Have you noticed how in the past 10 years the entire US has adopted a "no child left alone" policy? The law in my state says that at age 14 a child is old enough to babysit, but the laws about appropriate supervision for children younger than 14 are intentionally vague. More and more parents seem to be interpreting that vagueness to mean that children under 14 should be directly supervised at all times.
Clearly, a newborn baby needs a responsible person within sight or hearing distance every moment. Anyone who thinks about it, though, will reach the conclusion that there should be some steps between the level of supervision appropriate for a newborn and the level of supervision appropriate for a teen one day shy of being legally capable of supervising a newborn. What those steps might be, and when they might be implemented, however, are a point of great contention.
The New York Post recently published an article discussing research that demonstrated the greatest danger to children playing alone is "nosy neighbors." People who think children should never be left alone because it's "too dangerous" are those who cause danger to children by initiating spurious child protection services investigations and police encounters.
Yesterday, Z, who is a second grader, went to a friend's house after school. After the boys had spent some time there, the friend's mother texted me that the boys were going to walk the two blocks from his home to ours to play here. After 20 minutes, they hadn't arrived, so I went looking for them, assuming they had gotten distracted collecting crab apples or throwing pine cones.
Instead, I found my son running home alone, and he told me the story of their 2 block walk.
First, a neighbor walking to the park had stopped them and asked if they were allowed to be by themselves. My son's friend felt upset at her question, so Z walked him back to his mom, and the neighbor accompanied them.
The friend's mother calmed him down and sent the boys back on their way. On their second attempt to get here, a car stopped at the intersection they needed to cross, and the driver looked at the boys critically, so the friend gave up and went back home.
I've told Z drivers aren't always looking for pedestrians, even at a stop sign, so he usually waits for any visible cross-traffic to pass, even if he has the right of way. Because of this, Z was standing alone at the 4 way stop a block from our house, waving traffic on, when another person felt concerned.
A driver pulled up at the stop sign, rolled down their window, and proceeded to give Z the third degree. Their questions included at least the following: How old are you? Where are you going? Where is your house? Where is your mom? Does your mom know where you are?
At that time, another car pulled up behind the first. The driver rolled down their window and started shouting at Z: "Do you know this person? Why are you talking to them? You shouldn't talk to strangers!"
Finally, both helpers left, and my son was able to make it home.
We had a conversation. Most people aren't used to seeing kids playing outside anymore, so they feel concerned when they do see kids. Because you are just fine, I know where you are, and you are responsible enough to walk from one house to another or play in the front yard unsupervised, the appropriate response to a concerned stranger is, "I'm fine. Thank you." Say it sweetly the first time they ask you a question. The second time, say it with a slight edge. After the third question, you can make the words drip ice.