Free-Range Kids

Survey: We Keep Raising the Age That Children Are Allowed To Play Outside

No freedom for kids until they're 11.

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A survey of almost 2,000 parents in the U.K. found that most of them won't let their kids play outside, unsupervised, until age 11, The Guardian reports. This news comes despite the fact that when the parents were kids, they headed out to play around age 9.

Tim Gill, author of Urban Playground: How Child-Friendly Planning and Design Can Save Cities and a longtime champion of more freedom for kids, said the study shows "that British children have been subject to a gradual, creeping lockdown over at least a generation." Thanks to the pandemic, he added, we all know what a lockdown feels like.

So why are we doing this to our kids? The reasons are the usual adult fears of crime and traffic, dovetailing with the fact that electronic entertainment keeps many kids from longing for the outdoors. (Or knowing it exists.)

Of course, our desire to keep kids safe makes sense. What is hard to keep in mind when worrying about the dangers of letting them leave the house is that there are dangers to not letting them leave the house. Gill lists them: "Boredom, isolation, inactivity and poorer mental and physical health. The consequences for the development and wellbeing should not be underestimated."

In fact, the consequences are pretty clear. After all, the book, Your Six-Year-Old: Loving and Defiant, was a standard-issue child development book for parents, published in 1979. Over the course of just 40 years it has become an amazing artifact, a Rosetta Stone from the past, back when, according to the book's checklist, your average six-year-old entering first grade should have been able to knock off simple milestones including:

  • Does your child have two to five permanent or second teeth?
  • Can he ride a small two-wheeled bicycle without helper wheels?
  • Can he tell the left hand from right?
  • Can he travel alone in the neighborhood (four to eight blocks) to store, school, playground, or to a friend's home?

Keeping kids under adult supervision until they are almost twice that age—11 instead of 6—is a shocking development. Imagine if we kept kids in diapers till age eight, or didn't let them start driving until age 32. It's dizzying to think of how quickly we have come to see kids as helpless instead of spunky.

If the crime rate had soared in the interceding decades, extra caution might make sense. But here in America, where, like Britain, we are also keeping kids under very close tabs for ever-more years, the crime rate is back to what it was in the 1960s and 1970s. Crime was on the increase till the early 1990s but then it started heading back down—way down. So parents who were playing outside in the 1980s or 1990s were allowed out when the crime rate was higher than it is today.

The University of Reading's Helen Dodd, who lead the study, says, "we can clearly see that there is a trend to be protective and provide less freedom for our children now than in previous generations." Unfortunately, the older kids are before they get moving, exploring, and playing on their own, the less chance they get to develop "their ability to assess and manage risk independently," Dodd says.

Our own risk calculations are pretty off when we think we are keeping kids safer by stunting their physical and psychological growth by treating them like babies for eleven long, stifling years.

NEXT: It Looks Like Lots of People Used Their Federal Stimulus Payments To Buy Weed

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  1. Children shouldn’t be allowed outside alone except to go vote.

    1. Agreed the age of 25 should be the age of consent, voting, military, driving, and leaving the house.

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          2. That’s your answer to everything.

      1. For voting, any year in which the citizen is a net tax payer.

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    2. Wrong, party members should come to the children and collect their ballots after confirming they voted correctly. Leaving home to vote should not happen until you sixties.

      1. Leaving home??? Don’t you care about pandemics? We can just have drones deliver everything now.

    3. Wrong, party members should come to the children and collect their ballots after confirming they voted correctly. Leaving home to vote should not happen until your sixties.

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  2. I was just talking about this with a co-worker of mine last week, when we heard a local story of some mom getting in trouble for letting her kids play too far away outside.

    Went something like:

    “So, when you were a kid, did you walk or bike to school?”
    “Only just about every day.”
    “How far away was it and how old when you started?”
    “About a mile, and 6 or 7 I think. You?”
    “Yeah my school was almost 2 miles away, so I didn’t start till I was 9.”

    For both of us, this would have been the late 80’s / early 90’s. It’s really bizarre how much this has changed. And we didn’t even have personal mobile tracking / communications devices back then. Our parents wouldn’t have had a clue anything was wrong for literally hours.

    1. Yeah it was way different, I was a kid in the 60s and used to ride my bike around town myself no helmet nobody bothered me. I remember one day realizing that Apollo 11 was landing and I pedaled the few miles back home, my folks didn’t ask where I’d been even though I was gone for hours.

      1. “Keeping kids under adult supervision until they are almost twice that age—11 instead of 6—is a shocking development. Imagine if we kept kids in diapers till age eight, or didn’t let them start driving until age 32. It’s dizzying to think of how quickly we have come to see kids as helpless instead of spunky.”

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      2. From your comment and a few others, I’m glad to see the absence of “helicopter parenting” lasted so long. I wonder when it changed?

        I go back further, having started kindergarten on the west side of Detroit in 1950. Back then — though admittedly the presence of crime and perverts was less prevalent (or at least less obvious) — there was virtually no supervision, it being unnecessary and almost unthinkable. I believe my 1/2 to 3/4 mile trek to elementary school started right off the bat; only when there was a deluge of substantial rain did the parents arrive to drive their kiddos back home.

        And we played out in the neighborhood without our parents worrying what we were doing or where beginning no older than our 6th or 7th year of age. If anything our parents common refrain was “Go play in the street!”

    2. Early 80s, half a mile or so, walked with my friends, but no adults, to kindergarten.

      And these days they make 12 year olds sit in booster seats.

      1. Yeah, but think of all the young lives these measures have saved…only to die because of Republicans failing to pay living wages .

    3. It’s not bizarre at all. It dates back to the same time frame and cause as in the video here – How the Dutch got their cycle paths

      We just went down different paths. The Dutch went down the path where the kid-mode of transportation has the same rights and expectations of safety as the adult-mode of transportation. We chose to strengthen the passenger cage to improve safety and let the car take over the public road.

      40 years later, Dutch kids play outside, bike everywhere and parents learn how to loosen the reins and let them grow up. No surprise Dutch kids are the freest and happiest in the world.

      We – think its bizarre that the cage for our kids now extends to everything because they CAN’T go places outside the cage.

      1. We are all a bit dumber for having read that. So your saying the causal variable to limiting kids freedom is the number of people biking? Biking has gotten way more popular over the last few decades, and so has even more limited child freedom

        1. Biking has gotten way more popular over the last few decades, and so has even more limited child freedom

          No it hasn’t and you know it. The peak for kids bike sales was the late 1960’s. The peak for overall sales was the 1980’s. If you look at any bike store (also have declined since the 1980’s) – the only real choice available is for high-end racing and mountain bikes – not kid’s bikes or utility bikes.

          FFS – where are kids biking with all this supposed increased biking? Are they riding in circles round the driveway? Because they sure as fuck don’t commute to school like this – without a single helmet or mountain bike or racing bike or kids bike (this is a secondary school) or lycra. Which means the streets around those schools are also packed with kids riding bikes. After school those kids get on their bike and go where they want to go – in groups – using the public roadspace – until presumably dinner or dusk.

          The end game for the American kid is they will soon be prohibited from going anywhere outside the cage or their house – until 16 when they get a drivers license and are deemed ‘free enough to use the public road’. By which point they will be entitled immature coddled snowflakes whose parents wonder why

          1. It depends on location. Kids ride their bikes to school where I live, the bike racks are packed with bikes. Many kids get around on skateboards these days. We have several skate parks, skate boarding is much more popular then it was 30-40 years ago. My kids left their bikes in the garage. They preferred to get around on their longboards. My oldest would longboard to class throughout college. My youngest has a skateboard within reach at all times.
            As for the Dutch, they have more dedicated bike pathways than the US. They have to. Many of their urban areas were built before cars were common, getting around in a car can be difficult and parking is impossible to find. Also, fuel is much more expensive. Many of them ride bikes due to neccesity.
            Many of us rode bikes to work in the 80s and 90s. Now, every driver on the road is looking at a cell phone rather than the road, I would never ride a bike anywhere near an active roadway these days. I gave up motorcycles for the same reason.

            1. I still ride motorcycles out in the country, but not in town. If people on their phones can’t see my tractor trailer, there’s no chance they’ll see my motorcycle.

            2. I gave up a roadster in the early 00’s for the same reason. They couldn’t see me – I couldn’t see above/around them – and I mostly drove near traffic not country roads. Disappearing in the surrounding traffic is what makes it really obvious the same thing is happening to kid-height humans. And apparently others agreed since roadster/coupe sales peaked in the 90’s

              The Dutch always had adults who thought of bikes as transport – which certainly provides a readier crowd of people who HAVE a bike and can quickly ride it. Americans dismissed bikes as a kids toy in the 1920’s and even in the 1890’s bikes were marketed here as manly sporting/exercise – not transport.

              But the infrastructure – network, mixed zoning rather than massive R1 areas, demolitions/construction, etc – is a result of 40 years of including multi-mode in transport planning and including urban as something different than suburban. It didn’t precede the decision to include bikes on the road network.

              1. Also, The Netherlands is flat.

                1. So is most of the US. That’s not the problem. Not even weather is the real problem.

                  What is an issue is trip distance. 20% of car trips are roughly 1 mile or less. Where walking and biking are faster than car – assuming you don’t have to don armor, can find parking, and aren’t punished to wait around at lights/intersections because those are car-centric.

                  Another 30% range up to about four miles. That is bike/public transit range. But again only if the streets are accessible/safe for bikes/scooters/minivans/etc. That is the range for ‘errands’ and is where those distances have gotten longer and longer (and thus tilts towards cars) over time because of zoning laws, street changes, through traffic and rat running, etc.

                  Over four miles its 50% of trips and it will quickly tilt toward cars. This is where ‘bike lanes’ are supposed to be helpful – but its commuting and is irrelevant for 95% of people who might want to ride a bike more. Because bike commuting is only going to happen AFTER the changes for shorter distance change where people prefer to live/work.

          2. “If you look at any bike store (also have declined since the 1980’s) – the only real choice available is for high-end racing and mountain bikes – not kid’s bikes or utility bikes.”

            Pop into the Walmart, and look at the rack with dozens of choices. That’s what happened to the bike stores… They couldn’t compete with the Walmart for inexpensive bikes, so they focused on specialty models with enough profit margin to keep them in business.

      2. Yep, this is a big part of it. There are so many suburban neighborhoods in this country that don’t even have sidewalks.

        1. You don’t need a sidewalk to ride a bike. You may or may not need one to walk safely, but not to bike.

      3. Nobody really biked in the 70s.

        1. Never saw Breaking Away?
          Stranger Things?
          Kids bicycled everywhere.

          1. Stranger things wasn’t made in the 70s, nor is it realistic in general.

            On the other hand, the climactic ending of E.T. featured small children riding their bikes through the sky, as was commonly the practice back then.

        2. We did where I lived.

    4. Round the same age. Used to have no real boundaries to travel, just time. Walked a mile to the bus stop for school. Had my first paycheck, pay taxes job at 11.

  3. You know who else lacks any adult supervision, JesseAZ, Nards, LC, Sevo, Red Rocks and the rest of the Cyber Ninjas clan!

    1. “Cyber Ninjas Clan”………

      That is an AWESOME name for a band.

  4. Things have gone backwards with the advancement of technology and diminution of common sense. Today, a 6 year old will have a smartphone, Xbox, and Gameboy while living in a sterile bubble of sensitivity and feelings. In the 60’s and 70’s a 6 year old would know about chores, walking to school, playing on swings/ playground equipment, and would use spoken words to communicate with others. Today, everyone has seen a group of tweens sitting/ standing next to each other communicating in cryptic text messages to the person next to them. We have a generation that is afraid or unwilling to speak to people, speak on a phone or socialize in a nondigital world. I am all for learning, technology, and education. The past had problems and I don’t intend to look to the past in rose color glasses. However, it’s a disservice to our children and society to shelter and coddle children to the point that they have greater difficulty and take a longer time to actually grow up and be able to live and work as an adult. No wonder we have a generation living in their parents basement

    1. Bitching about how things were better when you were young? I think you just got old, dude.

      1. One nice thing about being old in these times – –
        We won’t have to be here for the reckoning.

        1. “One nice thing about being old in these times – –
          We won’t have to be here for the reckoning.”

          You’ll just sit at home alone, whining about the way things have changed. But no reckoning.

  5. Most of our parents would be in jail or being investigated by CPS if today’s rules were applied when we grew up.

    1. Good luck arresting them.

    2. My parents were investigated by CPS. Early 80s. My brother decides that we are going to play cowboy and Indians with bikes as the horses. In the westerns we watched the rope goes all the way down to the middle of the person and pulls them off gently as they land on their butt. In reality, the rope goes around your neck and yanks you off backwards where you hit your head on the asphalt. You go to school on Monday with a rope burn around your neck and CPS knocks on your parents door when you refuse to tell the teacher why you have a rope burn around your neck because you don’t want to rat out your bother.

      1. I got investigated by CPS. Nasty custody fight as part of divorce, ex-wife desperate at losing custody because she decided to take off and do her own thing leaving the child at home. So she makes a bunch of wild, unsubstantiated claims and CPS popped by the see that none of them were true. Not a big deal. (And when the judge is deciding custody between the parent who made false accusations and the parent who didn’t, the child wins.)
        A decade later, the ex-wife finally managed to admit that it was a good thing that the kid stayed with me. All it took was a decade of hearings, seeking to re-open the custody determination despite nothing being different from the last time.

    3. Turns out being investigated by CPS isn’t as scary as you think it is.

  6. I remember biking around my town by myself by the time I was 7 or 8 (late 1970s). We let our kids walk to school and go out to play unsupervised when they turned 8. Infantilizing kids seems to be an upper class white phenomenon, where by the time the parents have kids in their late 30s/early 40s, they see the child as an extension of themselves that they can’t let out of their sight.

    1. It’s affluence. The richer the family the more they can afford coddling and coddling services and the time to write a letter to the editor about how kids aren’t coddled enough.

      Child labor didn’t end because government passed laws. Government is a lagging indicator. Child labor ended when automation meant kids no longer had to contribute to the economic provision of the family. Same thing led to smaller families. The correlation is plain to see.

    2. It’s the one child family. When you have one kid, he or she is precious. When you have six or seven, you don’t count on all of them turning out okay anyway.

      1. When you have one precious child, the goal of raising them is till to produce functional adults. You do this by teaching them how to be capable, self-dependent children at an early age, and then letting them develop independence.

  7. What age a kid does different things really depends on each kid. My daughter was watching 4 kids overnight at eleven while their parents snowmobiled (the late 80’s). I baby sat for kids at 12. Yet I know kids I wouldn’t have let babysit at 16. Maturity level not age is often the determining factor.

  8. People’s risk tolerance is down across the board. We have lost our ability to assess risks. I blame the media.

  9. ‘Of course, our desire to keep kids safe makes sense. What is hard to keep in mind when worrying about the dangers of letting them leave the house is that there are dangers to not letting them leave the house. Gill lists them: “Boredom, isolation, inactivity and poorer mental and physical health. The consequences for the development and wellbeing should not be underestimated.”‘

    Gill forgot life-long paranoia and dependency. Of course, to some people (and political parties), these are desired traits.

    1. “Of course, our desire to keep kids safe makes sense.Of course, our desire to keep kids safe makes sense.”

      the best way to keep kids safe is to teach them to be responsible for their own safety. If the kids know what they should do if something bad happens, they’ll know what to do whether they’re supervised or not.

      when my kid was around 13 or 14 years old, she was flying across country for parental visits with her mother. On one occasion, she was flying into Charlotte, NC and her mother was supposed to drive down from West Virginia to collect her. A massive ice storm shut down all of the highways in North Carolina and Virginia, so my kid found herself alone in a crowded airport with neither one of her parents in the same state. So she bought something to eat, found a safe place to sit and wait, and waited for her mother to show up. She didn’t even tell me there was a problem until she came home again.

  10. Keeping kids inside longer? No big deal, since in return we have extended childhood to at least age 30.

  11. I walked alone to kindergarten my second day. (First day mom took me). Granted, the school was only two blocks away, but still, I was only five and a half. I was never taken to school since unless it was raining. At age nine I started taking the bus by myself across town. Gosh.

    Are Americans (small town Americans in my case) just radically laissez faire parents who think no harm can befall their children? I think what happened in a very brief windows is that the nation remembered the Polio pandemic. For a decade kids were not allowed to go out and play. Well not all kids, but kids with responsible parents kept them indoors during summer months, lest they catch that incurable disease that either kills or paralyzes. So Americans overreacted after universal polio vaccination. That’s my theory, anyway.

    But also, there are differences between urban, suburban, small down, and rural neighborhoods. What I got away with as a kid growing up is STILL what kids mostly do in that same neighborhood today. Today in suburbia I see kids walking to school without their parents. The idea that they’re all being overly coddled is as wrong as the opposite idea that the sidewalk to school is lined with white vans and drug dealers.

    1. Around here, parents literally wait at the bus stop with their elementary school aged kids. The Bus stop within sight of their house, and the parents still wait with them and are there when the bus arrives. If you aren’t the other parents call CPS on you.

    2. ” Today in suburbia I see kids walking to school without their parents. The idea that they’re all being overly coddled is as wrong as the opposite idea that the sidewalk to school is lined with white vans and drug dealers.”

      Nah, the roads to school are filled with moms driving SUVs full of kids, who may or may not be paying attention to what’s happening outside their cars.

      In my youth, they used fifth-and-sixth-graders for crossing guards for the crosswalks across the major roads near the elementary school. Now the crossing guards are adults.

  12. When I was 11, it was the first time my parents left me at home alone for the week. They gave me $100 and the phone number of the camp ground they were staying at. This was also not in some small quaint town. This was on the wrong side of the tracks in an urban area. Hell, one of the neighbors had their 4 year old kidnapped by a random stranger, just the prior year. So if anything the risks were far greater than these days.

    I turned out pretty well. Have only been unemployed a whopping 8 days (that included a holiday weekend when not a lot of hiring happens) in my life. I am in the 95th percentile (in the US) for Individual income. Have an amazing job, a stable marriage and brilliant kids that literally, never get into any trouble.

    Shrugs, if growing up a little faster by learning a little responsibility saved me from a life of never being able to get ahead, I am OK with it.

  13. To be fair, an unaccompanied minor roaming freely might bump into a Democratic party politician that would want to bump into them.

    1. That’s why the kid should also be carrying a gun, just for that sort of occasion. 😉

    2. Matt Gaetz changed parties?

      1. Your party’s president fucked his own daughter and his crackhead son fucks his dead son’s daughter. Your party are all rapists and pedophiles. Just like your pal Buttplug.

        Why we let your kind live is beyond me.

        1. Nah, Trump just said he WANTED to date Ivanka. If he screwed up her marriage, he might have had to do all the work he fobbed off on Jared himself.

  14. Cops that arrest parents for letting their kids play outside- especially in their OWN FUCKING YARDS- should all be shot dead, period. Same goes for the politicians who made these fucking laws. Just fucking wipe them out. Make the world a better place.

    1. You expect them to go after real criminals?

      1. Like peop…suspects selling loosie cigarettes?

    2. It isn’t the cops. Blame the democrats who make the stupid laws they get called in to enforce. Since cops don’t actually write laws or regulations at all.

      Basically, the solution to our ills is to cleanse America of democrats.

      1. “Basically, the solution to our ills is to cleanse America of democrats.”

        No future = No problems ?

  15. “Why in my day we walked 5 miles to school. Uphill both ways”

    “What was your best subject”?

    “Walking”

  16. Just another step in the dumbing down of our children in the name of safety.

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