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Using her awareness while she walks alone in public, Rosa notices the man, and reminds herself to "think first." She decides to stay out of reach and walk with calm confidence and awareness to leave and get away from him.

Rosa notices the man, and reminds herself to “think first.” She decides to stay out of reach and walks away with confidence and awareness. She’s old enough to say “no thanks” and she keeps walking, while checking back to make sure he isn’t following her. When she gets to the nearest store or home, she will tell an adult what happened to get help and to help others be safe too.

How and when can we let our kids go out alone in public or online – and still keep them safe?

Is it neglectful or empowering to allow your kids go out alone and walk to and from school, ride on public transportation, play in the park, or go to the store without an adult to protect them? When can they safely explore the Internet or other online technology without adult supervision?

There is a lot of heated debate on this issue, especially because of recent cases in the US of parents facing investigations or even arrests after being reported for allowing their children between 6- to 10-years-old to walk home or play in the park without adult protection.

Parents who believe in raising “free range” kids want to make the decisions about allowing their children to go out alone – and point to reassuring statistics showing a reduction in stranger abductions and many other crimes.

At the same time, in the US, there are hundreds of thousands of reports a year of children being approached by a stranger trying to get them into their cars or being approached by a potentially dangerous person online. And there are far more reports of children being harmed by people they know. Even if the kids involved in an incident get away safely, the fact that someone tried to kidnap or abuse them can be traumatic for their whole community.

At Kidpower, we believe that the answers lie in assessing different situations and the capabilities of different children realistically, teaching them skills for avoiding trouble and getting help, and providing them with life experiences to develop their independence. We know that the “Illusion of Safety” can harm kids – and so can anxiety and being so protected that they don’t have the chance to grow.

When there have been a series of kidnapping attempts, having guidance about what to teach kids can increase safety and reduce anxiety for parents and kids alike. This article by our North Carolina Center Director Dr. Amy Tiemann was written after several kids had been approached by strangers in Wake Forest and covers the essentials very clearly: Stranger Safety: Stay Out of Reach, Move Away, and Check With the Adult In Charge. 

Here are several more Kidpower articles that can help parents and other caring adults stop worrying about headlines and slogans like “stranger danger,” “helicopter parents,” or “free range kids,” and focus on what we can do to keep our kids safe most of the time – by preparing them with knowledge and practical safety skills to help them be successful with more and more independence.

Preparing Children for More Independence – A Five-Step Plan From Kidpower
Safety for Kids on Their Way to School – A Checklist for Parents
How to Pick a Good Self-Defense Program
Helicopters or Protectors: How to Keep Kids Safe Without Unhelpful Hovering

Resisting the Illusion of Safety
How “Stranger Danger” Hurts Kids: Teach Stranger Safety Instead
What If I Get Lost? – Kidpower Skills for Teaching Children How to Get Help

The same skills for being safe in person are also true online. These skills include using your awareness, moving away from someone who is not acting safely, and checking first with your adults before giving personal information and before agreeing to meet in person anyone who you meet online. As parents and other caring adults – until our kids have the understanding, skills, and life experience to make wise choices online – we need to know what they are doing. In the next few weeks, we will be adding articles by two young adult experts about how to safely connect with people online and how to stay safe in gaming environments.

Becoming more independent is one of the joys of growing up – and with thought, preparation, and practice, we can create opportunities for our kids to go out alone, further and further away from us, as they are ready.


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Published: January 21, 2015   |   Last Updated: June 1, 2021

Kidpower Founder and Executive Irene van der Zande is a master at teaching safety through stories and practices and at inspiring others to do the same. Her child protection and personal safety expertise has been featured by USA Today, CNN, Today Moms, the LA Times, and The Wall Street Journal. Publications include: cartoon-illustrated Kidpower Safety Comics and Kidpower Teaching Books curriculum; Bullying: What Adults Need to Know and Do to Keep Kids Safe; the Relationship Safety Skills Handbook for Teens and Adults; Earliest Teachable Moment: Personal Safety for Babies, Toddlers, and Preschoolers; The Kidpower Book for Caring Adults: Personal Safety, Self-Protection, Confidence, and Advocacy for Young People, and the Amazon Best Seller Doing Right by Our Kids: Protecting Child Safety at All Levels.