits, not the suburbs). The kids were 10, 8 1/2 and 7 1/2 that year.

    This year they were 11, 10, 9 and 6. The older three aren’t just allowed to go to the park alone, they go to the store (1 mile away), into town (2 miles away) and beyond. They’ve even taken the 6yo with them. They also don’t have cell phones (occasionally a friend goes with them and he has one but they’ve never needed to call me and it would do no good as I don’t have a car should they get into trouble).

    The 6yo is allowed to walk to and from the park alone and can be there as long as she is with someone else (even just her little 6yo friend). She goes to the park a lot with the other girl and their 8yo friend. In fact the park is always filled with kids and rarely any adults. My kids take their 1 1/2yo brother with them all the time. The kid is a pro at climbing the big slides (something that would have caused an anxiety attack in me and would have been discouraged or curbed slightly) thanks to his siblings tutelage.

    The older kids, actually most of the neighborhood kids, love taking my toddler to the park and for walks. It makes them feel all grown up and my son loves all the attention he gets. I love the hour I get to myself.

    Since this is a normal, every day thing in our town (not just with my kids but the entire town) I gave my 10yo and 9yo permission to go to another park out of our immediate neighborhood. It’s 2 miles away and requires them to walk along roads without sidewalks, cross two busy streets (with lights) and navigate a bunch of other streets. The park is right on the river through town so they love to explore the banks and get sick on the merry-g0-round. They always come back worn out and with free waters from Jack in the Box.

    I’ve already been informed by both of them that in the morning they are going with a friend to a carwash near that other park. They will leave at 8am (I’ll probably still be in bed). Last Saturday they went with the friend to Jack in the Box for breakfast.

    So, yes, we “participated” in the event. Nothing happened except lots of fun. And, yes, I have and will allow my 7yo to be at a park alone. She’s been going with her siblings since she was 4, walking there and back alone since 5 1/2 and by 7 I expect her to be able to play alone there (although the kids never want to go to the park if no other kids are there… it’s boring).

    • Jen Connelly says:

      Oh, and guess what happens when a big group of kids gets together and there’s a disagreement over use of the equipment or a fight or bullying or someone gets hurt?

      The kids take care of it. They’ve learned to compromise, problem solve and take care of each other.

    • Mommy Psychologist says:

      Thanks, Jen. It sounds like you definitely do not live in Los Angeles:) If I lived in a small town, the rules would absolutely be different. Your description sounds a lot like my childhood. My best memories are all of the hours we spent down at the creek.

  19. Pingback: Here’s What Happens If You Take Your Child To The Park And Leave Them | The Mommy Psychologist

  20. sabrina says:

    While I am all for giving children their independance so many situations could arise that the children are unprepared for. What if one where to get extremely hurt? At say 16 you would know how to handle a dangerous situation. You would know how to handle being hurt etc. And preditors. I think it would also have to depend on the area that the children are playing. I am currently having to handle a very difficult situation with my boyfriends children. Their mother lives in a very very bad neighbourhood and allows her 8 year old to take my boyfriends children to the park unsupervised. They are 6 and 3. None of these girls have been taught the dangerous things that could happen and the park they are allowed to play in is filled with homeless people and drug addicts. We are unable to much about this though seeing as they live 2 hours away from us. I use to live in the city that the kids are in now and grew up in roughly the same area. I, as an adult am extremely hesitant to even frequent that park by myself or without the accompanyment of my dog…. Some people just dont get it. I know I seem like a worry wart but under sertain circumstances “free-range” just should’t be.

    • Mommy Psychologist says:

      Thanks, Sabrina. You bring up a really great point. There are lots of situations where a younger child simply would not be prepared to handle if it were to come up.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

The Mommy Psychologist TM