Should Kids Roam Free at Disney Parks?

2 Mar

Sure, we all love to debate Disney “controversies” like which Pirates of the Caribbean attraction is the best, or which hard-ticket Magic Kingdom party is the best, or whether it’s worth the extra change for the Dole Whip Float. But this week’s Episode 377 of WDW Today discusses a seriously controversial issue: Whether it is safe for adolescents and pre-teens to explore Disney Parks on their own for an hour or so at a time.

This is a topic on which reasonable people can disagree, and plenty of disagreements are reasonably aired throughout the podcast, and also on the WDW Today comments page for this episode. But there’s one moment I just can’t wrap my brain around. Mike Scopa stresses that it’s not just a question of whether you trust your kids, it’s also a question of how much you trust the rest of the people in the park. True enough, but then he goes on to list the people, presumably because these are people we should be scared of, and seems to imply that “foreigners” and “those Brazilian tour groups” are somehow some sort of inherent threat to our children’s safety. Scopa, say it ain’t so! Did you really mean to imply that tourists from overseas are a greater threat to our children than the average Guest?

I’ll be interested to hear whether there’s any further discussion on this topic during future episodes, and whether Scopa clarifies his words for us. He did predict that he’d be getting a lot of mail on this topic . . . and I’ll bet he’s right.

I also found it interesting that most of the WDW Today crew found it difficult to say at what age they thought it would be okay for one’s offspring to be alone in the parks. Should we wait until they’re thirty, as one podcaster joked? Seems to me this underscores just how hard it is to make this decision, and the fact that there’s no one-size-fits-all solution.

My son is 11 years old, and we give him a little bit more independence from time to time, a little more freedom to take care of himself. And of course we find it frightening each time he takes a new step. But we try our best to give him only so much freedom as he’s ready for, and to make reasonable decisions based on the actual risks inherent in each new freedom.

Everything in life has some risk, whether you’re 11 or 21 or 41. I know my parents still worry about me, and I’m a big girl now! And just as there’s some risk in letting him go, there’d also be some risk in not doing so. A recent conversation with a friend who’d never been left alone at home until she went off for college left me more convinced than ever that it’s good to give children their freedom in gradual, measured doses.

Just for good measure, while we’re on this topic . . . I went poking around a bit online for statistics on abductions at Walt Disney World, and didn’t really find anything. But I will point you at a few related sites I stumbled across:

(Plus, if you want a good laugh on a somewhat-related topic, and are willing to indulge my shameless nepotism, you might want to peruse Mr Broke Hoedown’s article, “An Exposè of the Baby-Industrial Complex.”)

7 Responses to “Should Kids Roam Free at Disney Parks?”

  1. Ryan P. Wilson March 3, 2008 at 3:11 pm #

    This is one of those questions my wife and I struggle with, even though we don’t even have children yet. I can remember my parents allowing my younger sister and I (around 7 or 8) to wander through Epcot with time limits. We could go expierience what we wanted to see, but we had to come back and check in with them every hour or so. But today, the world is a different place. My parents used to tell me when they were kids they never locked the door in their neighborhoods, but that we had to in the evening, and now you wouldn’t let your child out of your sight. I agree that every child is different, and I’m sure we’ll know when are child is ready, or rather when the world is ready for our child.

    As for tour groups, I gotta say I don’t think they’re truly a risk. After all, wouldn’t they notice that they had gained a child who wasn’t wearing the same outfit as everyone else? Jokes aside, while there are many people in this world who could, and would, do harm, I don’t think tour groups or foreigners as a whole should be targeted. I think locals, who are not spending extraordinary amounts of money to visit Walt Disney World, would be more likely to be the ones targeting children. But, that is just my opinion.

  2. collateraldamage March 3, 2008 at 4:29 pm #

    They let BRAZILIANS into WDW? Are they crazy? Those are the people who invented Lambada — the forbidden dance! The last thing I want is to take my child (and yours) some place where he may come in contact with people who can teach him how to move rhythmically and/or become a great soccer player! What is Disney thinking?


  3. sambycat March 3, 2008 at 5:00 pm #

    wow. constantine said “lambada”… that derailed my whole train o’ thought.. anywho, here’s hoping dr. scopa – and i am sure he wasn’t – wasn’t meaning that foreigners are outs to get the little american children. i’m sure he was just saying big groups of people or whatever..

    i thought the discussion on the live show and the wdw today show was a good one. i think the thing that swayed me to err on the not doing it side was the older kid/younger kid thing – like if a kid tripped and got hurt or what if the siblings got into some kind of squabble over what ride to go on next. i think it is a little different to have a responsible pre-teen taking care of themselves, with a cell phone, for a couple of hours while mom and dad go to, oh i don’t know, narcoosees for lunch or something, but , as i think mike was meaning, it is different to have them out and about in a more unfamiliar place with more (volume wise) strangers – brazilian or no – running about than leaving 2 kids home alone until you get home from work.

    i don’t have to worry about this as my child isn’t even ALLOWED to go to the world….sniff. poor mags

  4. FoxxFur March 4, 2008 at 1:13 pm #

    Y’know, I was in line for Pirates the other day and there was a group with an eight year old, perfectly collected, responsible and intelligent looking girl who decided to bail halfway through the line.

    I looked at the girl, saw she was perfectly able to take care of herself, and suggested to Mom that she could wait in the gift shop for ten minutes. The response to me was “…I’M NOT GOING TO DO THAT!” as if I just suggested we stuff garlic in the kid’s mouth and cut off her head. I understand that precautions are nessicary and I frankly don’t remember when I was first allowed to walk around WDW by myself – it may have been when I was ten or so – but this woman totally needed to calm down about it. Anyway Grandma finally decided to wait it out with her.

    I really dislike seeing a group split up because of this sort of thing, where adults who may never go back to Disney are forced to wait it out. Anyway you just reminded me of this.

  5. rather not say March 6, 2008 at 6:53 pm #

    My life was changed forever when I was abducted in Florida.

    I will never be the same, I often think how different my life would have been if I had never been thru such an experience.

    I also often think about so many who , unlike me never made it back .

    Watch your kids close.

    God bless.

  6. MouseDreamer March 10, 2008 at 10:15 am #

    I know that on our first trip to Disney back in 1995 (which seems SO long ago now), my parents not only trusted 16 year old ME to be wandering the parks unsupervised, but trusted me to supervise my kid sister and brother (13 and 10 at the time). She’d been told how ‘safe’ it all was and how much ‘security’ there was by other parents/friends who’d been before. Now that I’m a parent, I can’t believe they actually did that.

  7. talfonso April 25, 2009 at 9:23 pm #

    If a Brazilian tour group from the province of Pernambuco comes my way when visiting WDW, I’d wish that they’d do a frevo flashmob – blare that boiling music, wield our their parasols, and dance like mad! It’s like a spontaneous show unlike Dream Along With Mickey and Kristos (a former dance show in Epcot).

    Oh, and I’m going to WDW solo at age 25, maybe!

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