Living in the suburbs can provide children with a rich tapestry of experiences and a wonderful environment in which to play, dream, and grow.
To some, suburban living conjures up images of boredom and isolation, while to others, the suburbs are a vast canvas of opportunity. Children have yards and gardens to play in, and parents may appreciate the safety, security, and affordability of suburban life. There are parks and outdoor recreations available, and plenty of fresh air—and most suburbs are located near a city, so if you’re in search of culture and the arts, they’re usually just a drive away.
In the ‘Burbs
For Cari Highbloom, of Croton on Hudson, New York, their home in the suburbs is an ideal place for her family to live. Her daughters, Taylor, age four, and Madison, three, are never at a loss for things to do. The girls “take gymnastics and swimming, and love playing outdoors at parks and on playgrounds with friends,” says Highbloom. She does admit one of the issues of suburban life is she has to drive everywhere. “The only place you can walk to is the playground in our neighborhood,” she says. “My kids spend a lot of time in the car.” But despite this, she is very happy raising her daughters in the suburbs. “They can breathe fresh air, play outside on the grass, and just be in nature.”
Tamara Rozhon, of Crystal Lake, Illinois, a suburb near Chicago, is raising her children in a “cocoon of middle-class suburbanites.” Rozhon admits that a specific benefit to living where she does is the sense of security. “I know the schools are safe, the teachers are capable, the parks are clean, the community is strong,” says Rozhon. Her family considered moving to the city to be closer to work, but the high cost of private education (which she felt was a necessity because of the city’s public school system’s reputation) confirmed to Rozhon that city living wasn’t the right choice for her family.
Rozhon feels it is important to expose her children, Evan, five, and Joclyn, four, to the world beyond suburbia, and they do make an effort to explore Chicago. Rozhon and her husband also “openly discuss differences between our lifestyle and other people’s, to point out the advantages they have in life.”
Rozhon knows her children can play freely in their neighborhood, and there are always community events to attend such as carnivals and firework displays, yet her family can still enjoy the benefits of the city.
Your Own Backyard
Sarit Catz, of Shorthills, New Jersey, says Rachel, six, and Ethan, four, spend a lot of time in their own backyard, where they run through sprinklers, play on the swingset, help in the garden, or even just swing in a hammock. “I think it’s great for their motor skills, their physical development, and great for their health,” says Catz. One negative aspect of living in the suburbs for Catz is her area is a little more spread out so they have to plan ahead. “Specific play dates have to be set instead of just being able to scare up some friends to play with from the neighborhood,” says Catz.
City Convenience/Rural Beauty
“I think the suburbs are a perfect mix of the city convenience with rural scenic beauty,” Catz adds. They live near a nature reserve, and there are lots of open spaces to play. “We also are near movie theaters, schools, community centers, shopping, hospitals, anything you could need!” she says.
In addition to the natural environment, there are plenty of recreational and educational activities readily available in the suburbs. Explore your town, learn about its history, or visit your local library. You and your children may want to volunteer at local centers (a nursing home or a shelter), your township, or a church. Many of these places welcome young children, and interacting with people for the good of your community is a tremendous way to connect with others. Get your children involved in an activity they are interested in such as sports or theater, and you’ll instantly see benefits. They’ll gain self-esteem and make new friends, and they will feel proud and excited to be participating with other kids in their community—kids they will most likely continue to interact with through activities and school.
Dr. H. Wallace Goddard, C.F.L.E., Extension Family Life Specialist at the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension, says the experiences of a child living in suburbia are influenced by a variety of factors. “Suburban kids’ experiences depend on the kind of neighborhood in which they live, their personality, and the anxiety level of their parents,” says Goddard.
Exploring the World
Goddard is concerned about the over-restricting of children’s experiences and says parenting is a balancing act. “Parents must help children explore their world while being sure they are not walking into a lion’s den,” says Goddard. He suggests parents listen to their children and work with them to make reasonable and sensible plans when it comes to exploring their environment. “Running, playing, exploring, building, dreaming are the vital tasks of childhood,” he says.
Living in the suburbs offers plenty of ways to accomplish the tasks Goddard speaks of, and Jennifer Walker is taking advantage of these opportunities. Her family recently moved to a new development in Mentor, a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio. The move to a larger suburb has made a huge difference for her children now that their new home has more of a “neighborhood” feel, and her oldest daughter, Abigail, has especially shown signs of becoming more independent. “There are tons of kids for Abigail to play with, and prior to our move, she wouldn’t do anything without me by her side,” Walker says.
Diversity and Culture
Walker adds that there isn’t much diversity in her area, so “those lessons need to be actively taught.” But aside from teaching her children about the differences between people and cultures, she is very happy with the lifestyle of the suburbs. “This way of life for my children means riding bikes, playing on the swings, swimming in pools, and all the good stuff that is part of being a kid,” says Walker. “I think the benefits to suburban life are that kids get to run around and be kids, make friends that will last a lifetime, and feel safe in exploring their environment.”