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May 22: 'Leave Your Kids at the Park Day'?!

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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.

kids at park

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?

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29 comments so far | Post a comment now
seriously? May 7, 2010, 5:25 AM

Seriously? Let’s just make an announcement for all those child molesters, kidnappers etc. “Hey no adult supervision at all the parks in the nation on the 22nd.” That is the most stupid thing I have ever heard! My daughter whom is 14 can take my 9 year old, but in no way possiable would I just leave my 9 year old at the park alone! I can’t beleive anyone is even thinking about this.

Beth May 7, 2010, 5:58 AM

Um, no. I will not be participating in this. Not on the 22nd or ever, for that matter. Is she kidding? While admittedly, I do live in a very safe area, there is no way my child, or any child, should be left alone to fend for him/herself in a public place. I don’t particularly care for these labels - “Free Range”, “Helicopter”. First of all, Free Range is for chickens. And when I do accompany my child to the park, I don’t hover. I play with her when she asks and if she’d rather play with the others kids, then so be it - there’s a book in my bag waiting to be read. I am all for increasing independence as she grows, but certainly not in the form of putting her in harm’s way.

smh May 7, 2010, 8:47 AM

um wat the h e double l?

Sara May 7, 2010, 9:56 AM

We don’t have enough parks to do this here. (I’m assuming she’s talking about neighborhood parks, not one that’s five miles away). I will let my daughter do sidewalk chalk in the front of the house or ride her bike with friends while I’m inside).

Pamala May 7, 2010, 10:02 AM

I’d do it if my child wasn’t 3 years old. Frankly parents are too paranoid. Molesters don’t need a drop your kid off at the park day to find a kid to molest. Crime in general is at an all time low and it’s not because we’re freaks and watch everything.

OUTRAGED!!! May 7, 2010, 10:42 AM

You would be singing a different tune if one of your kids turns up missing. And if someone did participate in this and the kid comes up missing all of you people would be saying “where were the parents” This is just the most crazy idea I have ever heard. Or how bout you come back to pick up your kid and they have been laying on the ground for an hour with a broken arm. Why because you were not around. I just see no point in this. I think this is really stupid

Robin May 7, 2010, 11:15 AM

My son (5) won’t even stay put in the backyard. If I left him at the park he would be GONE.
Speaking on free range parenting, maybe that’s what the parents of the 5 8yo girls that I saw mooning cars on the side of a somewhat busy (yet secluded from vew of the houses) road were going for. Nothing like advertizing “Hey no one is watching me, come drag me into your car!”
Not even the tiniest pang of guilt for calling the cops =)

Leticia May 7, 2010, 11:18 AM

As a single mother with no family in my area, some type of break sounds good. But I would never intentionally leave my children, alone in a park to go and read a book and relax. That is a very poor example of parenting. And it is not about being paranoid Madam Pamala. It is called good parenting. You might as well stand your child in the middle of the street, tell them to stay there and hope that a car doesnt come and run them over. I mean really. WTH. Anyone that would do something like this… AND LEAVE THEIR CHILD…DOES NOT NEED CHILDREN…I would love to be at the park when all of the parents left their children. Id call the police on all of them!

Pamala May 7, 2010, 2:37 PM

Somehow we all managed to survive, or did your parents hover around you as well? Because I used to as young at age 7 ride my bike by myself to the local park and play. And what do you know. the crime rate was higher at the time! We used to play unchecked by our parents until the street light came on, and then we went home.

I fail to understand how we all survived our childhoods with as “dangerous” it supposedly is out there, seeing as it was more dangerous when we were kids.

Bethany May 7, 2010, 2:58 PM

Something I forgot to say in this post was this: Since our kids have been toddlers, my husband and I have been magnets for little kids left alone at the park. They joined our games when our kids were little, we push them on the swings, and I’ve even bandaged more than a few knees for strangers kids. These kids are looking for support, not freedom. But like I said, I really do agree with a lot of what Skenazy has to say about parenting in general, just not this particular idea.

TwinHappyJen May 7, 2010, 5:42 PM

I see plenty of children… even very young children… alone at the playgrounds around here all the time. And when I show up with my 5-year old girls, I am practically mauled by them :-p They are so incredibly attention-starved. Yes, they have each other… but kids need parents, too.

I did hover over my girls a bit when they were like 2 and trying to climb giant slides :-p But now, I take them there, they run off and play with each other or whatever kids are there. Sometimes they’ll call me over if they want help with something, like making it across the monkey bars. But, most of the time, I’m just there to supervise :-) And, I enjoy watching them play.

Even if you take out the whole child predator fear, there are a million things that COULD happen that a parent needs to watch out for (and personally, when it comes to the two most precious beings on this earth to me, even a small chance is too big a chance for me). What if they get caught up in a game and chase a ball into a road? Or fall off something and break their arm? If you think it’s unlikely, well, maybe… but it happened to me. When I was 9, I was playing outside… jumped off my patio (which was only about 12 inches off the ground). Caught my heel on something, flipped over, and landed on my arm, where it broke clean in half. Had to run all the way around the apartment, got hit in the head by the big outside door when another kid came running out… and finally made it inside to show my parents what had happened.

Isolated incident? When my husband was about 4, an older kid pushed him off a big slide and he landed on his head and was knocked unconscious. What if his parents hadn’t been there to rush him to the hospital?

Where there are kids, there are accidents. At least be there (even if it’s just in the background) in case they need you… that’s what being a parent is all about, IMHO.

black iris May 7, 2010, 6:09 PM

NO!!!!! DO NOT LEAVE YOUR KIDS AT THE PARK ON MAY 22nd. That is the day people who want to hurt kids will be there. Publicly announcing that kids are going to be left at the park on a certain day is incredibly stupid.

jenny May 7, 2010, 10:26 PM

Sounds like a new “To Catch a Predator” tag line. No my kids most certainly WILL NOT be participating. This woman is off her rocker and looking back so were my parents for the things they allowed me to do as a child.

Anon May 8, 2010, 8:33 AM

paranoid parents

elena May 8, 2010, 12:53 PM

I would NOT LEAVE MY KIDS @ THE PARK! I know many people who do this on a daily bases. 2 of my sisters let their kids go to the park ride their bikes where ever they please I have mix feeling about it. But I can’t do a thing about it. My brothers also did the same. My theory is you had kids because you wanted them. Now live up to ur responsibilities. If you don’t want to take the time to take your poor kids to the park then don’t make anymore!

dmd May 9, 2010, 3:28 PM

For all the parents who think this is such a crazy idea- how exactly do you plan to develop independence in your kids. If they can’t be trusted at a park by themselves at 8, can they go study at the library at 12? Go on a date at 16? It’s part of a process IMO in helping kids be independent adults.

And for those of you freaked out by molesters, do you take your kids to church? To school? Yes? Well, you had better stop going there, too. ‘Cause from what I can tell that’s where all the molesters are really hanging out.

Not so very long ago, 8 year olds were ranging all over the neighborhood. 10-12 year olds had paper routes. Kids LEARNED how to grow up. But modern parents keep them children too long and their actions in college bear thar out.

Kay May 9, 2010, 9:45 PM

What kind of crazy mother is this?
That’s…so dangerous!
I’m 15 and I know that! Jesus!

Lenore Skenazy May 10, 2010, 5:45 AM

I agree — it is sad that our kids don’t have the skills yet, OR the other kids outside, to go out and immediately understand how to frolic. Mine have the same problem! That’s WHY I think “Take Our Children to the Park & Leave Them There Day” makes sense. It is meant to crack the iceberg — to give kids at least this first chance to meet up with other kids. To give parents this first crucial chance to leave them (and by “them” I mean kids ages 7 or 8 and up) to their own devices, even for half an hour. There won’t BE kids outside to play with if no kids ever even get the chance to see how much fun good old playing can be. The only way to get “back” the 1970s is to re-create them, and that needs a jump start: May 22. Good luck to us all! Yours — Lenore “Free-Range Kids” Skenazy!

Emily May 10, 2010, 6:13 AM

My 8 year old daughter plays at the park all the time, with a friend or by herself. So yes, she’ll probably be at the park on May 22 BY HERSELF. Gasp! I will be a few blocks away at home if she needs me.

For those of you who are paranoid of your child being kidnapped—do you actually know a child _personally_ that was kidnapped by a stranger? Molested by a stranger? If that were the case, then I’d totally understand being worried. If not, stop worrying and help your child learn some independence.

OUTRAGED!!! May 10, 2010, 6:21 AM

Yes I agree with some of the statements here that we were allowed to play outside till the street lights came on etc. but, I know I was not allowed to leave my street and I better be within yelling distance because if my parents yelled for me I had better be coming home. I don’t agree with letting my kids go to the park alone. I have a 9 and 14 year old and I will let them go together with the 14 year old in charge. I would never leave my 9 year old COMPLETLY alone there. However with that said, my son (age 9) has a cell phone that he can use to call me. If there is an accident, or any other situation. He knows how to call me, his dad and his sister. He has been taught that this phone is to be used ONLY to call us and he abides by these rules. I think this is a great way to give him his freedom but to also ease the worry wart in me.

dmd-yes there are child molesters everywhere, however to just announce a free for all is not exactly the best idea. When we see kids being kidnapped from parks, walking home etc. people always ask “where were the parents” and they should ask that. I do not think parents should just let their kids run free anymore. I also read someone saying that the crime rate was higher when we were kids. I disagree. The neighborhood I grew up in was very low in crime when I was a kid. Not anymore. I would not let my kids play outside alone on the street like I used to now days. It’s a cyber world out there and to just announce you are going to leave your kids at the park alone is just another way for the weirdo’s to come out. Yes I do agree that churches and schools harbor some of these wacky people but have you seen the crimes that come out of posting where you are on facebook? This is not a safe thing to do and my kids will not participate.

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