My Kid Will Never Play Outside Alone

little girl playing outsideIt was the kind of scream that sends chills to the base of your spine. You're on autopilot as you run, no charge, to get to your child. That kind of scream could make you vault a 20-foot wall, take down a ninja with one hand, flatten a bus. And it was coming from my daughter, who was playing outside. Alone. 

As it turns out, she was fine. It was an overreaction to a bee. Common when you're 6. But it's screams like that one that can make even a loosey goosey parent uneasy about their decision to loosen the apron strings. You sit and wonder: what if it wasn't a bee? What if it was any of the 25 horrible scenarios that went through my mind in the 20 seconds it took me to get from the chair in the dining room across the living room, to the front door, down the porch steps, and out to the driveway where she sat with her chalk and that infernal bee.


The story of 3-year-old Breeann Rodriguez, the Missouri girl snatched from her front yard -- where she was playing on her bike -- and murdered has launched the internal debate into a national one this month. My friend Brett Singer, a father of two, even sat in on a Headline News segment about the issue. He said the "right age" for letting kids play outside alone varies, and I couldn't agree with him more.

Age does not beget maturity. Some kids are ready to listen to their parents' directives that they steer clear of the road and strangers at 4, some at 6, some not until they're closing in on the teen years.

But there's something more than your kids to consider, something I've realized only in the wake of that God-awful scream and my desperate attempt to get across my house. It felt like it took me hours to get out to my daughter, but it was really only seconds. Point of fact: if she were to scream in her bedroom while I was in the bathroom, it would take me far longer to traverse the house and climb the stairs than it did for me to get outside to shoo off that bee. Biology already forces us to be much further apart (yes, sometimes folks, I have to pee) on a regular basis.

Of course, the specific dangers are different outside from in. Hence the focus on age. A toddler is still going to be tempted by the big vroom, vrooms going by. A new walker is going to find grass pretty darn tasty. There's no firm "right age," but there are some obvious "no way in hell ages." They have to be old enough to heed a warning that they stay in the yard.

Suddenly, playing outside alone doesn't seem like such a big deal. At least not in the hand-wringing, OMG, think of the children sense that stories like little Breeann's brings up. I'm inside the house. She's outside the house. She's not alone at all.

Do you really feel like your kids are ALONE when they go outside to play?


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