What Age Do You Let Your Kids Play Outside Alone?

Updated on November 23, 2010
T.S. asks from Nashville, TN
23 answers

My daughter is 5 1/2 and lately has been wanting to play outside with the other kids in our complex. Most of them are a few years older than her - probably 8 -13 years old. She knows many of them from school and they are fine playing with her, but my concern is letting her play outside alone. She often wants to play outside right when we get home after work & school or on the weekends when I'm normally doing chores she can't help with. I have an almost 3 year old son, so I can't always be outside to watch her, especially after work when I'm trying to get dinner cooked.

So my question is, what age did you let your kids start playing outside unsupervised? When I was growing up, I was kicked outside pretty much all day unless the weather was bad from the time I was probably 4-5 years old, but I know times have changed. Oh and my daughter does know not to talk to strangers or to run off with anyone she doesn't know.

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So What Happened?

Thanks for the advice everyone. I do want to state that I have no intentions of letting her outside by herself at only 5 1/2. I was more curious as to what age other parents started letting their kids play by themselves outside. She is one to question everything, so sometimes me being the only one telling her no isn't good enough. When I mention other parents don't let their young kids play alone outside, it helps curb her desires. She especially likes to question why I won't just drop her off at the bus stop in the morning and leave for work when other parents let their kids wait for the bus alone. I tell her that's their parent's decision and that the kids are older, but she is not old enough to be left waiting for the bus alone even with other kids there.

Oh and she does help with chores - vacuuming, dusting, emptying dishwasher, picking up toys, etc, but I won't let her clean bathrooms and floors yet - she doesn't need to be in contact with the cleaning supplies.

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answers from Dallas on

With all of the abductions that happen these days - I wouldn't let my kids play outside alone until they were 15. Too many tragic things could happen. It's not like it was when we were kids.

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answers from Phoenix on

When my older kids were younger, I'd let them play out front by themselves but now I don't let my other kids because it is much more dangerous.

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answers from San Francisco on

I think there are variables that dictate an answer here. What's the layout of the complex? Is she behind a fence, or near a road? Is the road highly traveled or fairly private? Do you know a lot of the neighbors? Do you trust them? Have you looked on Megan's Law website for local sexual predators? Do you have a procedure in place with what your daughter should do in certain instances -- not just "don't run off with strangers" but what if a man she recognizes from the neighborhood asks her to go help him feed his puppy?

i don't actually think the world is all that different now, it's just we know more about what can happen, we hear more of the horror stories thanks to technology. The truth is she is less likely to be snatched by some random passerby, and more likely to be vulnerable to the people around her. Older kids can bully and harass, sexual predators prey on people they know, not strangers. Talk through all the possible scenarios of what she could encounter (a group of 13 year olds have unsafe ideas, an older man in the hood asks her to keep a secret...) not only will you be arming her to play outside with her friends, but she'll be better prepared to deal with any strange situation that makes her feel funny inside -- trust that instinct, say you have to ask your mom first, and then run home!

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answers from Washington DC on

My kids are 7, 5, and 3. If my kids are outside, so am I. No exceptions. The only time I am not outside with them, is if we have friends over and they have kids that are in their teens. Even then, we sit at hte back door and watch. I'm just too nervous. And I'm not sure that will change. Now I do let them run to the car to get something in pairs...but that's it.

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answers from Nashville on

My 6 year old can play outside without me there but I live in the county, with a fenced in back yard and loud dogs. Is there another adult you can trade out supervisory duties with? It is scary out there and people really need to watch out for children and make sure they are safe.

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answers from Houston on

I would say 8-9 years old. Also, you may be surprised, she can probably help with a lot of those chores. Really, if she isn't old enough to help with certain chores, she isn't old enough to play outside without adult supervision... of course, that's just me!

I too played outside with friends much younger than 8, but I agree, times have changed, and even then a man tried to take me and my sis when we were walking to school one day. And in an apartment complex, there are a lot of cars driving through and backing out and such.

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answers from Detroit on

I have a 6.5 year old and there is NO chance I would let her play unsupervised in an apartment complex. JUST this summer I started letting her play in our own fenced in yard unsupervised. There are too many creeps/bad people out there! Someone could soo easilly pull up in a car ans snatch her away!!

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answers from Houston on

I'm gonna have to say that I think if you can't see her then 5 1/2 is a little too young. It's bad that the world is so scary but it just is. Also- thinking back to being 8 and 13- there were things my friends and I got into that we shouldn't have- climing fences and what not- when our parents were not watching. Could she invite one or more of the kids over to play inside for a bit?

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answers from New York on

Depends alot on the neighborhood. My kids were about 5 when I began to allow peices of time outside with the other kids in the neighborhood - but we live on a court with only 12 houses so I could see everywhere they were and there were very few cars. I'd generally fold laundry during those times and I arranged my dining room table in such a way that i could watch the kids outside while I folded and sorted near the window. My kids have always known that if they "changed locations" (neighbor's back yard, or inside) they had to let me know. To this day, they're teens, the same rule applies and when they forget and I can't locate them they know all hell may break lose until I can find them.

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answers from Atlanta on

It really depends on the place and who she'll be around. Playing with 13 year olds -no. We have a fenced back yard, and I let my 4.5 year old out there all the time.I can check on him every 5 or 10 minutes to make sure he's okay. I don't let his little brother who is 2 out there without a grown up though because, while they are really playing together well these days -you just never know! I would be a lot more uneasy at an apartment complex common area. How well do you know the parents of all the kids she would be playing with? Are they always visible or is there room to roam that they take advantage of? Is it an enclosed space like a fenced playground? I think at her age, I would take her and your 3 year old outside to play for a few hours on Saturdays and Sundays. Your chores can wait a little bit. Set aside an evening or two during the week to do the same.

And by the way -it's actually safer, statistically, these days than it was in the 70s and 80s! The whole "things are so much worse these days" argument doesn't hold water. It's that we KNOW about everything due to 24/7 cable news and the internet. Still -she's a bit young to be hanging out unsupervised with 8-13 year olds.

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answers from Pittsburgh on

I have a 7 yo and I'm just starting to let him do this but in our yard. We live in a safe neighborhood but I still worry about him being distracted & getting too close to the street. I try to watch from inside :-)

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answers from Chattanooga on

In an apartment complex? Maybe 12 and even then...I don't know. There are too many dangers out there, including young teens who may take advantage of her being "alone". I agree with the mom who said if they are outside, she is outside. Let her invite a friend or 2 whose parents you know inside with her instead (but be very careful about whose home you allow her to visit). Or plan outings with other moms to the park or just outside where you can visit with the moms while they play.

And PLEASE remember & teach your children that statistically dangerous people are rarely "strangers". They could be someone's daddy or the man who lives down the hall and invites her in to see his "new puppy". Or someone driving through the parking lot that has "free ice cream".
I was amazed that even after pounding those same things into my older teens heads when they were 5 & 7, that when a man pulled up with a picture of his "missing puppy", they STILL approached the car! Thank God I walked out of the house and the guy took off! You can NOT be too careful. A parent's presence is sometimes the only thing that can protect your child from the unthinkable.



answers from Lexington on

I say no. Absolutely not. She's way too young, and at an easily convincible age. The older children can talk her into doing things that she shouldn't be doing, or getting her into situations that are way over her head. She's not old enough, or mature enough yet. She wouldn't want to say anything as she wouldn't want to be called out by her "cool" older friends. Keep her with you mom, or make sure she stays right out by your front door.



answers from Nashville on

well, i am not sure what to say. please think long and hard about it. things are just soooo differant then they were back when. maybe you could get an older girl to babysit outside that you totally trust. i mean totally. to much can happen to quick now a days. please don't put a 5 year old out there alone. also. are you positive that the older children are a good infuluence and not up to things they shouldn't be in to. stop and think, the 11 to 13 year olds are 6th, 7th, and 8th graders/ i was already smoking by then. now a days they do all kinds of crazy things. again please be careful. R.


answers from Los Angeles on

We only allow our 5.5 year old to play in the backyard (fenced) unsupervised. And that is because our entire back of our house is windows so I can see her the whole time. She's not allowed to play in the front yard alone at this point. I think allowing your child to play w/ kids the age group you mentioned -- alone -- is not a good idea, either, IMO.



answers from Wichita on

Do you know the children she'll be playing with? Are they responsible enough to keep an eye on her? Maybe you can pick one of the 13 year olds who you know is responsible and pay her a couple of bucks to keep an eye on your kid while they're all playing?



answers from Anchorage on

I just started a little this year, my son is almost 7, but only right out in front of the house were I can see him out the window and hear him, and only when his friends are out.


answers from Dallas on

I'm still nervous about my 9 year old. She can play out front with the kids now, but up until about a year ago, I wouldn't have let her. We live on a curve though, so I'm always worried about cars swooping around too fast.



answers from Minneapolis on

Don't do it. She's too small to fend for herself. You can tell her not to talk with strangers etc. but the reality is, if someone wants to lure her or just take her, she's powerless to protect herself. There are many good books on child safety written for parents. It's eye opening to say the least. The best prevention/protection is to avoid situations ripe for bad things to happen in the first place.

See: http://www.amazon.com/Defensive-Living-Driving-Exercise-E...



Stick to your guns, and keep playdates in your home or supervised by an adult (not a teen or another older child). Teens get abducted too, and don't necessarily have streets smarts either.


answers from Biloxi on

Oh help me - mine is 14 and I still rather he play in the backyard...if he is out front I admonish him to stay in our yard...I hate when he and his friends roam the neighborhood. And we live in an extremely low crime area.

Be that as it may - in our first house I let him start playing outside without me about 5 years old. But, we lived on a dead end street with only three other houses and we all hung out together and knew each other well.

When we moved to an apartment complex I let him play with the other kids after I got to know them - he was about 8 by then. Again, we had a really nice complex in that all the parents looked out for all the kids - even the adults that did not have kids watched over them.

I think a lot depends on your daughter and her maturity level - is she able to follow the rules you set even when you are not right beside her? Do you know the other kids and what apartments they live so if there is a problem you can go deal with it? Can she tell time so she knows when to be home?

It may be better if you begin having play dates at your home for the neighbor children - then you could get to know them and their personalities and play habits before you let your daughter go off and play them.



answers from Fayetteville on

It's very simple. Ask yourself what is more important:

Your child
Your chores?


answers from Houston on

I let my 7 year old daughter play alone in the backyard, but only with company in the front yard, and only if the weather permits i have the door open to keep watch.

I was riding to the park by myself when i was 5, just cant be like that anymore. Its not that there are a ratio of MORE bad people these days, there are just more people therfore more bad people,



answers from Harrisburg on

Personally I wouldn't and don't want to let mine out to play alone until he is close to 9 or 10 especially in a complex setting. It is sad but these days and times have more absurd things happening than when we were growing up. If you are in a close knit neighborhood where everyone knows everybody, even the "bad" or "weird" neighbor, then they could all look out for your kid, but if you do not know them or trust them, keep her inside or supervised outside...

Next question: When Are Kids Old Enough to Play Outside by Themselves?