Is it safe to let your kids play outside alone?

As I noted in that 50 things I did outside as a kid that didn’t kill me post, plenty of parents today are too scared to allow their kids any freedom when it comes to outside play. In fact, the Kids Fighting Chance website notes that a recent study of parents’ worries by pediatricians at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, showed that nearly 3/4 of parents said they feared their children might be abducted and 1/3 of parents said this was a frequent worry, greater than that held for any other concern, including car accidents, sports injuries or drug addiction.

As a parent, you need to get the facts and pass them on to your kids, because it’s not just parents who are scared of this world, but kids too. You don’t need to dwell on and relate the super scary facts you see on cop shows and the news, but the real hard core facts about safety in today’s world.

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But kids are kidnapped!

This is true. Some kids are victims of horrid crimes. But very few.

The U.S. Justice Department released a huge report on U.S. child abduction (pdf) in 1999, and noted that during their study year, there were an estimated 115 stereotypical kidnappings, i.e. what we’d call stranger kidnappings. In 40% of such kidnappings the child was killed. In another 4% the child was never recovered. That leaves 56% of kids recovered, meaning, about 50 children are kidnapped never to be seen alive again. Teens, not young children were most frequently abducted.

Of course, those statistics are from 1999. Are more kids being kidnapped now? Some news reports state crazy stuff like 800,000 children disappear every year, but dig deeper into statistics and you’ll find that still very few (still only about 115) kids fall into that stranger-danger kidnapping category. Most child-minded organizations admit readily that cases of stranger-based kidnappings are extremely rare.

Obviously, even one child kidnapped is terrible. Plus, as Free Range Kids points out, it doesn’t much matter that just 50 kids are kidnapped, never to be returned each year, the bigger concern is that most parents think along the lines of, “My kid could be one of those 50.

However, if you’re so worried about stranger danger that you keep your kids near you and inside at all times, you’d also better be aware of all the other dangers out there in the world.

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Your child is more likely to be the victim of…

Fact: Your child is far more likely to be killed by a car crash, a pool, a parent-caused birth defect or your own home than kidnapped and killed by a raving maniac while playing outside.

  • Injuries suffered in a motor vehicle traffic crashes, not murder, is the leading cause of death among children in the United States. In fact, the CDC states that each day eight teens die in a crash. U.S. National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) statistics show that every single day in the United States, an average of 4 children age 14 and younger are killed and 529 are injured in motor vehicle crashes.
  • Deaths from fires and burns are the fifth most common cause of unintentional injury deaths in the United States (CDC 2006) and the third leading cause of fatal home injury (Runyan 2004). Four out of five U.S. fire deaths occur in homes, not outside, and kids are in a high risk group.
  • The CPSC estimates that about 300 children under the age of 5 years drown each year in home swimming pools. Additionally, CPSC points out that almost all child victims “Were being supervised by one or both parents when the swimming pool accident occurred.
  • Radon gas affects 8 million homes a year and kills 20,000 in the USA alone annually.
  • The CDC notes that currently about 1 in 8 pregnant women in the United States reports alcohol use and because of that the March of Dimes notes that up to 40,000 babies are born with FASDs annually.
  • American Association of Poison Control Centers notes that 1.25 million kids younger than six years of age are unintentionally poisoned in the home each year by common household products.
  • According to The Consumer Products and Safety Commission reports over 230,000 toy-related injuries are treated at U.S. emergency rooms annually.

Year after year unintentional injury is the leading cause of death among children in the U.S. NOT kidnapping.

If you’re really hell-bent on protecting your child, then seriously, don’t ever take your child out in your car. Don’t take him to a swimming pool. Don’t give him toys. Don’t allow him to be inside too long, because he might die in a house fire or eat poison.

What happens when kids aren’t allowed outside freedom

If you really can’t drop the kidnapping issue, consider that research shows that street-smart kids are less likely to be abducted. Kids cannot, no matter what you think, develop street smarts while sitting safely inside.

Sure, teach your kids basic safety rules. Wear a helmet. Look before crossing the street. Don’t go places with people you don’t know. However, don’t teach your kids that the world will kill them if they step into it. That’s not only a lie but it’s created a society of kids who don’t value outside fun and who have no clue what to do with themselves when they’re on their own.

It is safe and beneficial for your child to play outside alone.

If you’re looking for a good video about “strangers” check out The Safe Side. It encourages safety but not fear and discusses “People we know well” and “People we don’t” vs. “Terrifying strangers.” I thought this video was great and especially liked that it encourages kids to be smart and safe, but not freaked out. If you can’t chill out, read Free-Range Kids, How to Raise Safe, Self-Reliant Children (Without Going Nuts with Worry) – it’ll help I promise.

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  1. Vince says

    I think this is a great article parents need to read. I know so many parents who are “helicopter parents” not allowing their children out of their sight for fear of abduction. People really are obsessed with protecting their kids from being taken away like it’s something that happens on every street corner. While I agree we should protect our kids I don’t agree with keeping your kids in front of your eyes at all times and this constant paranoia. Parents really do need to get a grip.

  2. angela.smith says

    I have been told that I am over protective over and over again in my life. I really don’t care, I would rather be over protective than have my kid or my husband and I be a statistic. So I’ve decided that the best way to protect my family is to have them registered to SafeKidZone. It’s a panic button application installed on my phone that whenver they’re in trouble they will just press it and it will simultaneously alert their loved ones and the 24/7 call center that they need help and if needed, the call will be routed to the nearest 911 in their area. You can visit their site and you will find more of their interesting features

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