Letting Kids Go Solo

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There’s a debate out there about whether it’s OK to let kids go “free range,” roaming the neighborhood, walking to school solo or with a sibling or friend, or simply playing at the park without a parent right by their side. The parents in Silver Spring, Maryland who let their two children walk home from a park together without adult supervision are under investigation, and they aren’t the only parents who have been under scrutiny.

Many things play into parents’ decision as to whether their children can go solo, as it should. For starters age and environment. I grew up in what many would call “the country.” We weren’t in a neighborhood with houses side by side, but by age 8, I was certainly allowed to walk a quarter mile to the neighbor’s house to play. My mom knew where I was going and the other mom was expecting me. It was empowering, but really not a big deal. I’d been taught to look both ways crossing the street and was trusted to go where I said I was going. And when it snowed, we went out for hours to sled and play, no parents involved! 

Kids today have the same abilities. Just the other day, I was pleasantly surprised when two of my son’s friends, ages 9 and 6, knocked on our door and asked could my son come out to play. They had safely navigated the sidewalks in our neighborhood for about a quarter mile to our house. They were fine, they were having fun and then the kids proceeded to have fun playing in our backyard. This to me is how it should be. And in the age of texting and cell phones, it’s even easier for parents to communicate that a friend has arrived at their house, etc. And with social media and group pages for neighborhoods, it’s real easy to post things that seem suspiscious in the neighborhood to keep a level of awareness up and perhaps enlighten another neighbor about something that could seem odd, but is really benign.

The flip side: The world is bad and an adult should always be on watch. If we all live by that, what are we teaching our kids? We don’t trust them? The world is bad? Fear all? Kids must learn to trust their instincts. And of course their are rules we as parents must set before we let our kids go roam. But roaming and exploring is how kids grow and gain confidence and independence. 

Don’t get me wrong, I will worry the first time I let my guy go walk to the neighbor’s house alone. It’s the nature of being a mom, just like I worried if he would he survive without me when I dropped him off at daycare as a baby, summer camp as a preschooler and then kindergarten. He did survive and continues to thrive. Rather than immediately throwing parents under the bus for “neglect,” let’s get to know our neighbors, work as a community being aware, and looking out for others and their kids. If you see something suspicious, inquire, call the police, but two kids walking home from the park doesn’t seem that suspect to me.