I was born and raised in Japan. Now I raise two boys who are in the 3rd and 5th grade in Michigan.
When I was a kid, I played at a variety of places in downtown Osaka, Japan. At age four, I started to play with older kids without adult supervision at near our neighbor’s property where we always could ask an adult to help when we needed. I took the subway with older kids when I was six. I still remember how excited I was. I truly enjoyed that sense of independent mobility.
I would like to give our children some kind of age appropriate independence and mobility that I had. I think they need learn to how to solve a small problem such as having an argument with a friend, deciding for themselves among safe places somewhere to play, and choosing for themselves what to do when they get there. I think they can learn to judge for themselves without adult oversight.
But most of the playgrounds and parks in our area require adult supervision when kids play there. Children under the age of eleven can't go to our community library without an adult. I am a little confused. If I let them play at playground or let them go to the library without an adult, is it considered child neglect?
I’m not suggesting letting children go to unsafe area without supervision, such as heavy traffic spots, poorly lit areas, or a place they couldn’t find somebody to ask for help. Nor am I suggesting it is OK to leave them alone at a very young age. I never let my toddler play in our back yard by himself.
So I looked into why children lost their independence and mobility here.
First I researched how many children are kidnapped and murdered annually. There are around 100 ‘serious’ kidnappings annually in U.S.A. (serious defined as overnight by a stranger with the child taken 50 miles away or longer). Nearly 300 children are killed by abuse annually, and another 200-300 children under the age of 14 commit suicide. While all of these are tragic without doubt, these rates are at historic lows. Yet people say we cannot leave them alone because today’s world is more dangerous than ever.
I think it is human nature to fear for the worst. Parents as a group decide children must be protected all the time to prevent kidnapping. Cities also must protect themselves from the legal ramifications of a child being hurt on playgrounds and parks. So it is very easy for them to say that parents must have responsibility for their children and require adult supervision.
Another factor, I believe, in suburbs, is most people drive or ride in cars instead of walking. It is not uncommon for subdivisions to not have sidewalks, bicycle paths or many cross walks. Suburbs are often spread out, leading to long walking distances. Kids can’t drive, so it is difficult for them to go anywhere without somebody driving them
Lastly, most parents and neighbors are working during the day. If kids run home from the playground when they need help, there probably isn’t somebody there.
I am concerned that currently in America kids do not get exposed to enough experiences to develop their sense of judgment. They might never have that chance until they have a drivers license. I wonder if drivers who haven’t the experience of being a pedestrian are as likely to drive with caution around pedestrians. .
I am looking for ways to give children their childhood without overbearing adult supervision.