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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
dmd May 10, 2010, 8:38 AM


Did you ask “where were the parents?” when Elizabeth Smart was kidnapped? There’s no level of complete protection. There is definitely a level of complete dependence on your parent, resulting in the kind of babified college students we see today.

As far as “announcing” the holiday to molesters - there is always safety in numbers. One thing that makes parks or anywhere else unsafe is people staying indoors. The more of us that get out there on May 22nd and everyday, the safer we all are. And as much as I want this to signify a change in American parenting, really, do I think that Molester A is going to find that Child B alone in Park C? The odds are HIGHLY UNLIKELY. I don’t honestly think all American parks are going to be overrun with freerangers giving molester ample pickings and even if that were the case - the sheer #s of kids would keep the molesters away.

Beth May 10, 2010, 9:15 AM

To all those that think this is a “molester free-for-all day”, please think logically. You are imagining a scenario where several molesters are hanging around one park on May 22. And you’re imagining kids who can’t scream as they’re being “snatched”? Who can’t yell? Other kids who won’t say “Hey, Johnny’s being snatched”, or scream or yell. Does each molester grab one kid, or do they rush the park, or.. how does that work?

Can you see how ridiculous this is? Molesters and pedophiles groom kids to cooperate with them - they are more likely to be leaders of the church youth group, Cub Scouts, volunteer at school, whatever. But I bet none of you are keeping your kids away from church, scouts, or school. A group of pedophiles gathering at every neighborhood park to snatch a group of kids makes absolutely no sense in the real world.

Silver Fang May 10, 2010, 5:51 PM

I think leaving kids around age eight at the park is a fine idea. Today’s kids are too babied and protected.

An Idle Dad May 10, 2010, 6:19 PM

LOL at the paranoid comments here.

People here are saying a NINE year old isn’t capable of taking care of themselves? You ought to be ashamed of yourselves as parents. Massive fail.

The original article is quite rational - she is basically saying “my kids are close, but not quite ready at 5 and 7”. My eldest daughter is 5- no way is she ready! Sure, she can cross the street by herself and go next door as long as she tells us but she’s not ready to be by herself at the park for longer than it takes me to get a coffee.

Give me three years, I’ll give you a competent kid. Turn off the news. Actually spend time in your neighbourhood. You’ll work it out.

Anonymous May 12, 2010, 5:51 AM

I think you misunderstood what I was saying. What I was saying is that if there was a kidnapping at this leave your kids at the park day, there would be people on here asking “where were the parents.”

I am a very liberal parent and I let my kids play outside when I am not out there. My kids are also a bit older. 9 and 14. However with that said, up until last year we lived in the country and my kids did not have anyone else on their street besides family. Now we have moved into a neighborhood with lots of kids and I admit at first I didn’t want my then 8 year old out without myself or his sister around. I have learned to relax a bit on this but I still take proper precautions. My son has a cell phone that he knows is only to be used to call myself or his dad. He abides by this rule. He calls when he gets to his friend’s houses and he calls when he is leaving to come home. He even checks in every hour or so if he is gone for a while. I have also taught him he is not to go inside anyone’s house without calling me or his dad first to make sure it is ok. As for my 14 year old, she is a responsible kid and she also has a cell phone. She follows the same rules. I guess the way I feel about this is kind of like posting on myspace or facebook that all these kids are going to be at the park without adult supervision and that is a scary thought. Not just that child molesters would be there but other types of predators. There are women that want children so bad that they could just walk off with one, as just one example. To each his own. I am not going to tell you what to do with your child, I am just saying that I personally would not do this activity. I have a right to my opinion on this just as much as you do. Call me paranoid or whatever you want but at least I for one know where my kids are at all times.

OUTRAGED!!! May 13, 2010, 6:18 AM

An Idle Dad:
I don’t know if you were talking to me when you stated that if a 9 year old was not capeable of taking care of themselves that we sere a Failure, let me tell you a little story. When my friend’s daughter whom is now 14 was 9 years old she and her friend were outside in the front yard when a van pulled up and grabbed her then 10 year old and attempted to get her into the van. The two girls started screaming at the top of her lungs and immediatly got help. Fortunatly the girl managed to wiggle her way out of the hands of the predator and he was caught later with the girl’s description. So yes 9 and 10 year olds are also at risk, as well as any child for that matter. It’s not just about little kids, what it is about is proper supervision. Remember the boy who was kidnapped at age 9 and then found at age 14? Don’t put it past these crazy people out there. This is the way life is like it or not. I am not an overly protective parent. My kids have plenty of freedom, but they also have cell phones with GPS and they both know to check in with me on a regular basis. Don’t think just because you live in a nice town it can’t happen to you, because it can.

dmd May 15, 2010, 2:11 PM

@outraged- (a) the girls you describe obviously had the preparation to know what to do- as my son does. (b) this happened in front of their house- not a park- so is the answer to trap them in a house 24/7? “What if” there’s an intruder who tries to snatch them? There always a potential bad scenario. You can fear them all and make your life and your kids lives as limited as possible or you can encourage responsible , prepared thinking. So many college kids today don’t get that and it shows!

Kim June 10, 2010, 2:03 PM

Ok, personally I think it’s all about balance. It’s also all about where you live.

I’m not a parent yet but I work at a summer camp and a daycare and baby-sit and have friends who are parents. In other words I’m about as close to a parent as I can be without actually being one.

That being said, it’s not about leaving your 3 year old anywhere outside of your home alone. That gets crazy and completely unsafe. In the backyard (assuming your backyard is fenced and doesn’t have broken glass or car parts all over) while you’re making dinner and checking every few minutes, yeah.

In the neighborhood that I grew up in I would totally let my children play out on the street. When we were younger we had the boundary of a mailbox that was not too close to the corner (where cars like to come whipping around) and like 7 houses down. Then as we got older we could go up a block or two and then to the local elementary school to play with friends. I live in a very residential neighborhood with very few cars who didn’t live there and know that kids could be playing.

Now I wouldn’t let my 6 year old up to the elementary school without an older person that I’d trust baby-sitting at least. I would bring them up with friends and let them run around playing, or play with them if they want me to.

And here’s where location comes in. If Ilived in downtown somewhere I’d be a lot more cautious and teach my children a lot more boundaries and rules before I set them free. If I haven’t OKes someone and their house, stay away. Unless I say they can go into a certain person’s house, they don’t. We had a lot of kids my age on the block so we were always playing together, but we had to tell our parents ifwe were going to play in the backyard or house of someone else’s so they knew where to look when dinner was ready or bedtime was gonna be.

So yes, age and location play a huge role in this balance. Also, maturity of the child. Some children, no matter how much we try to teach them, they just don’t pay attention to things in the surrounding world, like moving cars. Some children like to test the limits of recklessness. On the other side, some children are ready for more responsibility than others. I was baby-sitting preschool age kids when I was like 11 but some people aren’t ready for that responsibility until at least 15 or 16 and that’s fine. It’s just how people are. 12 year olds aren’t really meant to be responsible (especially for children), but some are responsible early.

Ten Tees January 8, 2011, 9:19 PM

Nice info. Good to read. I’ve just got one observation to offer about tee shirts.

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