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Greg Peck: How young is too young to roam neighborhood?

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Greg Peck
June 30, 2014

I remember fondly those childhood days of roaming my neighborhood in the Dane County village of Marshall unsupervised. Around 1962 when I was 5, my parents built a new home near Firemen's Park. I'm sure not many months passed before I was traipsing all over the neighborhood and exploring the fields behind our house relatively unsupervised. Often, I'd arrive home just in time for lunch or supper. Those were glorious days indeed.

That era of childhood play is largely gone these days. I've dabbled in this topic in personal creative writing endeavors. In recent years, Lenore Skenazy, a New York writer (and Midwest native) has focused her career on exploring this topic in books and as a columnist for Creators Syndicate.

“We don't trust our kids to go outside without us,” she wrote in one such column last month. “We don't think it's safe. And because we're busy adults, that means our kids barely get outside at all.

“One recent study found that the percentage of kids ages 9 to 13 playing outside unsupervised in a typical week stands at 6.

“That's close to zero!”

In that column, Skenazy noted that a mother had been arrested for letting her child, age 6, walk with another child, 7, to a park in Washington, D.C. They had been gone 12 minutes when a stranger called the cops, apparently fearing the kids were in danger. At first the parents faced a felony charge. The charge later was reduced to a misdemeanor for “contributing to the delinquency of a minor.”

I realize that kids mature at different ages. I have a 5-year-old grandson, and I don't think I would feel comfortable in another six months letting him wander off to a park unsupervised, even with a playmate a year older.

As Skenazy suggests, however, fears of letting kids out of our sight only encourage kids to sit inside and be sedentary. Inactivity raises their risks of obesity that can last a lifetime.

So what do you think? What age is appropriate for a kid to go play at a park or roam a neighborhood unsupervised?

Greg Peck can be reached at (608) 755-8278 or gpeck@gazettextra.com. Or follow him on Twitter or Facebook.



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