A woman has been arrested for letting her daughter play alone in a park. Her 9-year-old daughter.
I can only assume that I haven’t been arrested yet because when grilled by a stranger about where her mother was, my daughter replied, “at home.” Or, you know, maybe it’s because I’m white and middle-class.
The Kid has been playing outside unsupervised since she was five or six. Sometimes with a friend, and sometimes alone. She runs errands alone sometimes. We’re negotiating to let her do more things and go farther from home on her own all the time. She’s ten. It’s part of growing up.
I’m a big believer in Free-Range Kids. There are things one can only learn by being out in the world alone. Big things, like self-reliance, and little things, too, like what goes on inside your own head. A kid should have her own, private world of imagination. A tree is a secret hideout. A rock is a throne. A shady place is where the dryads live. Whatever it is, it’s hers, and hers alone. And the only way to develop a private map of your neighborhood is to be alone in it.
We worry that kids today aren’t assertive enough. That they can’t solve problems. That they bore easily and have no attention span. You know the solution to all of these things? Get out of their way and let them do things on their own. Nobody even walks to school alone anymore. How do we expect kids to succeed in college and in life if they can’t even walk to and from school unsupervised?
I’m not saying to abdicate responsibility. Teach them about stranger danger. Game out things that could (reasonably) go wrong and what they’ll do. But if a kid can’t spend the day in a park alone, what do we expect that kid to do when she grows up? How will she fend for herself in the world if she can’t even pass a day without constant supervision?
UPDATE 7/17/14: You should also read this post by Kadija about the importance of risky play.