Trust Your Gut When it Comes to Letting Your Kids Play Outside Alone
Is hovering really necessary for kids to play outside?
I am just going to come right out and say it…I am a pretty neurotic person, a compulsive over-analyzer constantly searching for reassurance that I am doing right by my kids or by my husband due to my lack of domestic abilities.
Now that I have openly admitted my OCD personality traits, I must assert that I am not a neurotic parent. Believe it or not I have, what others consider to be, some pretty laid back points of view.
Long before having children, my gut instinct was to let kids be kids. Even as a young teacher, I despised the term “play-date” and those “Mommy to _______” business cards.
Observing students as young as three, exhausted from their participation in the enrichment activity du jour, I formed a child-less conviction that I would never allow my kids’ to become that over-structured.
But as they say, “life happens when you are making other plans”. And that is just what happened.
Before I knew it, I was a full-time, work outside the home mom with my pre-parent convictions facing daily scrutiny. While, a new mom questioning her parenting skills is not unheard of, it blindsided me.
I was ill prepared for just how great of an impact that guilt and insecurity would challenge my ideals. There I was anxious for the adult interaction play-dates provided and (gasp!) on occasion, wishing that I had one of those mommy cards.
Today’s overprotective, child-centered environment presents moms with an entirely different league of peer pressure, the eternal comparison and judgment of other mothers! (Honestly, mothers could be considered our own worse enemies at times.)
Succumbing to this latest level of peer pressure, overcompensation became the rule, not the exception for me—my quest to be the perfect mom became all-consuming and no one was any better for it.
In fact we were worse…I mean really, heels carrying an infant carrier is just not a good idea, no matter how good the boots look. Not to mention tripping over, yet another, toy in said heels!
So what is one to do? I have no idea. But I’ll share with you what I did.
I decided to fake it until I made it, and with a façade of confidence I began trusting my gut, even reverting to some of my pre-parenting assertions.
Surprising, the effect of playing the part, whenever I allow my instincts to guide me, I become a bit more confident with who I am as a mother. However, let’s be truthful—its not like I let my kids do anything that’s all that outrageous.
Although, that is a matter of opinion, which I was reminded of the other day when I let my kids go outside to play without my hovering right behind. A visitor’s look of shock and dismay admittedly inflicted a burst of self-doubt, though thankfully, it was short lived.
Ironically, times of self-doubt are when my analytical nature proves beneficial. Some of what I consider to be, the most poignant research concerns today’s skewed societal perception of the world around us.
Some, like Joanna Molloy of the New York Daily News, almost glorify that,“the world is a way scarier place than it was when we were kids”.
While people like, Lenore Skenazy, of HuffPost Parents and author of Free-Range Kids, How to Raise Safe, Self-Reliant Children (Without going Nuts with Worry), keep such sentiments in perspective by saying, “Scarier? It sure is. More Dangerous? No. And that’s the big difference.”
Admitting that, “we are way more scared than our own parents were,” Skenazy “thanks a 24/7 media culture” where stories like child abductions are “rare but ratings gold. So they are blown up for days, weeks, months.”
These gold ratings definitely impact what parents deem safe, including their own back yard. A recent BabyCenter.com poll shows that 63% of parents do not let their children play outside unsupervised, and 52% felt that the appropriate age for children to play outside alone falls somewhere between ages 6-11 years.
Many may frown upon my being in the 29% of parents who allow their kids to play in the backyard (while periodically checking on them) and I completely understand. My feeling is that by establishing rules and a clear understanding that Mommy trusts them enough not to hover, provides a valuable opportunity for my kids to learn that actions have consequences as well as an overall sense of responsibility.
I accept that I will never win “Mother of the Year” and admit that there are many days that are not my most shining moments. But I am even beginning to feel like I’m not emotionally scarring my kids as much as I often obsess about.
There may even be a good chance that by encouraging them to be “free-range kids” they may develop some important life skills that couldn’t have otherwise taught them.
The former Surgeon General, Dr. C. Everett Koop sums it up best when he said, “Risks, I think, are the thing that make life important, and everything that you and I do is risk versus benefit. Is there a risk in sending your kid out? Absolutely. Is there a benefit? It exceeds the risk."
Author’s Note…Obviously, I am passionate about child development and find myself reading an exurbanite amount books and research on the subject. Thankfully, I have become better at compartmentalizing and no longer feel compelled to incorporate every single technique in hopes that it will be the one. Clearly, there isn’t one!
So please take my column for what it is…a sharing of ideas, overviews of current child development theories, and most importantly, just my opinion of the inside world of modern motherhood.
If you are at all like me, you may want to check out some of the following books and websites…