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When is it Time to Let Children Play with Less Supervision?

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Dear Seasoned Parents,

I need some been-there-done-that advice. This weekend, a new family moved in across the street and T made friends with the kids faster than you can say “somebody come and play.” After a brief warm-up of curbside basketball, T was raring to leave the relative safety of our cul-de-sac and venture up the street…alone—well, alone with kids but no grown-ups. I was not cool with this and told him so. Did I make the right decision? Am I being overprotective? The buzzkill mom? Be honest!

Signed,
Worry Wart Smother Mother

See, T is only 5 1/2 years old. He is much too young to be wandering around the neighborhood with just some slightly older kids. At this age, he absolutely still needs an adult chaperone! At least, this is what the little white angel on my one shoulder is telling me.

On my other shoulder, there’s a pitch-fork-wielding, red-caped devil leaning into my ear, whispering, “C’mon…he’s gotta grow up sometime. Stop treating him like a baby! Let him have some fun! Let him be a kid.”

Is this the moment I’ve been dreading? Is this the point at which I need to let go of my baby and allow him grow into a full-fledged, rough-‘em-tough-’em BOY? Say it ain’t so! I’m just not ready!

My husband throws up his hands and says, “What’s the problem? I stayed out all day when I was a boy. We played all around the neighborhood, just us kids, and we didn’t come home until dark!” Well, hon’, I say, the problem IS…this is not the 1970’s anymore. This is not the town of Mayberry. Sure, our immediate neighborhood is all sunshine and roses, but we are just blocks away from what I call The Element. Strip clubs. Bars. Liquor stores. You get the idea.

I’m seriously having a hard time with this. On the one hand, I’m so utterly proud of T. He is everything I ever wanted in a kid. He is confident, social, makes friends easily, and doggone it, people like him. In fact, he’s the exact opposite of me. When I was young, I was socially conservative at best, and painfully awkward at worst. I was very shy and often preferred animals and books to people and parties. Oh, I did have friends, but only a few close ones. I was never the social butterfly like T is, able to effortlessly strike up a conversation with a new person. He has a true gift; he makes other people feel comfortable. He’s a natural at it. And I totally admire it.

So, yes. I like him the way he is. I want him to be the way he is. But the conflict comes from me simultaneously—instinctively—needing him to be SAFE. I can’t tell you what kinds of nightmare scenarios zip through my brain. I don’t even want to put them in writing, or even think of them. It gives me an instant boulder-in-the-gut sensation. Did you hear about the little girl who fended off a would-be kidnapper in Walmart? She employed what my brother-in-law refers to as the “Going Ape$#1%” strategy (a technical term). She commenced unbridled kicking and screaming and didn’t stop until the creep dropped her like a hot potato and ran. Such a brave girl.

Anyway. You tell me. At what age did you let children play and roam the neighborhood streets without you? Was it an easy transition for you or did you have trouble letting go? Any advice for me as I find my comfort level with letting my little boy gain his Big Boy independence?

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