Leave My Kids at the Park On Their Own? I Don't Think So!

A mom responds to an author's call to let children roam free

I sympathize with mom and columnist Lenore Skenazy: she wants to stop piloting the helicopter for her two sons, Morry, 14, and Izzy, 12. She wants to stop hovering and inspire independence. Two years ago, she put Izzy, then 9, on the New York City subway and left him there alone. Fortunately, the boy managed to make his way home safely. Now, Skenazy, the author of a book titled Free Range Kids, has the bold and foolish notion of urging parents to take their kids to a playground in Central Park – and park them there – this Saturday in what she’s calling “Take Our Children to the Park and Leave Them There Day.” There, she hopes, the children will play, make new friends, gain confidence and get on with their lives beyond the prying gaze of their moms and dads, who will be waiting at a discreet location nearby.

Great idea! On paper, or in the blogosphere. But not with real kids, hers or mine or yours, functioning as guinea pigs in an urban experiment.

Manhattan’s Central Park is 843 acres huge and hosts approximately 25 million people annually. Dropping your kids into that urban green is like putting them on a plane with a cardboard sign that says “Grandma” and hoping they'll make it unaccompanied, and unharmed, to Schenectady. Stimulus of that magnitude is a lot for an adult to cope with, never mind for a child. Hey, kid, here’s a cell phone and there’s the Great Lawn. I’ll pick you up at five.

I don’t think so.

Skenazy reasons that today's parents, as children, spent much more time out of the house and on their own than kids do today, even though crime stats suggest that city neighborhoods are much safer places today than they were, say, 20 years ago. But it’s almost ridiculous to make comparisons between then and now because so much else has changed. Back then, when you went out and played on the street, it was more likely that members of your extended family lived in the same neighborhood. You had grandparents, aunts, uncles, older cousins watching, admonishing, occasionally praising, making sure you didn't go astray.

One of the reasons many people, perhaps even Lenore Skenazy, came to a big city like New York as young adults was to escape the all-seeing eye of extended family and reinvent themselves. But, now that they’re parents, they belatedly realize that an extended family means arguments at Thanksgiving, but also safety for kids, another set of eyes overseeing them. Our mothers may have been oppressed, but they certainly weren’t alone.

And even if you didn’t have family nearby, there were nosy neighbors who kept an eye on the street. Our parents knew they were monitoring us, ensuring we didn’t run into traffic, protecting the weak from the strong. But that, too, has changed. Contemporary etiquette allows parents to criticize their own children--and only their own children. As a result, adults have been conditioned not to watch out for anybody's children but their own.

So, while I appreciate Skenazy’s desire for independent kids, and recognize the benefits of having "free range" children who run on the grass without having to join the American Youth Soccer Organization, this Saturday I don’t plan on slowing down the car and dumping my children, aged 10 and 14, at an urban park. It’s just too kamikaze for me. There may not be lions and tigers and bears, but there are bullies and predators and overstressed, oblivious parents who don’t have my children’s welfare at heart. That’s my responsibility, and my choice.

Would you ever park your kids at the park alone? Chime in below!

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