One mom has started a movement to get kids outside playing unsupervised, like their parents did when they were kids. She's created a new annual "holiday" to drive home her point. But is this responsible parenting in today’s world?
by Lori Zanteson
Would you take your child to the park and leave them there? If you’re like most parents, you’d probably scoff at the notion. Kids today don’t play unsupervised in the park or anywhere else for that matter. The world isn’t safe and no sane parent would put a child at risk, right? It all depends on whom you ask.
Lenore Skenazy, New York mom and author of Free-Range Kids: How to Raise Safe, Self-Reliant Children (Without Going Nuts with Worry), is behind a new movement rooted in a made-up holiday, “Take Our Children to the Park and Leave Them There Day." Skenazy first proclaimed the idea for May 22, 2010, and has since encouraged parents to celebrate every Saturday before Memorial Day Weekend as an annual supervision-free outdoor play day for children.
“The idea behind it is simple,” Skenazy says. “Most of us want our children to play outside and have fun, but this is impossible because there aren’t any other kids outside for our kids to play with. It is a day to break the cycle. A day to get kids outside to meet each other and re-learn the lost art of playing, as opposed to Play-Stationing.”
Skenazy wants to convince parents that a little untethered freedom is good for kids. A break from constant parental supervision, she says, is healthy and safe, and teaches independence. She thinks kids should be able to enjoy a day at the park without Mom or Dad breathing down their necks—just as Mom and Dad did when they were kids. But is today’s world simply too dangerous?
A culture shift
Something has shifted profoundly since today’s parents were kids. Children no longer walk to school, they don’t ride bicycles through the neighborhood, and they rarely play in a public playground without a parent close by. Today’s child rearing styles mean that children are shuttled to school and home again, and then from one orchestrated activity to the next. A free afternoon commonly finds them huddled around a video or computer screen.
The result is a generation of sedentary kids who are becoming physically and socially passive. “If you want to say how can we step into childhood and make it better for them, I would start at the activity level,” says former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop. “I’d like to say let your kids go out and play.”
But Skenazy and many like-minded parents are taking heat for promoting the idea of letting children run free. Nevertheless, risks are an important part of life, says Koop, who asks, “Is there a risk to sending your kid out? Absolutely. Is there a benefit? It exceeds the risk.”
Death rates down
Statistics tell us the world is actually safer today than it was a generation ago. Because of new research and the improved products and safety laws that result from those findings, death rates from unintentional injuries among children have dropped almost 50 percent since 1981, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
The number of children abducted by strangers has remained steady for years: the odds of being kidnapped and killed by a stranger are around 1 in 1.5 million. (In fact, a greater threat comes from friends and relatives, who victimize 80 percent of kids who are molested.)
Surprisingly, car accidents are the leading cause of death in children ages 2 to 14, says the CDC.
Statistics are one thing, but the emotions and responsibility attached to parenting are quite another. Sherryll Kraizer, Ph.D., author of The Safe Child Book: Common Sense Approach to Protecting Kids and Teaching Them to Protect Themselves, says: “Statistics are little comfort when it’s your kid. I don’t live with a statistic, I live with a child I have to protect. I’m not putting my kid out there without adequate protection. Kids die every day. They’re sexually abused every day.”
Most parents would probably agree. While Kraizer absolutely believes that we need to give our kids the opportunity to practice independence, it needs to happen “as a planned event that’s been practiced and you know they have a level of maturity, judgment, and decision making.”
Whether parents support or criticize Skenazy’s proposed holiday, they’re reacting and talking about it and the much larger issues of responsibility, safety, and independence that are involved.
Parents and children participated in the holiday this year in parks around the world. Skenazy is busy collecting accounts of their experiences. Look for them soon on her blog.
What do you think? Will your children participate next year?
Lori Zanteson is a Southern California based writer and mother of three who specializes in health, food, and fitness for families.