How free can our kids be?

Family, Life September 16, 2014

Our family just spent three months in Montana. Three glorious months when our kids could run and play outside all day long. We lived at the top of a hill overlooking a small town. This was our view from the front yard.

How free can our kids be? |

Aside from being breathtaking, it was the perfect place for Joe and Leila to play outside without me checking on them every two seconds. There weren’t any cars because we were at the top of the street. To get to the cul-de-sac you had to hike down the very steep driveway.

There weren’t any strangers because we knew the neighbors and no one else would have any reason to go up to the top of the hill.

The first thing the kids would do every morning was jump up, get dressed, and ask, “Mom, can I go outside?” Not once did they ask to play video games or play on my phone. Technology wasn’t on their minds at all because they had a whole world to explore outside.

A safe world.

So when we were packing up to drive home I started thinking about what kind of freedom they might have in Phoenix. Instead of living at the top of a hill that no one drives up, we live in the front of the neighborhood where cars pour in and out all day. Instead of a giant yard full of swing sets and deer, we have a postage stamp yard with a cinder block wall.

How free can our kids be? |

I’ll admit, I’m a worrier. I’m a worst-case-scenario-thought-train type of mom.

With today’s constant stream of media, it’s easy to think the world is a scary place. Something that happens to a kid 5 states away feels like it happened to a neighbor. But I don’t want to live a life of fear, and I don’t want my kids to either.

There is a park a block away from our house. I would love to let our kids go for short trips on their own.

But then I have to worry about someone calling CPS on me. Have you heard about this? Moms are being visited by CPS and even being arrested for letting their kids play outside. This is insane!

So where do we draw the line? How do we teach our kids responsibility and freedom while protecting them (and ourselves!) at the same time?

I don’t have any easy answers. I’m still figuring this out. I know I’m not the only one pondering this issue, and I’d love to hear what you think.

Do you let your kids play outside alone? Has anyone ever knocked on your door to tell you your kids are outside (when you know perfectly well where they are)? Are you a helicopter parent?

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  • Reply Robin September 16, 2014 at 7:56 am

    Thanks for starting the important conversation. Many of us grew up in an age where kids played outside all day, and only came in when the street lights came on at the end of the day. I have to admit, I border on the edge of being a fearful, overly protective parent, even though I have nothing to base that fear on. I think I’ve loosened the reins a bit as my children have gotten older and now play outside with a group 4-6 other children. Although we live close to two different parks, I would not let them leave our cul-de-sac without me.

  • Reply Heather Filipowicz September 17, 2014 at 7:01 am

    Alysa- I have so enjoyed watching and reading your evolution and experience these past few months. Between the pictures and the ‘sound’ of your voice in words it has been eye opening. Grateful you shared. Funny thing, we live in a lovely neighborhood that is a gated cul de sac. I said something about letting our son ride his bike up and down the sidewalk by our house where I can see him while I’m inside. My mom went on and on about how dangerous that was. The woman who let me ride everywhere. We are trying to let him be more free. I want him to be.

    Also looking forward to your take on homeschooling. I”m toying with the idea and wondering how the balance will go for you. My best to you.

  • Reply Erin Lauray September 23, 2014 at 9:15 am

    My kids are still too young to play outside alone and our backyard doesn’t have a fence, but I have always felt that when they were old enough, I would let them play outside. I hope that we have a back yard that is open and big enough for them to just play there instead of the front yard, but when they want to ride bikes, I’m not sure what we will do! 🙂 I think it is such a good conversation to have with your kids too. Making sure they understand safety rules is important, I think – when I was a kid, we were only allowed to ride our bikes to a certain house down the street and had to stay on the sidewalk and often played outside with ALL of the neighborhood kids too). I also think getting to know your neighbors is a great way to help the safety as well as your neighbors “tolerating” your decision to let the kids be outside without you. We live in an historical neighborhood in Central Phoenix where the neighborhood is close and knows one another. I hope when my kids are old enough, my neighbors will know them well enough to keep an eye open as well as send them home if they need a talking to. 😉 😉 Thanks for your post!!!!

  • Reply Debbie Wenger September 23, 2014 at 10:40 am

    I cannot stop thinking about this topic. I get so nervous when I see kids outside by themselves, thinking parents are too relaxed. But then I think about how I used to walk to elementary school as a 1st grader, without a parent, and that town was probably less safe than where I live now. I wonder how old is old enough to let my kids be outside alone (they’re only 4 months, 2.5, and 4 now). And is the world really less safe or have we just given into the media’s culture of fear (and been made more aware of some of the dangers when back in the day we just didn’t hear about it as much)? If nothing else, I think Lauren below made a good point that we set boundaries of how far they can go, and hopefully as neighbors we will all look out for each other. That’s why community is so key.

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  • Reply Claire October 11, 2014 at 9:15 am

    I started allowing my son to play outside in the (fenced in) backyard by himself when he was 3.5. I watched him frequently from the window, and still do now three years later. Now if we’re in the front yard, I will leave him for a few minutes to go inside to make a cup of coffee or use the bathroom. I don’t think there are any absolutes; mothers have to use their judgment and go with their gut feelings about when their kids are ready for less supervision. Certainly I had a lot less supervision growing up than my son does now. But neighborhoods were different then. A lot more mothers were home during the day and would keep an eye on each other’s kids. That doesn’t happen in my current neighborhood.

  • Reply Christina October 11, 2014 at 9:37 pm

    Great post:) so glad your kids had a chance to experience that sort of freedom. I’m what you call a free range parent, I put full trust and responsibility on my kids and they play outside everyday all day till those night lamps come on and even then I have to drag them in after dark. And they play unsupervised. Granted we do live in Dubai in a gated community where all the kids are playing outdoors usually though under the watchful eyes of nannies. We are originally from the states and my kids played in the yard alone but not beyond that only bc there are no other kids in sight where I live playing outside. so sad! I can’t believe how crazy this whole child protective services is becoming. I grew up playing freely unsupervised all day long throughout my neighborhood in queens ny.

  • Reply Katherine October 12, 2014 at 5:57 pm

    I grew up in the country and roamed the fields and dirt roads on foot or bike, starting at about late elementary. I loved the feeling of freedom. Our small community was not immune from crime and teens making stupid decisions- like any other area. But those occurrences were seen as the exception, not the norm. Parents I grew up around did not expect us kids to get snatched from the front yard. It seems like things have flip-flopped now– the expectation is more toward something bad happening if you turn your back.

    I *try* to lean toward letting my kids have freedom and room to roam. It can be a struggle, but it feels valuable at the same time. Worth swallowing my fears at times.

  • Reply LWilliams October 13, 2014 at 8:18 pm

    This has been on my mind for a couple of months. One afternoon, I was driving with the kids in the backseat and I saw a girl, probably about 9-10 yrs old, and she was riding her bike. She was on a major street and she was very good at looking out for traffic. I thought out loud, “good for her, riding her bike outside.” My daughter took offense to it, because she doesn’t do it. I told her that what I truly meant was, “Good for her mom that her fear does not get in the way of this girl’s independence.” I’m certainly not as good at that. I am made to feel like an apathetic mom because I’m allowing my 11yo daughter to walk to the sitter’s house after school. So in a way, I feel peer pressured into putting my children in a bubble. Well, no longer! I will make a decision depending on how I feel about it!! Of course, I’m still too scared to allow her to ride her bike outside of our small community full of cul-de-sacs! LOL!

  • Reply katy May 21, 2015 at 9:35 pm

    I live here in Mesa Az. And I long for the day that I can live in a place you just described. My daughter is five and so independent. And cautious and curious and active. I trust her wholeheartedly. She is capable and mature for her age. And because of where we live, her time outside is limited. We rent a 2 bedroom apartment and we have hundreds of neighbors. I can’t be outside with her every minute of the day. And she suffers because of it. If it were up to her she could be outside all day every day. She’s a natural explorer and loves nature. We treasure the annual trips we take to each of her grandmothers house (one in NM, the othet in Mexico)where she can play outside in the yard and enjoy beautiful scenery and freedom. Where I don’t have to watch her every second making sure some creep isn’t getting too close or befriending her for no reason. (Happened before) … she feels I dont trust her. But its the world we live in I cant trust. Thank you for such a great post!

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