How Old Should Kids Be Before They’re Allowed to Play in the Front Yard on Their Own?

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Pew Research routinely comes out with long, detailed surveys of interesting things, and I usually thumb through them looking for intriguing tidbits. Today it’s “Parenting in America,” and you’ll be unsurprised to learn that middle-class parents generally have a more positive view of things than poor parents. I may have more to say about this later, but in the meantime here’s a tidbit that answers a question I’ve pondered more than once: how old should kids be before they’re allowed to do stuff on their own?

I don’t know how this has changed over time, but these figures sure seem strange. I played on my own in front of my house when I was five,1 but today’s parents think you need to be 10—and a substantial fraction think you need to be over 12 to play in front of the house unsupervised.

Ditto for the others. I suppose 12 isn’t unreasonable for staying home alone, but again, a substantial fraction think you need to be 14 or 15 or even 18.

As for public parks, holy cow. The average age for allowing kids to play in a park without adult supervision is 14, and there’s a substantial fraction who think you literally have to be an adult yourself before you should be allowed to go to a park on your own.

Unsurprisingly, Pew says that the answers are correlated with income, which is correlated with the kind of neighborhood you live in. If you live in a safe neighborhood, the average age for playing in front of the house is 9. If you live in a poor neighborhood, it’s 11. This makes sense.

Still, the overall numbers sure strike me as high. Of course, I’ve led a sheltered existence, so maybe I just don’t get it. But the world is a safer place than it was 30 years ago. Do kids really need to be ten just to play in the front yard these days?

1I called my mother to confirm this. She did.

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DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily crazy—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America will move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

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