Poll: No unsupervised play for pre-teens

Sixty-eight percent of Americans think it should be illegal to let kids 9 and under play unsupervised at a park, according to the new Reason/Rupe poll.

Recently, a South Carolina mother was thrown in jail for dropping off her 9-year-old at a popular playground.

Forty-three percent of those polled said 12-year-olds shouldn’t be outside without a caregiver, writes Lenore Skenazy of Free Range Kids on Reason. “They would like to criminalize all pre-teenagers playing outside on their own (and, I guess, arrest their no-good parents).”

Sixty-two percent of Americans agreed that “kids today face more threats to their physical safety,” the poll reported.

In reality, the U.S. crime rate is the lowest it’s been in decades, Skenazy writes. Some neighborhoods may be unsafe, but most are just fine.

“I doubt there has ever been a human culture, anywhere, anytime, that underestimates children’s abilities more than we North Americans do today,” says Boston College psychology professor emeritus Peter Gray, author of Free to Learn.

About Joanne


  1. I grew up in a small town and school-age kids (no k) walked or biked all over town and biked miles outside of town, in pairs or groups, to pick wild berries, grapes etc, to hike up a nearby mountain (about 10 miles on bike, plus the hike), an to the local swimming hole (no adults, no lifeguards) etc. Our school playground was unfenced, had a rocky hill on one side, a river on one side and a farm field behind (machinery driving across playground) and the parking lot on the other side – and had no adult supervision. In spite of all that, I never heard of anyone getting more than bumps and scrapes. By 12 (probably 11) I was babysitting regularly. One of my regular gigs had 4 kids from under 2 to 8, and I’d do dinner, baths and homework help – for 50 cents an hour. My own kids had 12 year-old babysitters and my older kids babysat by then. And, they could cook real meals, do laundry and house/garden chores. Given the proper training, kids are perfectly competent.

  2. I should add that the 8 year-old was a big help with the younger ones and with meals.

  3. It’s part and parcel of the larger phenomenon of infantilizing the populace. That’s how we wind up with nanny-state regulations (that are becoming not only more numerous, but increasingly bizarre and intrusive), 26-year-old “children” who can stay on Mommy and Daddy’s health insurance, and parents getting arrested for letting their kids play unsupervised at a park.

    It was common practice for kids to spend their free time roaming freely, unsupervised and unencumbered by rule after ridiculous rule. Now people freak out at the mere thought that Junior might be home alone all afternoon. This does not bode well for our society.

  4. Richard Aubrey says:

    The effectiveness, if not the official reach, of such nanny-statism seems to be attenuated the further you get from cities. I.e. red areas. Wonder what that means for the future.

  5. I think Richard’s right about the red states, at least in my experience. We live in the country, and I looked outside the other day to see my neighbor baling the hay. Someone else was driving another baler beside him. Lo and behold, it was his 12 year old son! He’s a tiny kid; he looks like he’s about nine. He handled the huge equipment competently and safely.

  6. Unless they’ve changed the rules since we moved, the municipal swim center (3 pools including Olympic and lots of other facilities) in our old neighborhood allows kids to come alone at age 8 and I think that was also true of the neighborhood pools. The local parks and tennis courts were full of kids on their own – and that was in red-state, DC-suburban MD. We moved in ’01, so I don’t know if it’s still that way.

  7. palisadesk says:

    The article says this: “A whopping 68 percent of Americans think there should be a law that prohibits kids 9 and under from playing at the park unsupervised, despite the fact that most of them no doubt grew up doing just that.”

    I don’t know where the author grew up, but I grew up in a middle-class neighborhood (no crime to speak of) on the East Coast and neither I nor any of my friends were allowed to play at the park unsupervised. Ever. We could go around the neighborhood, on bikes or roller skates or on foot, in pairs or groups, but adult supervision was a constant. This was quite a few decades ago. One of my life goals as a child was “to go to the park by myself” (another was “to have as many pets as I want” — thankfully I have achieved both these lofty aspirations).

    I think bringing criminal law into it is over the top, though.

  8. Ann in LA says:

    Even within neighborhoods, there can be two overlapping cultures. Our neighborhood as a high percentage of large, conservative Jewish families, and their kids are out and about, playing on their own, and walking and biking all over. But, they’re the only kids I see doing this. The others are never seen at all.

    We’ve allowed our kids to walk a block and a half to a doughnut shop since they were 8 and to go ahead to a restaurant about 4 blocs away since about that time. Now, our 12 year old sometimes walks over to a card shop about half a mile away, and the 14 year old and her friends go out to a couple nearby restaurants.

    Unfortunately, the park is about the last place I’d let the kids to play alone. Around here, several mentally-ill homeless people make the park their campground.

  9. In poor urban areas here, kids play and work together outside all the time. This isn’t a red-blue thing. It’s an economic class thing. When you don’t have the resources to have someone babysitting your kids all the time, you probably have a better understanding of the risks associated with letting them go it alone a bit more.