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When a Social Worker Told Me Kids Can't Play Alone Outside

When we were going through a domestic adoption process this past summer, a social worker came to our home for a home-study. It was simple enough, albeit nerve wracking. She gave us tips on storing chemicals properly, using childproof latches on drawers, asking about our days as a family. We showed her the inside and outside our home.

When we came to the backyard, she looked around and said, "And you're aware that children should never be outside alone, correct? You should always be with them."

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I looked at my (soon to be) 5-year-old daughter and then back at her, thinking perhaps she was joking. She wasn't.

"Do you mean 'near' as in seeing them from our windows, door open and being able to hear them at all times?"


Pretty floored, I then asked, "What age does the state think it's OK to allow a child to play in a gated backyard without direct supervision?"

She paused and said, "I'd recommend at least 10 years old."

What is a parent to do in a society that is so terrified of injury or being sued that we have to be next to our children at all times?

I have to say, my husband and I were both shocked at this. He and I had grown up in a small town, where we were gone for hours at a time on large amounts of property, playing and building forts. I crossed creeks, climbed trees, rode bikes all over the neighborhood. He fished at the town lake—no one thought anything of it. My younger siblings tagged along as well. All of us younger than 10. My mom knew where we were, but I can't imagine her hovering over us while we played outside.

Looking at the 6-foot rock walls and locked entrance gates, along with our small dog that alerts us if someone next door turns on the TV or closes a door, I wondered if we as a society had indeed lost our minds.


What is a parent to do in a society that is so terrified of injury or being sued that we have to be next to our children at all times? How are we supposed to raise independently thinking and acting children into adults if they aren't allowed to be alone, except maybe at bed time? While I understand the need to change with the times, I worry about how our society's obsession with protecting our kids from everything will end up in a decade or so.

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How far are we going to let this go—choosing a false sense of security over the needed independence our children are lacking?

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