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Do you let your children play in your neighborhood?

Original post made by Simon Firth on Oct 15, 2007

A recent thread here (Web Link) raised the issue of whether we let our children play outside in our neighborhoods as much as we can or should. I think it's an important question that we need to think seriously about in our community.

Anyone interested in doing just that might want to check out a new national website advocating for outdoor play that's just been launched by Palo Alto resident and parent Mike Lanza. It's called 'Playborhood' and you can find it at See what you think.

Comments (23)

Posted by Safe Mom, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 15, 2007 at 8:13 pm

There was an attempted abduction on Friday less than a mile from my home, at a school during the daytime in the middle of a suburban neighborhood. There is no way that I would allow my children to play outside unsupervised or play in the neighborhood the way most of us did when we were kids.
Try this: go to the Megan's Law website and type in your zip code. I was horrified to discover that there are more than a dozen Megan's Law sex offenders less than two miles from my is just a couple of blocks away from my house.

Posted by Mike Lanza, a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 15, 2007 at 8:46 pm

When I was a kid in the early 1970s, the rate of child abductions by strangers was roughly what it is now. Our parents were not fools, yet they let us play outside on our own every day. I wouldn't trade places with these kids today for a moment.

Posted by KCM, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Oct 15, 2007 at 8:59 pm

My children are now in high school and college, and they grew up playing outside with their neighbors in our PA neighborhood. We moved here at the same time as several other families with young children, after a period of years when there were mostly adults living here. One of our older neighbors organized a block party so that the new and old families could get to know each other and become comfortable with kids running around the streets and lawns (again).

I always felt safer knowing that my kids knew all of the people who lived around them, and that the parents knew all the kids.

Posted by terryg, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Oct 15, 2007 at 9:14 pm

Yup - they run through the neighborhood, stop at their friends' houses to get more kids, play on the swings that are in front of several houses in our neighborhood and ride their scooters around. I worry about them crossing the streets safely but they seem to do a good job of it and know many of the adults around. I send them with a cell phone so I can reach them when I want to. This probably makes me a lax parent but it has given them a lot of joy and self confidence. By the way, they are 8 and 10.

Posted by Safe Mom, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 16, 2007 at 5:53 am

Have you ever looked at the Megan's Law website? You will never feel that is a safe choice in your neighborhood again. I don't think that we were actually any safer when we were children...I think our parents just didn't have access to the information.

Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 16, 2007 at 8:51 am

When I was growing up, a classmate of my sister's was raped while going home from school in winter, quite early but almost dark. She was in school the next day, and although it was the local press and we all knew about it, it really didn't phase us at all. I believe the perpetrator was caught a few days later, but can't remember the details.

Anyway, it didn't make any difference to us, to our school rules or to our parents. We still walked home from school feeling just as safe. In fact, my parents attitude is that lightening doesn't strike twice and we were probably safer as a result.

So, no I don't think times are really any worse and safety of our kids is any worse. I do think that when bad things happen, they sound worse and are often made more of today.

I try to teach my kids sensible precautions and with cell phones I actually feel safer letting them go off by themselves knowing that they can call if something doesn't feel right to them.

Don't wrap your kids up in cotton, they have to face the big world sometime and can't depend on your protection for ever. Teach them sensible precautions, heed warnings of what may be going on locally, and have more faith in humankind that fears. Most people out there are good and will help to watch out for your kid than harm them.

Posted by Mike Lanza, a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 16, 2007 at 9:10 am

Way back when I was four years old, just after my mother let me out of my yard if I was accompanied by other neighborhood kids, a seven year old named Freddie took me into the woods. He walked me into a deep dirt pit, had me (somehow) take off all my clothes, and then he climbed out and up an adjoining tree with my clothes. He stared down at me for over an hour.

Eventually, a neighborhood posse fanned out and a seven year old girl found me naked in the pit.

The next day, Freddie was grounded and I was outside playing again with a big lesson learned, more street smart than before. The other neighborhood kids watched over me more, so my bonds with them increased.

I'm soooo glad I didn't have one of today's Palo Alto parents back then. Instead of being imprisoned in my house or shuttled around in a furlough program to various activities, I was able to enjoy my neighborhood even more than before.

Seriously. Not all negative experiences are bad for a kid.

Posted by Good Old Days, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Oct 16, 2007 at 9:13 am

I was talking to a Mom about the good old days (with my 8 year old next to me) and that we played in the street until it was dark then came in for dinner and homework.

When we left to walk home, my daughter asked me increduously if we 'really' played in the streets. Not thinking, I said yes, we all did. She was shocked. I couldn't understand why the look on her face.

Then I realized what 'the street' was to her. You look left, look right, left again and if it's clear you run across it fast. She never dreamed of stopping in the middle to play.

When I think of all the fun we had in the middle of the street, it's sad to think my child won't have those experiences. Of course, in those days cars were use to driving down the street expecting children playing in it.

Posted by Molly, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Oct 16, 2007 at 9:20 am

I had a friend who was abducted and raped when she was nineteen. Though the experience was horrible for her, she said how family and friends reacted to it and to her afterwards was far worst. Even though they were trying to understand and help, they made her feel more ashamed and guilty about what had happened. She really believed she could have moved on with life faster if she had never mentioned it to anyone.

Posted by Did he or didn't he, a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 16, 2007 at 9:31 am

Was the attempted abduction on Friday actually that? Could the man just wanted to ask the child a question? It wasn't really clear to me that the man had 'criminal' intentions from the Police Press Release. I also heard that he ran from the buildings. Now that sounds suspicious, but that was on TV news which you can never trust (are they giving us the facts or hyping up the story). I would hate to have all this heighten fear now just because a man wanted to know where 101 North was and did a stupid thing by trying to ask a child.

Posted by natasha, a resident of Meadow Park
on Oct 16, 2007 at 10:10 am

I read the press releases and heard the head of school, Joan Lonergan, speak about the incident. The man was on campus. There is absolutely no reason why a person would come onto campus and reach out to grab a student to ask for directions. Someone who wants directions typically would ask in the office, or roll down his car window and ask a passerby, right? What I really am wondering is if this child was specifically targeted, or if she happened to be the one in hailing distance.

Posted by KCM, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Oct 16, 2007 at 10:20 am

1)This wouldn't be news if it wasn't a very unusual occurrence.

2)The girl who was approached knew to run away and tell the adults about the incident, and was able to provide a clear description.

3)This has little or nothing to do with groups of kids playing together outside; she was alone and at school.

Posted by scary, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 16, 2007 at 12:25 pm

megan posting are only those who report
the worst won't

Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 16, 2007 at 12:46 pm

I have to agree that we should be careful believing all these "attempted abductions". I am not saying that this is the case here at all, but I do know that kids who are late for school can make up stories to explain why they are late and then without realising how it can get out of hand, have to go along with it. There was a case fairly recently in San Jose or somewhere local, where a girl made up an excuse for being late and a couple of days later recounted explaining that she was late, made it all up and didn't think that there would be all the trouble that happened.

I have no reason to believe that this was the case at Castilleja, but I urge caution. As soon as a child says something along these lines, the police are called in just in case. The press love to get their hands on these stories and if they turn out to be false, we never get to hear of it because the same press then stays silent, or makes a subtle apology somewhere in small print that is never seen by anyone.

Posted by Parent, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 17, 2007 at 9:56 am

The abduction attempt was real, and the dangers in our Palo Alto neighborhoods are real. The Megan's Law website lists only those criminals convicted of certain crimes who live near you...and even that limited information should be enough to convince any parent of the need for caution and supervision.

Posted by Mommy!!!!, a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 17, 2007 at 1:28 pm

My kids are all active outdoor kids - play in their yard (front & back), on the sidewalk and in neighborhood parks. Attempted abductions do concern me but I am not going to hold back on the growth, education, and plain old fun they get from playing in and about the neighborhood. They do not always find other kids out to play with but it does not stop them from making up their own fun.
My kids are supervised when playing out front or at the park, they have a bit more freedom in the backyard.

I do worry about cars driving excessively fast through our neighborhood steets while they are out - more so than I do kidnappers. My 2 year old knows to yell SLOWDOWN at these racers - not that it makes a car slowdown but it's a nice effort!

Posted by terryg, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Oct 17, 2007 at 2:30 pm

Your kids can come play in my neighborhood any time :-)

Posted by Please Drive Safely - Children Present, a resident of Meadow Park
on Oct 17, 2007 at 9:34 pm

Let my kids play out by Louis Rd.? With all the insane drivers who barrel down it? Not a chance. The neighborhood has enough angry "Don't take away my speedway!" nutcases that became ridiculously irate when speed humps were put in to near Charleston slow them down to the speed limit - and there is still routine running of the stop signs. The speed humps have helped the issue a lot for walkers and cyclists, but I still don't trust the little ones out there.

Not everyone has the fortune to live on a less busy throughway. I suppose it could be worse - my kids could live on Charleston or Middlefield. There are other kids who do. :(

Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 18, 2007 at 9:20 am

I do live on a quiet street and do let my kids play on the street. The residents who live here know that kids are at play and drive accordingly. The ones who don't tend to be the UPS and FedEx trucks, the utility trucks and other people who "work by driving around". We have had the same mailman for years who feels like a family friend, and although the neighbors do occasionally change, there are still many old timers around who love to see the kids out playing as they remind them of the time their kids were young, doing the same thing.

Unfortunately, there are not enough times for the kids to play outside with each other as so many of them are over committed, mine included, but when we get the opportunity, it is great to see it.

Posted by Palycls2012, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 19, 2007 at 9:09 pm

Palycls2012 is a registered user.

Arm us with cell phones and we will be fine. I used to live on a street where robberies/vandalism were common, and I played in the street, fearless. Now, the bowling green/UC club/Rinconada are where I go to "play", and I feel no fear (going down Page Mill on my bike), armed with my cell phone. If someone comes for me, I will report them. Until we get actual abductions, not just creeps, I have no fear.

I would not like to die, however. :)

If I were the parent overlord, I would let all kids play. All in all, I am safer than I would be one thousand years ago. Lose a few, gain "fun points" for the rest, and I would be happy.

Posted by Safe Mom, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 31, 2007 at 6:58 am

I just read the horrible story about the Gunn High School student abducted and assaulted after school on Tuesday. How can anyone argue that our kids are safe playing in the neighborhood when a high school student is a crime victim just walking home from school on a Tuesday afternoon?

Posted by Terry, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 31, 2007 at 8:43 am

I wouldn't argue with you about it (sounds like I'd lose) but if a high school kid gets kidnapped on a very busy street in broad daylight, then either none of us are safe anywhere, or it is a freak occurrence. We'll see which. My kids are still going to play in our street and walk to school, same as always.

Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 31, 2007 at 9:01 am

As the parent of Palo Verde, JLS and Paly students, I will not make any changes to my kids' lives. If, and only if and when, it is proved that there is someone out there who is continually attacking PA kids, will I make any changes. We can't wrap our kids up and protect them from life. We can teach them sensible precautions. As stated already, if a teenager is kidnapped on a busy street, on a beautiful afternoon in what I consider a safe town, then there is nowhere safer.

I hope that the girl recovers completely and that the culprit is caught soon. My prayers for all concerned and thanks to the police for the work they did and are doing today as extra precautions.

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