Childhood Unsupervised: A Thing of The Past?


Motherhood used to involve currently-ludicrous concepts like letting your children play outside unsupervised or walk to school alone. This gave mom and kids a chance to live a few moments of life without each others consuming presence. Freedom allowed adults to have adult conversations (or a bit of alone time), children to have crucial unsupervised play, and everyone to get mini breaks from the all encompassing privilege that is parenting.

So what gives? Because parents today that employ the exact same parenting practices that our own parents used to raise us are now called ‘free range parents’… and they are going to jail.

While I do respect safety, I also respect science. Children are surprisingly competent human beings that can in fact, problem solve and manage without an adult for short periods of time. Do we leave a toddler home alone? No. But do we let our kids ride the subway in Manhattan to get to school? Maybe. It’s up to each individual parent/child dynamic to decide. But I will tell you who should not be deciding. The news. The sensational nature of information we receive via the news is dangerous and downright suffocating. Some things deserve a moment in the spotlight, but for the most part, ignorance is bliss. The truth is, the news media isn’t bettering our lives or enriching our parenting experience or helping us make more informed decisions. It’s just scaring the fridge out of all of us with misinformation and pseudoscience. It’s making the world feel unsafe and lackluster, meanwhile magic and amazement are happening all around us, but we wash it off with Triclosan and dead bolt it out. We’re becoming increasingly anxious. Motherhood is an easy target for the lurking scare tactic.

Even the FBI reports agree that the world is statistically safer now than 30 years ago, thankfully. Yes, we’ve seen a rise in the absurd: school shootings and human trafficking. I admit wholeheartedly that these atrocities make me feel unsafe and want to protect my son. I fear the worst sometimes, and I can fall into the hype like any other parent. But I also know that we are robbing our children of their childhood by smothering them with ourselves. And in fairness, we are robbing ourselves of parenthood by smothering ourselves with our children. This whole forced helicopter parenting is not only annoying as hell, it’s totally unwarranted.

Abductions happen. But they have always happened. What has changed in our society that makes us feel like we have to be with our kids 24/7 or they might instantly become crime magnets? Is it the news? The higher rate of crime reporting? The forensic science that basically ‘outs’ the life insurance hunters? Because most of these things are positive technological improvements that make us safer, so why do we feel less safe?

I don’t know the answer at this point. But I do know that I feel a deep sadness for the loss of childhood freedom, and I can’t help but be concerned about the pressure put on parents these days. My own parents had the right to say “get outside and stay outside” to us on an almost daily basis. Currently, they could be arrested for doing just that. Have we really turned so far on each other as parents that calling the cops seems reasonable? Are we so afraid for our own kids that we feel the need to fear for the neighbors’ children as well?

I think the evolution of child protection in out country is a wonderful thing, I truly do. I don’t even advocate spanking, but I feel certain we’ve gone too far in this arena. We’ve gone too far when our children are afraid to get dirty and us mamas fear boogeymen in the night. I love the idea of teaching children about “stranger danger” and using the buddy system, but we still have to let them out of our sight. attempting to predict and prepare for each and every hiccup causes our children anxiety and a lack of confidence and I think it’s safe to say it isn’t helping us parents either.

I can only hope is that one day the pendulum will swing the other way and we will once again know what it’s like to let our children outdoors and out of our sight without safety harnesses and nanny cams so that we can all reap the benefits that a little bit of unsupervised freedom has to offer.

Do you let your children play outside by themselves, or walk to school or the neighbors? Are you afraid of being judged for doing so?

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Celeste is a mother, wife, and photographer who describes herself a student of life. She has a deep love for world travel, books, and photos. Being an avid reader led her to the more tedious outlet of writing, especially after the life change of becoming a mom. Celeste studied Holisitic Nutrition and Psychology at Indiana University. She enjoys a healthy lifestyle and takes a holistic approach to raising her 4-year-old son, Memphis. After living in both London and Austin, she moved back home to Indiana to raise her son near his tribe and Midwestern values. She now works as a photographer here, capturing natural light lifestyle photos with an emphasis on children and the magic of being little.


  1. I do let my kids play outside in our yard unsupervised, and they are of an age that I feel I can do that. But I have a story to show another side of the way the world works now as well. When I recently told my kids they had to go outside and stay out for 30 minutes because they were super wound up and needed to get the noise and energy out of their systems on a very nice evening, one of my children, who didn’t want to have to be outside, actually started going online to look up if I could legally force them to stay outside and was considering calling CPS on us because she was mad. And she went to the neighbor’s house and told them I wouldn’t let her in the house to use the bathroom (which wasn’t true) to try to deliberately make me look bad. She did it because she got the message from the world around her that she COULD do that. Parents are slowly losing their right to parent it seems and I’m not so sure the results are going to make for a very competent generation of adults.

  2. It’s so easy to get wrapped up in anxiety over what could happen to our children. But they NEED to be able to play without us constantly there as a safety net. It’s hard to find a balance between providing those opportunities and not being judged as a “bad” parent. I do let my children play outside for short bursts of time, but I’m always within earshot. And as they get older, I plan to increase the time. They love having time to themselves outside, and I love having a few minutes of peace inside.

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