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Children Don’t Need Constant Supervision at the Park

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Read Time: 4 minutes

The piece below originally appeared in the Wednesday Journal of Oak Park and River Forest, two leafy suburbs of Chicago.

It was written in response to an earlier column by a woman who’d seen a girl alone at the tennis courts in one of the area’s parks when two men got out of their car and approached the courts themselves. They proceeded to pick up a container of tennis balls they’d forgotten, and leave.

The writer was nonetheless alarmed for the girl, about age 6. She asked the girl to take her to her mom, which the girl did. The mom was a little ways off. After this, the writer mused that anything could have happened to the girl, and the mom would have been too far away to see. She ended with a plea for greater supervision.

This response is by Elli Purtell and Sarah Gripshover, two Oak Park moms we’ve never met but now LOVE, who gave Let Grow permission to reprint it. Heck — they linked to us at the end! In order not to shame the original columnist, they asked us not to link to her piece or use its exact title.

Children Need Autonomy

We’re writing in response to the girl-at-the-park piece. We have no doubt the author had the best intentions when she asked the young girl at the park to show her where her parent was, but we take issue with the general message of her op-ed.

Modern parents and caregivers are raising children in a society obsessed with absolute safety (the era of the ubiquitous “helicopter parent”). As mothers of young children ourselves, we understand the desperate feeling of worry that seems to go hand-in-hand with loving your child. But we also recognize how detrimental this type of parenting can be.

More and more children and teens are suffering from crippling mental health problems. According to a 2021 report published by the CDC, 40% of adolescents feel sad or hopeless most of the time and 10% have attempted suicide — a dramatic increase since 2011.

One of the best solutions for combating mental health problems and raising happy, confident kids is to give them more independence, not less. Children need autonomy. Research in developmental science shows that autonomous, unsupervised play is not a “nice to have” in childhood — it is an indispensable ingredient for healthy social, cognitive and emotional development. This includes, at minimum, letting them out of your sight for a few minutes at the playground once they’re of a certain age. (We believe the girl from the author’s original post was old enough to be exploring the park “on her own,” with a loving and attentive parent nearby.)

Only by solving problems independently do children develop the resilience needed to successfully navigate the world. It may sound counterintuitive, but the best way to keep our children safe is to let them go when they’re ready, even if it’s before we feel totally ready ourselves.

Instead, our communities now seem to be made up of wannabe vigilantes, trying to save
children from danger left and right, but in fact causing more harm. We personally know a mom
who had the police stop by her house one afternoon after a neighbor saw her 8-year-old
daughter riding her scooter alone on their block.
The cops quickly understood there wasn’t an
issue and all was well, but the outcome is not always so harmless. However well-intentioned
these kinds of actions may be, we all need to take a step back, observe more, and trust that
parents know the capabilities of their child best.

Many of you may be thinking, but the world is so unsafe right now! There are a lot of creeps out there! We have good news for you. Despite society’s collective fears over child safety, the stats are comforting:

Non-family abductions are the rarest type, making up only 0.3% of the 2019 missing children cases. That means your child would need to be outside, unattended, for 750,000 years for that crime to be statistically likely to happen to them.

About 93% of children who are victims of sexual abuse know their abuser.

The national crime rate peaked in 1991 and today’s murder rate is about half of what it was in the early ’90s.

For parents interested in giving their children age-appropriate independence, we encourage you to visit

While you’re here, you might want to download our free Kid License, or the full Independence Kit.

NOTE: This post has been updated with a new paragraph the authors sent us.


  1. CCary says:

    Let ’em walk alone to kindergarten when they’re five. Go along the first day, just to make sure they know the way, then turn ’em loose. They can handle it. Millions of kids used to. During my completely free-range childhood, the only time an adult male approached me was when I was seven years old and had walked, alone, to the movie theater downtown in our small city to see a Saturday matinee of “The Wonders of Aladdin” starring the great Donald O’Connor. About halfway through the movie, I suddenly felt sick from eating too much junk candy, and I rushed to the restroom. I barely made it in the door when I felt faint and collapsed on the floor, too weak to stand up. A moment later I felt hands under my arms, lifting me up. A man had got me onto my feet and walked me to the toilet stall, where he made sure I was comfortably situated before he turned away and shut the stall door behind him. He never said a word, and I never saw him again. After a while I felt well enough to go back in and see the end of the movie (Donald got the girl). I’ll always be grateful to that stranger, whoever he was.

  2. PPeter Blaskowski says:

    I know that the original writer who saw the little girl will never see this, but I suggest she try a thought experiment: Suppose you heard the men (who were retrieving tennis balls) approach the 6-year-old girl and ask her to take them to her mom. They then walk out of your field of vision with the girl. What scenarios would be going through your brain? Are they bad? Now note that YOU did exactly this scenario. Why do you tell the story as if you were some savior hero, yet imagine the men were bad guys?