I have no idea how much to watch my kids this summer

It’s time for my annual pre-summer identity crisis. Am I a free-range parent? Am I a helicopter parent? How much freedom do I let my kids have to roam the neighborhood this summer?

Over the last year or so, I’ve seen a bunch of posts from people talking about the carefree summers of their youth, when moms would kick them outside after breakfast and not let them back in until the streetlights came on. These writers remember wandering the neighborhood, riding bikes with their friends, heading to the pool, playing at the park. You even see it on throwback shows like Stranger Things — those parents had no idea what their kids were up to. It may be a fictional show, but the parents’ attitudes were in keeping with the times.

I want some of that mom-free self-sufficiency for my kids. I worry they won’t grow up learning to be curious about the world, or solving their own problems, or even entertaining themselves on their own when right now I’m always there to do these things. I don’t want to constantly hover.

On the other hand, it’s not that easy to just let them go outside and play. Part of what kids in my generation had was safety in numbers. You were okay outside because everyone was outside. When my kids go outside to play now, they’re the only ones on our street.

And while I know in my brain that this time we’re living in is the safest it’s ever been for kids, and the number of children reported missing has fallen by almost half in the last 10 years, I still worry. I see news stories about attempted or actual abductions…and I know they’re on the news because they are so rare, but it keeps me from feeling good when I let my kids out of my sight.

Last week, my 10-year old son had a friend over. His buddy biked the half mile to our house by himself. Then, five minutes later I heard, “Mom! We’re riding to Daniel’s house now!” and they were off together. They spent the entire afternoon riding back and forth between the houses, relishing their newfound freedom. Do you remember that? The first time you went off and did something alone without your parents lurking nearby? It’s a great feeling.

I don’t have any good answers for the right balance of hands-on and -off parenting. I’m sure it depends on the ages of your kids, where you live, and all sorts of other factors. Meanwhile, I talk to other parents to get their perspectives. I discuss things with my husband, who’s way more lenient when it comes to letting kids explore.

And if my son and his friend want to ride bikes to each other’s houses unencumbered by pesky grownups…well, they never need to know that their mothers texted each other every single time they arrived safely.

Images by Laura Falin

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