When I was a kid, “free range parenting," or letting your kid run free within your neighborhood with limits, was known simply as “parenting.” Those days appear long gone and a recent news story has ignited a debate over teaching our kids independence while also weighing concerns for their safety.

If you haven’t heard, there was a story recently about a Maryland couple who let their children, ages six and 10, play in a park alone. According to news reports, the parents told their children to walk home by a certain time. The family says that the children were picked up by police and held for several hours by Child Protective Services, who feared that the children were in danger while being left alone at the park.

Predictably, this case started a vigorous debate over how we can create boundaries for our kids that instill independence and confidence while protecting them at the same time.

For me, it took me back about 35 years to when I was growing up. I vividly remember roaming the streets of my neighborhood alone or with friends. We walked to parks, the convenience store, or visited our pals. Sure, it was a different time and it was a safe community but dangers still lurked. We lived near busy streets, there were lots of people from every walk of life nearby, and we were naïve children.

All our parents asked was that we told them where we were going, whom we were with, and what time we would return home. There wasn’t much more to it than that. I don’t believe our parents were ignorant or dismissive of our safety. I think it was simply the time that we lived in. Today, we are hyper-vigilant over our children’s safety, probably due to a relentless focus on stranger danger and persistent news stories about children who’ve been kidnapped, or worse. It’s only natural that we would want to protect and shield our children at all costs.

Flash forward to today. My children are too young to be left alone at home or outside. They’re four and three. But the day will come when they want to walk or bike to a friend’s house or visit one of the nearby parks to play. At what age will my wife and I be comfortable with them heading out the door without us? It’s a struggle to answer that question. But I do think that we have to consider three factors:

What is Our Child’s Personality and Street Sense?

I think we have to take a close and introspective look at our children as individuals and honestly assess their ability to handle a responsibility like walking to and from a place close to home without us. Are they easily distracted, or are they a follower? Could they be persuaded to go with someone? Or do they know the proper way to handle a situation where someone might try to talk to them.

Give Them Some Rope and See How They Do

Maybe the key is to start small and see how our kids react. Maybe the first step is to let them ride their bike or walk to a friend’s house that is only a short distance away and we can keep close tabs on them. Check in with their friend’s mom or dad to make sure that they arrived safely. From that point, our children might be able to earn more and more opportunity to expand their horizons.

Trust Them

After all, you taught them. I think we have to realize that we gave our children the skills they need to exist in the world, and there comes a time – whether we’re comfortable with it or not – when they have to spread their wings. There are obvious limits, of course. It is simply harmful to give a child who is impressionable or immature the right to venture out on his or her own when they clearly are not savvy enough to handle it. That would be neglectful parenting. But there are probably opportunities to begin giving a trustworthy child the chance to discover their surroundings with a friend or sibling.

Another comfort is that today’s kids will probably be armed with a cellphone to check in – something that we never had decades ago. Also, I would strongly recommend that they travel in pairs or a group for as long as possible. That would give me an extra layer of comfort.

And my children will quickly learn that it will only take one misstep, lie, or late arrival home to lose any freedom privileges they might have gained.

I don’t want my children to grow up afraid of the world and to grow up afraid of being without their parents. I’m not advocating for our children to be given this type of freedom until they’re old enough to understand it and respect it. I want my children to be safe, like every other parent. I am, however, advocating that we take a calculated risk every once in a while that will allow our children to learn life-long lessons of independence that will serve them well beyond their youth.