When is it Time to Let Children Play with Less Supervision?

Dear Seasoned Parents,

I need some been-there-done-that advice. This weekend, a new family moved in across the street and T made friends with the kids faster than you can say “somebody come and play.” After a brief warm-up of curbside basketball, T was raring to leave the relative safety of our cul-de-sac and venture up the street…alone—well, alone with kids but no grown-ups. I was not cool with this and told him so. Did I make the right decision? Am I being overprotective? The buzzkill mom? Be honest!

Worry Wart Smother Mother

See, T is only 5 1/2 years old. He is much too young to be wandering around the neighborhood with just some slightly older kids. At this age, he absolutely still needs an adult chaperone! At least, this is what the little white angel on my one shoulder is telling me.

Let Children Play

This is the alley up the street from our house. Who knows what dangers lurk behind those blooming bouganvilleas and white picket fences??

On my other shoulder, there’s a pitch-fork-wielding, red-caped devil leaning into my ear, whispering, “C’mon…he’s gotta grow up sometime. Stop treating him like a baby! Let him have some fun! Let him be a kid.”

Is this the moment I’ve been dreading? Is this the point at which I need to let go of my baby and allow him grow into a full-fledged, rough-‘em-tough-’em BOY? Say it ain’t so! I’m just not ready!

My husband throws up his hands and says, “What’s the problem? I stayed out all day when I was a boy. We played all around the neighborhood, just us kids, and we didn’t come home until dark!” Well, hon’, I say, the problem IS…this is not the 1970’s anymore. This is not the town of Mayberry. Sure, our immediate neighborhood is all sunshine and roses, but we are just blocks away from what I call The Element. Strip clubs. Bars. Liquor stores. You get the idea.

I’m seriously having a hard time with this. On the one hand, I’m so utterly proud of T. He is everything I ever wanted in a kid. He is confident, social, makes friends easily, and doggone it, people like him. In fact, he’s the exact opposite of me. When I was young, I was socially conservative at best, and painfully awkward at worst. I was very shy and often preferred animals and books to people and parties. Oh, I did have friends, but only a few close ones. I was never the social butterfly like T is, able to effortlessly strike up a conversation with a new person. He has a true gift; he makes other people feel comfortable. He’s a natural at it. And I totally admire it.

So, yes. I like him the way he is. I want him to be the way he is. But the conflict comes from me simultaneously—instinctively—needing him to be SAFE. I can’t tell you what kinds of nightmare scenarios zip through my brain. I don’t even want to put them in writing, or even think of them. It gives me an instant boulder-in-the-gut sensation. Did you hear about the little girl who fended off a would-be kidnapper in Walmart? She employed what my brother-in-law refers to as the “Going Ape$#1%” strategy (a technical term). She commenced unbridled kicking and screaming and didn’t stop until the creep dropped her like a hot potato and ran. Such a brave girl.

Anyway. You tell me. At what age did you let children play and roam the neighborhood streets without you? Was it an easy transition for you or did you have trouble letting go? Any advice for me as I find my comfort level with letting my little boy gain his Big Boy independence?

KidZui Mom

Sophia savors all the joys (and challenges!) of family life with her husband and two kids in San Diego. Read more of her (mis)adventures in mothering at MamaSayMamaSo.

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4 Responses to When is it Time to Let Children Play with Less Supervision?

  1. Marcy says:

    Sophia- I clicked on the link in your blog to read about “the little girl who fended off a would-be kidnapper in Walmart”. Underneath the article/video, there are many comments on what should have been discussed by the GMA hosts that I found insightful. In today’s world, I think it’s better to be safe than sorry. My family frowns upon my always wanting to hover over my daughter. But her safety means so much more to me than their approval, and I don’t think my caring for her is any obstacle to her development. Although, that angel/devil duo are always on my shoulders too. Maybe I would feel better if she took some karate or self defense classes…

  2. Sophia says:

    Marcy, I think your point about self-defense classes is right on. We’ve signed my son up for one. I’m hoping he’ll gain practical knowledge and skills for that type of situation if it ever comes up. It’s horrible that we even have to think about this stuff, but I’m with you… better safe than sorry!

  3. Sandra P says:

    In today’s day and age, where there is much more child danger, I find it better to be safe than sorry. Sorry, what would that be? If a person looks up registered offenders in their neighborhood, they will find quite a few. When those types see a young unsupervised child, what is the possibility. Sorry, never makes up for the damage done to a child. Self defense classes will be of no use to a child that is terrified by a big person approaching them. They freeze, they don’t know what to do, mostly the shy ones. All the training in the world doesn’t make up for adult supervision to a young child.

  4. Tami Bee says:

    I’m not convinced there is more danger in today’s world – I do believe the danger that has always existed, but that today it is more widely publicized and people are more sensitive to hearing it. That being said, I wouldn’t let a child out without some serious adult chaperoning until age 8.

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