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Free Range Kids

In light of yesterday’s post regarding The Bubble Wrap Generation, I found it strangely appropriate that I learned about “Take Our Children to the Park…& Leave Them There Day” this morning on the radio.

I was not surprised when my favorite NYC blog, Gothamist, picked up on the story and ignited a furious war among its readers.

Would YOU leave your 9 year-old child alone in Central Park?

Because I think that I would.

My parents taught me independence from a very young age. After teaching me to safely cross the street, to not talk to strangers and never get into an unfamiliar car or building without them, they trusted me to walk the  ½ mile to kindergarten every day.

I was a quiet, introverted person as a young child too, so I didn’t go out too much…I much preferred to sit at home and read. However, my sister — my opposite — loved to go out and play with the neighborhood kids. She would spend all day outside without adult supervision, returning in time for dinner, starting at the age of 4.

Did she ever get lost? Yes. But my parents had taught her to seek policemen in case this ever happened, and my sister followed suit. (And the one time she got lost at the beach, she had the common sense to go to a lifeguard…at the age of 3½.)

I think my sister and I turned out okay. Neither of us experienced any major injuries or traumatic incidents while growing up. We both did well in school, attended prestigious universities, and while I am preparing to be a SAHM, my sister is currently working on her PhD in art history and archaeology.

Are we the exception?

I’m genuinely curious as to how my readers grew up. Were you allowed to go out, unsupervised before the age of 10? Were you allowed to tinker in the kitchen by yourselves, preparing food with sharp knives and hot stoves, starting at the age of 6 as my sister and I?

I know that the world is a dangerous place. But the sheltered, over-protected life only seems to have arrived within the last generation or two. Wasn’t the world ALWAYS a dangerous place? What prompted parents to change their ways?

(And again, I’m not looking to spark a debate. If anyone can enlighten me with facts or even theories, I would really appreciate it.)

Going back to the topic of “Take Our Children to the Park…& Leave Them There Day,” I have to agree with Gothamist reader GoldenRuler, who writes:

if you can’t trust your 9 year old – especially an urban 9 yr old – to be in a park or get around the city by herself, then you should question your parenting skills.

ANYTHING can happen at ANY age, and the sooner they learn how to take care of themselves, the better – and how else to help them build their confidence and skills than by letting them venture out alone? this doesn’t necessarily mean you go from holding their hands on the slide to complete abandonment in one day. done gradually, with informative guidance and common sense (i.e., not letting them run to the corner store at 1 AM in east new york), and taking the kid into consideration (all kids mature at different ages and ways) it’s perfectly normal.