Letting Kids Roam Alone - Would You?

Filed under: Opinions

A girl crossing a bridge by herselfKids are wandering around their neighborhood on their own. Everybody panic!

Lenore Skenazy, author of the book Free-Range Kids: Giving Our Children the Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts With Worry, recently shared the tale of an independent child, a trusting mom, and an over-zealous police officer on her blog: A ten-year-old boy wanted to walk to soccer practice alone and his mom agreed. On the way, the boy was stopped by police and eventually taken to the soccer field where the police officers told the mother that they had received "hundreds" of 911 calls about the boy and that she could be charged with child endangerment.

Now, had this been a four-year-old in downtown Manhattan, the police would likely be chastised for letting the mother off easily -- if the police had even found the kid. In this case, however, the boy was ten years old, the soccer field was a third of a mile away, and this all went down in a safe neighborhood of a small Mississippi town. The boy knew the route, had his mother's cell phone, and the mom was on her way to the field, too, just after the start of practice.

It turned out okay in the end, though. The mom e-mailed the police chief for statistics on crime in her neighborhood and explained what happened. He called her to apologize and told her that she did indeed live in a very safe neighborhood. When I was that age, I was wandering around some of the worst neighborhoods of San Francisco by myself at night -- but that was a long time ago and times are different now. Or are they?

Kids aren't really that much different today and, while the world has certainly changed in many ways, I don't think walking a few blocks to soccer practice is much more dangerous than it once was. Further, while it is important for police officers to watch out for and protect kids, the officer in this case seemed to have over-stepped his authority by second-guessing a parent's judgment.

We've all seen other parents doing things that we feel are wrong -- be it giving children soda or feeding them fast food, swearing in front of them, or letting them run around a shopping mall as if it were a playground -- but unless it's clearly dangerous to the kids or others, we have to let those parents raise their kids their way. That goes for deciding when a particular child is ready to walk to the local park on his or her own.

My kids are far too young to be walking through our neighborhood by themselves, but at some point they won't be and when that will be is, and should be, up to me (well, okay, up to my wife, anyway), not some police officer that thinks he knows best. Do you agree?

How old should a kid be to walk from one place to another on their own? Would you let your kid walk to the park by himself at 10 years old? If not, then what's your threshold? Or are you not comfortable with kids walking anywhere?

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.