Take Your Children to the Park and Leave Them There

Flickr photo by Duchamp
Free-Range Kids author Lenore Skenazy has done it again. She's thrown out the gauntlet for sane parents to pretend that life in 2010 is like those halcyon days of our childhoods.

And if we don't, we're bad, overbearing, rotors a-whirring helicopter parents.

So what do we have to do to prove we're really lucy goosey hipsters in mom jeans with a penchant for Skynyrd tunes?

Take our children to the park on May 22 and leave them there.

For a day, a morning, an hour, a half hour.


Says Skenazy on her blog, also named Free-Range Kids, "Most of us used to play outside in the park, without our parents, without cell phones, without Purell or bottled water and we survived! Thrived! We cherish the memories! And if you believe the million studies that I’m always publishing here, kids are healthier, happier, and better-adjusted if they get to spend some time each day in 'free play,' without adults hovering."

Not quite, Lenore.

We didn't all go out to the park. Many of us just played in the backyard. So when we fell off our bikes, we could go running inside to have Mom treat our fat lip.

And those yards didn't have ginormous slides and seven-foot-tall jungle gyms that we could climb to the top of, bounce on, and promptly fall off of.

My biggest problem with this concept isn't what Skenazy assures us all will be the biggest outcry from parents -- the predators.

It's a warning bandied about so much that she's right -- it's a cliche.

But crime doesn't turn my neighborhood park into a menace. General safety concerns do.

My almost-5-year-old (Skenazy says this should apply to school-aged kids, and legally in my state, you can enroll your kid in kindergarten if they'll be 5 by December 1) doesn't have the means to take care of herself. Plain and simple.

If she falls off that giant jungle gym (and she's come very, very close because of her affinity for bouncing on the top rung), who's going to run out and call 911? Who's going to ensure that she doesn't move until there's a backboard on hand? For that matter, who's going to tell her to stop her bouncing before she falls seven feet?

In a more general sense, I'm on Skenazy's side. I agree we're much too involved with kids' play. Perhaps I'm simply looking at her concept through the eyes of country life rather than city -- our parks are secluded; there are no adults walking by on a regular basis to notice the kid lying bloodied on the ground, to break up the kids hatching devious plots together.

We also have the advantage of backyards in the country, a place where I'm very much a fan of kids playing ... without a hovering adult. Let them climb trees. Let them play in the sandbox. Let them taste a dandelion just to see how disgusting it is. My daughter has and does, and I remain inside the house, where she can head if something bad happens or scream loud enough for me to come running.

But leaving them at the park at 5, 6, even 7 or 8? I won't do it. And I don't think that makes me a helicopter parent; it makes me a sensible one.

Will you be celebrating this holiday?

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