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Would You Let Your 8-Year-Old Play at the Park Without You?
Filed under: Opinions
Boo boos. Bathrooms. Predators.
Those are the three big objections that keep coming up -- though not necessarily in that order -- when I mention that this coming Saturday, May 22, is, "Take Our Children to the Park...And Leave Them There Day."
Yes, okay, it's a national holiday that I declared myself -- but it's gaining traction. So far I've heard from some parents who are psyched to drop their kids off, and others who wonder how much I'm getting paid by the Amalgamated Predators of America. (Not nearly enough.) (No! That's a joke!) All I'm really trying to do is get kids back outside again, without us, playing together safely.
Yes, safely. Please hear me out.
The idea behind "Take Our Children to the Park...And Leave Them There Day," is that kids, age 7 or 8 and up, can enjoy the kind of childhood we had, where we went out and played kickball, or tag, or even brought our Barbies to the playground. Our parents knew where we were and if we needed them, we'd run home for a Band-Aid, or Kool-Aid, or whatever darn aid we were missing. Or if the park didn't have a bathroom, we could go home for that, too.
Meantime, we were left to do the real work of childhood which is "free play" -- play without an adult running the show. All the psychologists these days are starting to realize that free play is crucial to growing up self-confident and happy. It's hardwired into us by evolution, it's that important.
But when we organize all our kids' time or, worse, lock them inside with a screen and a couch, they are missing out on free play. We've got to get them frolicking again. But how?
Usually when I tell my own kids to go out and play they say, "There's no one out there" -- and they're right. So in they stay. Of course, all the other kids in the neighborhood are looking out their windows, saying the same thing. "Take Our Children to the Park" Day -- or hour, or even half hour! -- is a chance to break that cycle. A chance for a whole bunch of kids to connect.
The biggest fear, of course, is that a child will be snatched. The good news is that the crime rate today is actually LOWER than when we were playing outside in the '70s and '80s. Our parents taught us to stick with our buddies and not go off with strangers, and then they made the big decision: Extremely small chance of danger outside, versus the extremely large benefit of mentally, physically, socially and psychologically fit kids.
Out we went.
With any luck, out a whole new bunch of kids will go, too, this coming Saturday. Will yours?
Related: Can a Mom Leave Her Kid Alone at the Library for Three Minutes?
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.