As the year inches closer to the close, the days are getting shorter. In many parts of the world, darkness reigns — in the literal sense: The hours of nighttime vastly outnumber the hours of daylight, and many kids must play after the sun goes down.
While parents might prefer that little ones stay safe and indoors during this time of year, older kids prefer the opposite; they want to enjoy the freedom of the outdoors, regardless of the cold and dark. Fortunately, there are ways to ensure kids remain safe while they play outside in the dark. Here are a few tips for after-dark play — in winter or summer — that keeps everyone safe and secure.
Only Older Kids Can Play in the Dark
Toddlers and younger kids can hardly be trusted to avoid trouble in a well-lit, contained play space; you shouldn’t let any child under eight years old go outside unsupervised. However, kids between eight and 11 should be allowed to experiment with playing alone outdoors. At first, you might only permit them to do so when in groups, at certain times of day or evening and when you can check up on them every few minutes.
Older kids who have proven themselves trustworthy should be permitted to play in the dark without you breathing down their necks. However, that isn’t to say that these kids shouldn’t have any rules guiding their outside, after-dark play. Here are a few more rules these responsible kids should follow at all times.
Kids Must Wear Reflective and Light-up Clothing
So they can see each other and see where they are going — and more importantly so you and other adults can see them — your kids need to wear clothing that sheds and reflects light. This is easiest to do with footwear: Light-up shoes for kids are fun and stylish as well as functional. However, you might also invest in headlamps or glowing headbands, reflective vests or jackets, flashing arm or leg bands and similar accessories. This ensures that even when kids venture into poorly lit areas, they will be easy for you (and other people) to spot.
Kids Should Play Games With Lights
Kids don’t want to go out at night to play checkers or cards; games like these aren’t feasible when there isn’t any light. Instead, they want to be out in the darkness because it’s exhilarating, some unfamiliar experience to explore. You can help them explore it — and keep them safer and closer to home — by teaching them a few games that involve lights. For example:
- Flashlight tag. When the person who’s “it” shines their light on someone, that person must freeze and increase their chances of getting tagged.
- Glow stick ring toss. Like regular ring toss, but glowing!
- Reflector treasure hunt. Hide objects stuck with reflectors around the yard. When kids shine their flashlights around, they’ll spot the treasure.
- Spotlight. Everyone holds a flashlight on someone, who performs a talent, plays charades or otherwise does something entertaining.
Parents Must Know Where and What
If older kids want to play outside somewhere farther from home — perhaps in a nearby park or at a friend’s house — you need to ask for more details. Specifically, you should know where your kids are going, whom they will be with, what they will be doing and when they will be back. This might sound like parenting 101, but plenty of parents don’t ask these kinds of questions and end up regretting it.
Kids Must Have a Curfew
Regardless of how old your kids are, what they are wearing and doing and where they go, you need to impose a curfew. While debates have raged over the effectiveness of a legal curfew for kids and teens, the truth is that having a household curfew is a good way to provide structure and ensure healthy habits. This isn’t to say that the curfew should be strict and punishments for breaking curfew should be harsh; especially as kids grow into adolescence, it is wise to be flexible as long as teens check in and explain where they are and when they expect to come home. Meanwhile, younger kids should know when they will be called in for the night so they can plan their activities and won’t fight or complain when bedtime arrives.
The dark isn’t inherently dangerous, even to kids. However, things that might be lurking in the dark, like sharp objects, wild animals and even human predators, are real threats. Fortunately, by communicating with your kids, setting down specific rules and knowing as much about their plans as possible, everyone can enjoy an evening of outdoor play.