Bethany Sanders: Spring is finally here, and one of our favorite after-school activities is heading to the park. Famous free-range parent Lenore Skenazy would approve -- but only if I leave them there to play on their own.
Skenazy, who writes the blog "Free-Range Kids," has declared May 22 to be "Take Your Kids to the Park and Leave Them There Day."
Here are her instructions, straight from her blog:
"Across the country -- what the heck, across the world -- parents will converge upon local playgrounds and parks with their school-age kids. They will tell them to have fun, make friends and don't leave with anyone. Then the parents will wave goodbye and the kids will amuse themselves for whatever amount of time they've decided with their folks. An hour. A morning. Or maybe even just half an hour, to get used to the whole thing, which, admittedly, sounds radical. But is it?"
Oh boy: Yet another way to categorize myself as a parent. Am I a helicopter parent who stunts her kids' emotional growth by constantly supervising them? Or am I a free-range parent who's secure enough in the world to let her kids take risks? Truth is, like most parents, I'm probably somewhere in the middle.
I generally agree with most of what Skenazy writes, but though I agree with her sentiment that kids are better off playing outside with each other than with their parents, I won't be dropping my kids off at the park on May 22. And here's why.
Skenazy wants us all to raise our kids like it's 1977, but my kids -- ages 5 and 7 -- are being raised in 2010. There are no kids their age on our urban street, and though they go to a school in our neighborhood, it's not a neighborhood school. Unlike in 1977, when I lived on a dead-end road full of children who went to the same elementary school I did, my kids can't just walk outside and find friends to play with.
What I mean to say is this: Whether I like it or not (I don't), my girls are inexperienced in the kind of freewheeling life I enjoyed every day after school when I was a kid. They play together (alone) in our big backyard, or they invite friends to come home from school with them.
Dropping them off at a park without the skills necessary to handle a difficult situation should it arise -- just because Skenazy declares that I should do so -- won't solve the problem. What will solve the the problem is awareness, which is something that the buzz surrounding Skenazy's unofficial holiday is definitely creating. That, and exposure to a more independent life -- but one step at a time, not all at once.
Things I don't worry about if I leave my kids at the park alone on May 22: creepy grownups, mean big kids and injuries. Things I do worry about: that I'll jump on an Internet bandwagon that makes me feel cool and put my kids in a situation they aren't ready for. So while I won't earn my "free-range" badge this time around, I'm satisfied that the method I've chosen works for us: Grab a good book, find a quiet place in the park that isn't too intrusive and tell my kids to do what kids need to do: "Go play."
Will you be participating in "Take Your Kids to the Park and Leave Them There Day"? Why or why not?