Monday, May 16, 2011

Do Your Kids Play Outside Unsupervised?

I recently read a comment from a mom who let her 3 and 5 year old play on their street unsupervised (they lived on a quiet court) and was upset because one of the neighbours was a fast driver and she felt she should slow down and pay attention to the small children playing outside on the street.  Wow!  My kids are 4 and 6 and I'm thinking their not playing outside without someone watching for a LONG time to come.  We do let my 6 year old son play in his sand box in our fenced in yard, but only if the dog is out there with him.  Even then, I'm usually in the kitchen and checking on him regularly.  But it did make me wonder... at what age should they be allowed?

When I was a kid, we all played outside without supervision from a very young age. That is not the reality in today's world... we are either much more knowledgeable or much more paranoid, but either way, it ain't what it used to be!  There are no laws that stipulate at what age a child can play unsupervised, so I went to look online... there are lots of conversations on the topic, however, no real consensus.  I guess there are too many factors to consider... if you live in the city or in a more rural neighbourhood, your child's personality, if they have older siblings, if there are other neighbourhood kids playing outside unsupervised, etc., etc.  

In the US, there are many Home Owner Associations that are passing regulations that children under the age of 16 cannot play outside alone.  I found articles on the topic from Colorado and from Florida.  Personally, I think 16 is a little crazy - but it appears that the HOAs are not only worried about safety, but also vandalism (and one in Florida is a retirement community - another whole story there). 

Basically, I found nothing.  If I had to go on pure impulse, I would say somewhere between ages 9 and 11  - depending on my child when he/she reaches that age.  What do you think??? 

And here's something else to consider... because we don't let our children play outside unsupervised, they are less active, watch more TV and play more video games.  What about those consequences?  I read an article from the UK Telegraph discussing the fact that limiting unsupervised play may affect our children's development - here's a quote:
Ed Balls, the Children's Secretary, said it was important that children were given more opportunities to play outside.
"We know that 80 per cent of children prefer to play outside and 86 per cent of parents agreed that on a nice day their children would prefer to go to the park than watch TV," he told a Sunday newspaper.
"Yet children spend less time outside than they would like and less than parents did as children. In our consultations parents told us this is because there are not enough safe places to go - and there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that parents think their children are safer playing inside on a computer than outside."
The consultation paper follows a report by Dr Tanya Byron, a psychologist, on the harmful effects of video games and computers on children.
I definitely want to make sure that my kid are active... which means more structured activities.  That's of course another topic of it's own.  It's also important to me that they enjoy the outdoors.  When it's nice out in spring/summer/fall, I do try to take them to the park or let them ride their bikes/scooters in front of our house after dinner, but as a working mom I'm not always up for it at the end of a long day.  It's a challenge sometimes, but I do try and push myself since our nice weather is so very fleeting.  Thankfully, they've always had time outside at day care and now at recess.  I'm so looking forward to this summer when my son will go to day camp for the very first time - he has no idea how much fun he will have being outdoors all day, every day.  I will, however, point out that this is still ALL supervised outdoor play.

What I remember from my childhood was running wild with friends and exploring.  That must do something for our sense of adventure and self-confidence.  How will our kids fare when they are finally allowed out on their own?  Does it make the world a scarier place?  Will they be so used to our guardianship that they won't know how to take care of themselves?  Or will they rebel and be risk-takers?  All scary stuff with not a lot of answers.

As our world continues to evolve, so does our parenting.  We assume that we know more today as parents than previous generations, but do we really?  I feel like we are often in uncharted waters and just hoping we are heading the right direction.  One thing is for certain, we can't go back... so here's hoping that what we do today will do right by our children's futures.


  1. Wow. I agree with you... I can imagine letting my 4yo outside alone in 1 year. Maybe if we had a backyard with no street access and I was just inside...maybe.

    There a girl up the street that has played outside for a couple years (I have never seen a mom) she had to be no older than 7 the first year. It always worries me.

    As for us, I have chairs in the front and back so we hang with the kids. In the process of building a playset for even more outdoor fun. But that said - we are hoping to find a place to vacation in a few years where we feel the kids can run free without supervision...So that they can have that experience.

  2. It's funny, the topic came up with my husband this morning and someone asked him when my son would be able to walk the 1/2 block to school on his own... his answer.. NEVER. And yet when he was a kid, he took the bus on his own when he was 5!

    We also see children playing out on the street on their own... and at the park just by our house.

    Although after this post, I'm no closer to figuring out when they can play on their own... hope your vacation goes well! Enjoy.

  3. Wow! What are the chances that I Jacqueline am searching for the same answers you are?! My kids are 14-girl and 9-boy. I see kids their ages and younger outside playing by them.self.I really don't think its a good idea. Too much can happen without an adult around. But my family says " oh Jackie let him outside to play you're stopping him from growing up". So I'm like confused bc I want him to grow up but not having trial and errors, like fights, marks on folks cars, broken windows and the like. Still looking for advice bc I want to be the best mom I can be for my kids. Also my daughter doesn't like to play outside with my son. Says she's to old. LOL

  4. Hi Jacqueline! Although my kids are younger than yours, my thoughts are that by the time they are teens, they need to have some trust put in them and the ability to experience some independence. I think it's so important for their development. Everything depends upon your neighbourhood, your instincts and the child in question. I think you should ask yourself "is my child able to make responsible decisions and do they know how to keep themselves safe?". If the answer is yes, then I think, as hard as it is as a mother, it might be time to let go a little... of course, that is just my two cents!

  5. My girls are 8 and 10 and I allow them outside only if they are together. Never by themselves. They are only allowed to bike around the block together. This makes me nervous, but I'm trying to give them some independence and not heli-copter parent. I'm usually checking out the window often and we are close with a lot of our neighbors. I have even let them go to a park a couple of blocks away with an older friend who has a cell phone, but usually only for a short period of time. They weren't allowed outside by themselves until this summer. Kids under 8 are often too impulsive- especially one of my kiddos.

  6. Buddie systems work make sure they are prepared. That is the most important thing i can say teaching them making sure they have clear guidelines. Kids as we all learn by trial and error we can advise on the right paths but we cant run in front moving all the hurtles. Or as mentioned above they will not develope those skills. Raise your kids the best way you know how. Raise them as unique people each one there own. You will know when there ready to be outside alone or under moderate supervision.