From kindergarten on, I walked or biked home from school alone in settings ranging from suburban Tulsa to urban Chicago, not because my parents were “free range,” but because that was the cultural norm. Today, parents have been arrested for similar behavior. But the tide may be turning. In 2016, a federal law was signed that protects kids’ rights to walk or go out alone.
Summer is a good time to experiment with more roaming privileges, which can be facilitated with technology (walkie-talkies, cell phones). But before cutting kids loose, take note of a recently released study that shows kids don’t fully develop the perceptual judgment and motor skills to cross busy roads safely until age 14 (yes, you read that right). Researchers say this doesn’t mean we need to shadow our kids until high school; rather, we should spend extra time training kids in how to cross roads safely.
And if you want to roam while the kids stay home unsupervised, the minimum age guideline (not law) for Washington state is age 10.
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Editor's note: This article was originally published in 2017 and updated for 2019.