Let your children play outside alone (gasp!)

Posted October 11

It might be scary, but good things will come from letting your children play alone outside. (Deseret Photo)

We are smothering our children by not letting them play outside alone. When I was a kid I spent my days outside on the run. Summer days were spent building forts, riding bikes through the field and trekking out to the pond under the bridge to catch crawdads. These days, kids spend their time being shuttled from structured activity to structured activity, while staring at electronic screens in between.

Why do we do this?

It is easy to understand why. The world we see today on the news and in the media is one full of dangers and risks and scary things we hope our children are never exposed to. Our instinct is to protect them. We think worrying shows the world how much we care.

However, freedom is not he same as neglect. The world today is just as safe as it was when we were growing up. By not letting our children play outside we are keeping them from a fulfilling childhood. We want to help them succeed, but by spoon-feeding our kids, we are actually crippling their independence. We need to teach our children to play smart, not sheltered.

What do my kids gain from playing outside alone?


Kids need a little bit of freedom to explore and discover who they are. Do you want your kids to be too scared to go off to college and make a life in the real world? By giving children the freedom to make decisions and mistakes, they will be better able to avoid bigger mistakes and troubles later on in life.


One of the biggest things we can do for our children is to trust them. Letting your kids get out and play without a string attached to mommy or daddy or even the babysitter will instill that trust in your children. It will show them you trust them to make good choices when they are alone. In return, your children will choose to prove they deserve that trust.


The number of single adults over the age of 25 living at home has increased exponentially in the past 10 years and it is because we smother our children. Because of the constant hovering, children grow up into their 20's and have no clue how to live in the real world. They can't cope with responsibilities and we welcome them home, making it impossible for our now grown children to gain independence.

Navigate real life problems

Letting your children play outside alone with other children means they have to solve their own problems. We need to let our kids encounter situations when they are young to prepare them for their future. Kids don't learn anything if parents are always there to fix every single problem.

Unstructured play

Unstructured play time helps imagination to grow. Kids have a very active imagination and need a stage to act it out on. When we concern ourselves too much with raising the brightest and most talented child, we forget why childhood is so important. Structured activities teach important things like teamwork, but you can have too much of a good thing. Structured playtime should never interfere with unstructured playtime. In the end, that is what your kids will remember.

But what about protecting my children?

There are some scary things that go on in the world. One of the primary fears of parents is kidnapping, but kidnapping by strangers is actually a rare occurrence. There's a greater chance of harming your child by accident in your own home than by giving them one hour of unstructured play outside.

Lenore Skenazy addresses this in her book “Free Range Kids.” She quotes, “The fun of childhood is not holding your mom’s hand. The fun of childhood is when you don’t have to hold your mom’s hand, when you’ve done something that you can feel proud of. To take all those possibilities away from our kids seems like saying: 'I’m giving you the greatest gift of all, I’m giving you safety. Oh, and by the way I’m taking away your childhood and any sense of self-confidence or pride. I hope you don’t mind.'”

Now, I’m not saying to drop your three-year-old at the mall and tell them to be home by dinner. However, there are ways to prepare your children to play smart. Show them the ropes. Make sure they know the route home. Double check that they know what to do if they get in trouble. Point out potential dangers on the street while you are with them. Teach them to play smart and then let them go when you both agree they are ready. It will be hard, but you can do it!

Kelsey is a student at Brigham Young University studying to broaden her horizons through the written word. She loves the outdoors, family, car washes and punny witticisms.


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