Laissez Faire or Neglect?

let to

An  interesting conversation came up over dinner on holiday in Norfolk last week.

The Good Old Days

My mother-in-law was telling us about her years growing up on a farm in Wales. It sounds idyllic. Lots of fresh air and running around the huge amount of land that the farm owned. She told us how she and her 2 brothers and 2 sisters were often left to their own devices during the summers to roam the land. This tradition continued with my husband, who used to stay at the farm during his school holidays. He and his older cousin would spend all day outside, only venturing into the farmhouse kitchen for food. My husband started to glaze over as he remembered happy times of building dens in the woods, playing in the fields and venturing down to the river.

“Was no one keeping an eye on you?” I wondered aloud.

The answer was a proud “No.”

Apparently the naughtiest thing they got up to involved trying to start a fire by rubbing two sticks together.

What If?

I must admit, it sounds fantastic, having free reign to run around and spend the entire day exactly as you like out in the sunshine. I’m sure it must be brilliant for a child’s imagination and has obviously given both my husband and my mother-in-law some wonderful memories, but I couldn’t help thinking throughout all of this reminiscing “What If.” What if they fell down a ditch and couldn’t get out? What if they fell into the fast flowing river and were carried off downstream? What if someone nasty was lurking in the woods? What if there was an accident?

A Question of Age?

I can remember being allowed to play up and down the street at a fairly young age and I know that my brother-in-law (a Norfolk boy) also went off with his brothers in the morning and wasn’t seen again until tea time.

All this got me thinking. Have things changed that much that we don’t now allow kids to play alone at all?  At 4 and 2, I appreciate that our girls are a lot younger than my husband ever was when he was left alone. I can’t yet even imagine leaving my kids to play out in the garden on their own in case “something” happens. But I don’t know if I would have the courage or conviction to allow my girls when they are older to run wild all day.

Over Protective or Over Scared?

Let’s face it, throughout history there has always been nasty odd people out there that want to hurt children. The fact is that with the likes of social media, mobile phones and instant news bulletin updates we are more aware of what happens now. More aware of what happens in a sensationalist way as the media cotton on to a “good story” and thrash out every little detail before our very eyes. I think this makes us more scared, more terrified of what might happen to our children to the extent that we hide them away and perhaps over protect them. Because of this, I think this type of laissez faire where kids disappear off for the entire day, isn’t seen very much any more.

When Does Laissez Faire Parenting Become Neglect?

I bet 30 odd years ago, none of the parents who left their children out all day (my mother-in-law included) would never have dreamed that they were being neglectful. But just a few years ago, a mother lost custody of her children after a judge heard that her children were left to their own devices for up to 3 hours whilst she did her own thing.

What would happen today I wonder if a couple of kids aged 12 were left to wander the acres of land in a farm and ‘something’ happened to them? Would their parents be charged with neglect? Perhaps laissez faire is only deemed neglectful if kids are left to their own devices in front of TV, iPads and X-Box games?  Perhaps it’s not considered neglect if children are outside playing their own games and using their imagination?


I think there’s surely got to be a balance. Parents have got to let their kids be children, to explore and grow and run free with their imagination, but there has to be boundaries. Obviously older children, especially in groups will have more freedom than the young, but at this stage, I have no idea when that tipping point should be. For now, I will continue to watch over my kids and worry about that later.

I’d love to know your thoughts on this. Would you consider letting your children run free all day?  Are you parents to older kids and let them do this?


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0 thoughts on “Laissez Faire or Neglect?

  1. I think that it has to depend on the individual child and the area that people live in. Common sense should be enough to determine what is OK. I get uncomfortable with the idea of other people judging and determining what is or isn’t permissible for people’s kids

  2. I was allowed up the mountain with agrouobofbothers for the day when around 10. We used to take some sandwiches and off we went. My cousin broke his arm up there and we had no way of contacting anyone. I admit wouldn’t let my children do that now as I think we are more aware with social media. My children do go out a bit more now but with others and have phones. Mine are 14 and 11. I like them to tell me exactly where they are going. When we are away at campsites they tend to roam a bit more but always as a group.

    1. I love the idea of doing that! Seems great in theory. Aged 10 and a group might be ok. I’ll have to see how I feel about it when my kids are older! Thanks for reading. X

  3. Such a wise post, it is about balance, I agree, to let kids have some freedom with a watchful eye and dependant on their age. Thanks for linking up to #brilliantblogposts x

    1. Thank you, yes it’s definitely a question of balance. Age of kids, whether there’s a group of them and the type of area, all come into the equation. Thanks for hosting. X

  4. I agree with Jeremy, it does depend on the individual child. Having said that though, I think people do worry more nowadays than they used to, even though there is no real reason to (other than the number of cars on the road, possibly) and a lot of that is down to the proliferation of the media and information which has given us a warped idea of danger. #brilliantblogposts

  5. Fantastic post Cheryl. It’s gone bonkers now. You make a very good point about outdoors/imagination vs indoors/Xboxes and devices. I have to admit, this is one of the reasons I love living on a mediterranean island. You can let your children play outside without the paranoia and helicopter parenting that has become a ‘necessity’ in the UK. I really notice it whenever I come back. I’d never dream of letting my 11, 9 and 6 year old go to the playground on their own in the UK. They do it here and it is the norm. I doubt there are more paedophiles etc in the world now than there were when I was growing up. Back then it was flashers in trenchcoats. Now, they simply have better resources and access. Sad times. #CoolMumClub

    1. Thanks Prabs. Yes it is bonkers now! I am envious of you living on a Mediterranean island not only for the sunshine, but because of the freedom to let children play outside alone. Don’t tend to hear about flashers in raincoats anymore do we?! Perhaps they are still lurking around but the scarier stuff takes prominence. X

  6. Yes, it is a difficult one. I’m like you – I worry too much about what could happen, & I couldn’t cope with the worry of letting them roam free. But that doesn’t necessarily mean I’m right, or that there aren’t benefits to giving kids some freedom in appropriate circumstances. Funnily enough, I am not massively paranoid about bad people – I know that predatory paedophiles and stranger abductions are very rare, and most children who are harmed by people are sadly harmed by people they know. But I do worry about accidents, getting lost, etc. #coolmumclub

    1. Yes you’re right; stranger danger is thankfully rare, but I agree there’s so many other worries. Perhaps it’s a bit easier to let go when children are older. (Like 30!!! Hah hah!) thanks for reading. Xx

  7. This is very thoughtful post that reflects the changing attitude and perception about child rearing and independence. I just saw a story this morning where a mother has been arrested and remains in jail because she permitted her 9 year old nephew to walk a quarter mile from her home with her 3 year old child. #AnythingGoes

    1. Thank you I have not heard about this story but will check it out. As you say it reflects the changing nature of parenting, independence and what has become “acceptable.”

  8. This is a really interesting post which raises a lot of great points. Just the other day as the little one and I were in the safe haven of our garden, the thought actually crossed my mind that I couldnt leave her to pop inside and grab something from upstairs in the house just in case a fox ran into the garden without me seeing. At the same time, the thought crossed my mind about just how ludicrous a thought this actually was. When I was younger, my sister, cousins and I would spend hours playing in our grandparents communal front and back gardens, and even across the road at the swings on our own. I dont think we could have been that old, perhaps between 8 – 10.. But we did so freely and without a care in the world. I am not sure whether we exist in a world where our children will be able to do that, either because we dont think it is safe enough for them to do so, or because we are so precautious in our ways of parenting. Which actually is a little sad. I think there does need to be balance like you said, so I’ll definitely be having a think about what this means for us 🙂 Thanks for sharing this on #MarvMondays also. Emily

    1. Thanks Emily, I do think we are more cautious in our parenting style now and I think the increase of social media is probably the reason for this. Sad in a way that children don’t have as much freedom as they used to. X

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