Can Kids Play by Themselves at the Park?

Filed under: In The News, Opinions


Yes, yes, it's my idea: "Take Our Kids to the Park...And Leave Them There Day." Some people think it's crazy -- usually because they think I'm suggesting leaving kids there all day (I actually say even 10 minutes is a good start), and also because they think it is so unsafe.

My goal is selfish. On so many nice days I tell my sons, "Go outside! It's 80 degrees!" And they look out the window and say, "No. No one's there." Back to the computer. So here's a day for us to break the ice by getting them out and meeting each other! Running! Playing! Organizing their own game of football or four square!

Oh wait. It's too terrifying. As Joanna Molloy says in today's New York Daily News (where this idea is literally front page news), "The world is a way scarier place than it was when we were kids."

Scarier? It sure is. More dangerous? No. And that's the big difference.

We are way more scared than our own parents were, thanks to a 24/7 media culture that will go to Portugal to cover the story of an abducted girl, or Aruba. (Can you think of any other story that has come out of those two countries?) Those stories are rare but ratings gold, so they are blown up for days, weeks, months. Meanwhile, in terms of crime, New York City just celebrated its lowest murder rate on record! Nationally, crime was down 10 percent! Our crime rate is lower than when we were kids, playing outside! And yet, as a Gallup poll found, 73 percent of Americans think we are less safe than ever.

This includes Ms. Molloy. Of course, she works at a tabloid. A newspaper's job is to sell papers and fear sells.

So she talks about how crazy and stupid children can be. So true. Which is why we have to teach them basic skills -- how to cross a street, how to deal with bullies -- and gradually let them grow up.

The new buzzword among child development experts is "self-regulation" -- the ability to stop yourself from doing something you know is dumb, or force yourself to do the right thing (like homework). And lately those same experts are suggesting that one of the very best ways to develop that kind of internal maturity is through ... play! Free play! With other kids, and not with a coach, mentor, tutor, parent or iPad.

"Wait your turn!" shouted by a friend, turns out to be the greatest self-regulation teacher in the world.

Our kids are stuck inside with computers that never make them wait their turn, and a refrigerator that's always full, and a window looking out onto empty lawns. As C. Everett Koop, the former surgeon general, says: "Is there a risk to sending your kid out? Absolutely. Is there a benefit? It exceeds the risk ... Make your kids go out and play."

This is a guy whose life is dedicated to the health of our nation.

Let's break the cycle of empty neighborhoods and create a community again, starting 10 a.m. on Saturday morning at our local playgrounds. Even if it's just for a few minutes, let's bring back childhood.

Related: Would You Let Your 8-Year-Old Play at the Park Without You?

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