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What Age Did You Go Outside by Yourself?

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Read Time: 3 minutes

Our Twitter poll last week asked those born BEFORE 1982 and those born AFTER to tell us what age they were first allowed outside to do things like walk to school or to a friend’s.

And yes, we goofed. If you were born IN 1982, you basically don’t exist. No poll for you! That’s what we get for not learning statistics in grad school (or even grade school). Sorry!

Meantime, here’s what we learned:


First, the GOOD news:

Whether born before OR after 1982 (and possibly even those born IN 1982 — we’ll never know), most kids were allowed out and about by 6 or 7.

The BAD news?

About 82% of folks age 40 and above were out of the house, on their own by age 7. But that number plummets by 20% among those younger than age 40: For them, 62% were outside on their own by age 7.

The GOOD news about the BAD news?

We still live in a country where being out and about by age 7 is/was the norm for the MAJORITY of people, young and old. So cases where parents are harassed or even investigated for letting their kids venture forth around first or second grade are really out of line. I do understand that the folks who see and answer a poll found on the Let Grow and Free-Range Kids Twitter feeds aren’t necessarily uber-representative of the population. But over 1500 people took the poll — a decent number.

Yet in many places, like some Virginia districts, local ordinances say…

8 years (and younger) should always be in the care of a responsible person. Children this age should not be left unsupervised anywhere (homes, cars, playgrounds, yards, etc.).

Is this based on reality? Kids cannot even play in their own YARD, unsupervised, until they are 9?

That would make criminals out of the majority of people who took the Twitter poll. And what of a 10-year-old who wants to play with her 6-year-old sister? Does the younger sister have to watch from the living room window? Is the parent guilty for allowing her kids to frolic together without a security detail?

Worst-first thinking could paralyze us

Laws and policies that reflect a Worst-First mentality (“Anything could go wrong, so let’s forbid it!”) cannot be allowed to stand. Imagine if adults were only allowed to drive at 5 miles an hour because anything else is too dangerous. Especially when it comes to childrearing, this attitude stunts kids’ development, and criminalizes parents who make rational decisions about what they let their kids do.

Declaring “No 8-year-olds outside!” doesn’t even make kids safer. Is it really better for them to be inside, surrounded by screens, solid food, steps — all the OTHER things that could hurt kids? Check out these stats on kids choking and falling down the stairs vs. stranger danger and you will probably shoo your kids outside (without solid food) this instant!

As you probably know, at Let Grow we are working to make sure that the “neglect” laws don’t say things like, “Children must always be properly supervised.” That’s just too amorphous. Who decides what is “proper”? Random passersby? Individual caseworkers? We want laws to specify that, “Parents who put their kids in OBVIOUS and LIKELY danger are guilty of neglect” — not parents who decide their kids are ready to go outside, like they did.

“Reasonable Childhood Independence” bills will be voted on this year in Colorado, Nebraska and South Carolina. Get involved here.

Meantime, there is one group we’d like to apologize to:

Anyone born in 1982.

Now go outside!

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