How old should a child be to visit a theme park alone?

September 28, 2016, 12:44 PM · Theme parks provide great destinations for a family vacation. But, in all families, eventually the kids grow up and head out on their own. So when should kids start taking their first steps toward their eventual independence?

One place where that can happen is in a theme park. On a family vacation, the kids might head off by themselves for a bit, leaving their parents behind in another part of the park. And, eventually, kids might visit the park on their own, without their parents' assistance. But when are children old enough to go "free range" and take those steps?

In Episode 2 of our weekly Theme Park Insider video show, my daughter Natalie and I talk about our experiences with being independent in a theme park.

At the Disney theme parks, kids must be seven years or older to ride an attraction on their own, or 14 to enter to the park unaccompanied. (Kids under age seven must be accompanied by someone 14 or older to go on rides.)

But every child is different. While some kids are perfectly capable of navigating a theme park on their own even younger than 14, other kids older than 14 (and, let's face it, some adults!) still need help and shouldn't go it alone.

And let's not forget parents. Even if a child is ready to head out on their own at Disneyland, his or her parents might not yet be ready emotionally to let them go. That's important to consider. As parents work to help build their children's sense of independence, they need to remember to work on developing their acceptance of that independence, as well.

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Replies (1)

September 30, 2016 at 8:32 AM · The first time I let my children "free-range" at a park was at Cedar Point. We where staying at the Breakers Hotel, and my kids were 9 and 12 (I think). My son, the 9 y.o., has a great sense of direction and I knew he could find his way around with no problem. We'd been going to Cedar Point multiple times a season for years, and he knew his way around with no problem. My daughter- not so much, but she would stay with him and let him guide her.

It was early evening, and they announced that they wanted to go off on their own, and I felt they were ready. They knew their way around and they had their phones. I told them that I would go back to the hotel and wait for them, and that I wanted them back in the hotel room by 9:00 p.m. That gave them something like two hours to be on their own. They took off, and I went back to the room to wait- not really nervous, but just a bit anxious.

About 8:30 the skies opened up with a totally unexpected cloudburst. It was pouring rain, and I was worried. Where were they? I called and got no answer, and got really scared, but a few minutes later my son called. They were fine, staying dry under the canopy around the Dodgems and would wait for the rain to stop.

About 9 o'clock he called again, saying that the rain had stopped and they were coming back to the hotel. I went down to the door where they would come in, and when I looked outside I saw that the rain had started up again, heavier than before. I called him but got no response, so I waited and wondered what to do. Just then two soaking wet, laughing and giggling kids who look like mine if they had gone swimming with all their clothes on came running through the rain and into the hotel. Halfway back the rain had started up again, and they just figured they might as well just continue back- they were already soaked! He couldn't hear his phone because of the heavy rain and didn't hear me call them, but they were fine.

After that experience, I figured they could handle anything in the park!

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