A Doctor Pleads: “Let Kids Play Outside Unsupervised”

He asks his state to pass the "Reasonable Childhood Independence" law.

A family doctor, worried about rising childhood anxiety and depression, wants his kids — and all kids — to be able to play outside, unsupervised, without this causing any legal trouble.

We want the same thing! That’s why Let Grow is working to make sure parents who take their eyes off their kids cannot be accused of neglect unless they are truly putting the tykes in obvious, likely danger.

The doctor, Brandon Hidaka, had heard about our legislative efforts and wrote to his state representative, cc’ing us.

What a letter!!! We loved it so much, we asked if we could reprint it, and the good doctor said, “That’ll be a $45 co-pay.”

Nah. We joke. He said go right ahead! Voila. (Boldface is ours.)

Dear Representative Emerson;

I am a Family Physician in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, which is a great place to raise our children (two boys born in 2016 and 2017).

I recently read “The Importance of Being Little” by Erika Christakis, which details the vast, growing body of research that shows how unstructured play, especially outside, improves child physical, emotional, and cognitive development. Unsupervised play empowers children to problem solve, be imaginative, negotiate with each other, build (and satisfy) their curiosity, and be physically active.

As I’m sure you know, our nation has a crisis of childhood mental illness, which has been exacerbated by COVID. I spent the vast majority of my childhood in the suburbs of Kansas City outside with neighborhood kids after school and during the summer.

We currently live in a safe neighborhood, which includes many young families and faculty of the nearby university, yet I don’t see many children playing outside. My oldest son takes the bus to and from school for kindergarten. I have seen his independence grow into other domains as we gradually allowed him to walk home from the bus. When my mother-in-law heard about this block-long walk home from the bus, she was terrified that he would be kidnapped by a stranger (an extremely unlikely scenario).

Her negative reaction has given me pause when allowing my children to be alone without constant direct supervision. I do not want the police or child protective services to be called on us! However, I could see a concerned neighbor or passerby calling the authorities on behalf of our children’s welfare.

The fears are real, based on true stories of parents around the country being inappropriately accused of neglect. Some states have begun to take action to protect parents from such frivolous (and damaging) accusations. These efforts are being spearheaded by an organization that I recently learned of — letgrow.org. There has been progress seen in Utah, Oklahoma, Texas, and Colorado where laws have been passed. [LET GROW NOTE: All true, except the bill has passed the Colorado House but not been heard in the Senate yet.]

I love that this issue is a bipartisan no-brainer. It protects a family’s freedom to raise their kids as they see fit, it promotes evidence-based child-rearing practices that produce more resilient citizens, it decreases wasteful child protective services reports, and it frees up resources to help children who are truly at risk.

I am eager to work with you in hopes of getting traction here in Wisconsin to make this truly one of the best states to raise a family.

I appreciate your time and attention.

I look forward to hearing back.

Sincerely,

Brandon Hidaka, MD PhD

We do, too! Meantime:

  • Learn more about the “Reasonable Childhood Independence” law or get involved, click here!
  • If you have been shamed or investigated for allowing your child some independence, we are sorry to hear it. Please click here.

The tide is turning. Parents, politicians and pediatricians are recognizing how keenly our kids need some free, unstructured time back. Go outside, kids! Your childhood awaits.