"Eighty percent of the reason being a kid sucks is you can't drive. You can't just zoom across town whenever you feel like it, you've got to wait for Mom or Dad to get home, or save up your allowance for cab fare, or latch onto the back of a garbage truck. Your ability to participate in adult-level adventures is thus severely limited."
Generally, in some societies, children usually don't stray too far from home without some sort of older guidance. Children that do go off by themselves usually don't go very far, perhaps just down the street to visit a friend, a nearby venue that helps children use their services, or to school if it’s nearby. If the child were to wander a farther distance, the guardians or the parents would (usually) be quite worried and would probably even punish the child when he or she came back.
In fiction, this is usually ignored. In youth fiction with protagonists 12 and under, such children should fall under the situation mentioned above. Instead, they will wander about their town, the country, or even the world with little adult supervision or even concern. They'll ride down to their friend's house on the other side of town and go to local venues that aren't anywhere close to their own house. Hell, if plot calls for it, sometimes they'll go down to the next town by themselves, or even the next state or country, with little to no outcry from parents, guardians, or child protection services.
This trope is often justified up until the mid-eighties, when media-promoted fears of kidnapping and strangers caused parents and society to clamp down on the freedom of children to wander unsupervised. Before then, kids were commonly allowed much more latitude, particularly in the summer months, concerning what they did and where they went, often taking off on their bikes to local shopping centers, swimming pools, libraries, or woods. Particularly in a Close-Knit Community where other adults would notice and intervene in cases of danger.
In periods after the onset of these fears, these children will have Open Minded Parents who practice Hands-Off Parenting. Other times the parents will seem to be just like typical parents, reflecting the fact that Most Writers Are Adults who are writing from the experience of their youth, when children going off alone wasn’t anything remarkable. Alternately, the story will be set in rural areas where more parents are more inclined to just let their kids wander around the fields because they know all their neighbours anyway.
When taken to extremes, like long distance travel to other states or communities, or remarkable freedom in more recent times, this is an acceptable break from reality. A show involving Timmy and Sally being driven everywhere by their parents and going out only with their family (or their friends with parents in close tow), with them ending their day in their rooms, only to repeat the process the next day wouldn't be very exciting. Audiences want to see their cast do something different, and there is only so much one can do about the home.
Particularly in animation it can happen over time as an inversion of Not Allowed to Grow Up, with the characters remaining the canonical age they were conceived at, being drawn as they always were, but being given more adolescent storylines as the writers run out of child-appropriate ideas to put them through and take the next logical step.
Compare Adults Are Useless, which shows up in this Trope for some works and compare with Puppy Love, which is when kids have relationships that wouldn't normally happen until they were several years older. Sometimes overlaps with Parental Abandonment and Wise Beyond Their Years, and frequently with low-age instances of the Competence Zone. May involve Kid Heroes. See also Staying with Friends. If the reason for this is that adults don't exist, that's a Teenage Wasteland. When combined with Dawson Casting, can lead viewers to thinking the kids are older than the production team intended. Also compare Straying Baby.
In modern years this is beginning to return, thanks to widely-available Cell Phones which permit children to be in touch even when they're off by themselves combined with increased parental awareness of the harm keeping kids in can do to them.
Also related to The City vs. the Country and Values Dissonance, as an audience from a rural area will often think of distances of a few miles off the 'safe zone' as a minor deviation on par with a city kid crossing the street to play on the other side when they aren't supposed to: technically dangerous, but not a big deal, thus varying according to the local environment.
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Anime and Manga
In general, you'll note there are a fair number of examples here, but a lot of this ties in to Japanese cultural perspectives on what's appropriate and safe for children; see the "Real Life" entry below.
Pokémon: No matter how many seasons pass, Ash remains 10 years old. Apparently this is an appropriate age to be given an incredibly powerful monster to keep as a companion and travel around a world inhabited by monsters and crooks with only the company of other children near his age. This may be justified in that this is an alternate world where the societal beliefs are much different than our own. But considering that this is a world populated by dangerous monsters yet none of the adults seem too concerned for the children's safety, this trope still applies. Most of these children have god-like monsters at their beck and call, giving them enough power to utterly destroy the world if they had half a mind to do so. We must all hope that none of them ever get dumped or depressed. There is a Poke-Al Queda. They just suck. (Aside from Best Wishes! where they are much more dangerous.) Since all of society revolves around Pokemon and journeys are the norm, kids seem to have some knowledge about survival. Word of God is that, by this time, people their age are considered of age for journeys.
Super Gals: Sayo, about 11, is allowed to trail her big sister around the streets of Shibuya.
Digimon Adventure: The Chosen are 8 to 12-year-old kids who run around Tokyo with no supervision (their Digimon aside), unquestioned, as would be the case with many high-schoolers.
This was likely part of the reason the ten year olds in Tamers got an age up in the dub. This seems to be the norm in Japan (see the real life section).
Digimon Adventure and Digimon Tamers were deconstructions of this trope — the Digital Worlds of each were filled with dangerous monsters that wanted to kill them and the kids often had problems adjusting to the level of maturity needed to survive, and in Tamers their parents generally were at least initially opposed to letting them go there. In fact, Takato's father, who is not quite as stubborn on this topic as his understandably concerned wife is, briefly discusses this trope with her, convincing her that it's ultimately their son's decision when the Tamers are preparing to head off to the Digital World to rescue Culumon and defeat the Devas.
Digimon Data Squad subverts this with the three main characters being either young adults or elderly teenagers. Marcus is a street fighter. The youngest person in the show that owns a Digimon is Keenan.
In Neo Ranga, the girls range from about 10 to 18 and live alone without adults of any kind.
In Sonic X, Cream the Rabbit is allowed by her mother to accompany her friends on quests to save the universe, despite being only 6. She has Cheese with her, but still...
Sakura runs errands all over town and even goes to Hong Kong with only her big brother Touya (who's 17 years old tops) to supervise. Her brother is aware of her Magical Girl activities and worries about her but doesn't interfere.
Tomoyo has a troupe of bodyguards much of the time, but when needed they are inexplicably absent.
Sakura can also create a duplicate of herself to leave in her place, but her brother already knows it's not her.
Yotsuba can run all over the neighborhood without anyone to watch her (though she does usually have either her dad or one of the neighbors in close proximity). She does get scolded when she runs off on her own. She just never really seems to learn her lesson. Thankfully her world seems to be super safe.
It seems this concept was tried out in chapter 1 but was dropped because it made Mr. Koiwai seem neglectful rather than laid back and a bit forgetful. In the first chapter she wanders around the neighborhood and Koiwai is confident she'll come back to the house when she gets hungry. However, after all the trouble she causes during that escapade he becomes more protective of her. The next time she wanders around unsupervised he does punish her.
Deconstructed in one chapter. At the fireworks festival, because Yotsuba hasn't realized the potential dangers of getting lost in a crowd, after she runs off (the panel after being told not to let go of Koiwai's hand, naturally), Koiwai has Jumbo, Ena, and Miura hide to teach her a lesson.
Justified at least partly in Yugi and Joey's cases because it was probably pretty important to get his grandpa's soul back and Joey lives with his alcoholic dad who could care less about him.
Detective Conan has five seven-year-old children with a knack for wandering into murder scenes are allowed free rein over Tokyo. Two of them happen to be Older than They Look but the parents don't know that.
Somewhat more understandable when you remember that Japan has a quite lower criminal range compared to the USA. Also kinda deconstructed in a backstory arc when the Mouris, before separation, found the Kudos' very laissez-faire parenting a bit annoying.
Deconstructed in Umineko no Naku Koro ni when Rosa frequently leaves Maria alone so she can run off on vacation with her boyfriend, and other adults like the owner of a local convenience store are troubled to see her wandering around with nothing but a stuffed animal (which turns out to be intelligent, but that's neither here nor there). Any attempts to intervene with social services usually ends badly, and it's acknowledged to be traumatizing for Maria.
Lyrical Nanoha. Nanoha's parents practically let her join the enforcement branch of an interdimensional government at age 9. And the government branch seems to have no problems sending out a pair of children to deal with an Artifact of Doom that's already killed hundreds of trained soldiers, which is guarded by a Lady of War with a flamingchain sword, among other things. For backup, they get another 9-year-old.
Bakugan allows some kids to ask adults to take them somewhere by a plane or space shuttle.
The protagonists of Wandering Son are allowed to go to ride trains to other cities at nine years old, accompanied by no adults. On Takatsuki's first trip to the city (while dressed as a boy), he gets hit on by an adult woman, who later becomes a Cool Big Sis. The protagonists are allowed to hang around two adults whom their parents don't know, and even sleep over at their house. Though, to give them a break, their parents are unaware of their friendship for some time and they use vague terms like "friends" - though when they do tell their parents they don't seem scared, just mad that they're keeping secrets from them.
Chibiusa and (even more extreme) Chibi Chibi, whose strolling off becomes a plot point of one episode.
Last Exile opens with Claus, 15, and Lavie, 15, owning their own vanship and running an air-delivery-and-odd-jobs business to pay for food, vanship fuel and maintenance, and presumably rent. They are, however, orphans.
In Puella Magi Madoka Magica, Mami owns an apartment where she lives alone, and Kyouko is basically a hobo. They're both about 15, with deceased parents, and no adults seem concerned about them. Similarly, Homura lives in an apartment with a nameplate bearing only her full name, and is about 14. Discussed by Madoka's mom Junko, who does worry about what Madoka (a 14-year-old) is up to on her mysterious jaunts, but ultimately allows her to go out alone into a raging storm to "save a friend" without getting an explanation for why the emergency crews can't handle it; this overlaps a bit with Values Dissonance.
In Uchuu Kyoudai, Mutta and Hibito's parents were present, but seemed to be fine with them running off on adventures alone. This includes a three-day bike ride to Kyoto on their own.
Stand by Me has the Four Kid Band seemingly crossing county lines to see a dead body. Though it did take place in the 50s where kids WERE a lot more free range and almost all of them had bad or disconnected parents.
It's not quite as cut and dried an example as that. They all agree to lie to their parents about where they're going, and Vern mentions that when their parents find out, they'll get hided. Chris says his father will hide him whether they become famous or not, "but it's worth a hiding."
Invasion of the Neptune Men has a group of children who can seemingly go anywhere. And not simply around their neighborhood; they can waltz into government buildings during high stakes defense meetings and press conferences regarding an alien invasion. Lampshaded in the MST3K viewing: "Apparently the kids have level five security access". In the "MST3K Episode Guide" book, while reviewing Gamera, Kevin Murphy elaborates:
"In Japan there is a class of children who are, well, special...these are the monster children. The merest, most remote chance encounter with a monster sweeps the child into the inner circle of Japanese military and government security and strategic planning... The monster child is a treasure to the Japanese matched only by the emperor and his family..."
The kids in Super 8. Justified in that it's set in the 1970's.
Harriet the Spy: In the movie, the children are only 11, yet they wander aimlessly around town with little to no concern from their parents. The book may have been written in the 60's, but since the movie was clearly set in the 90's, it was a bit jarring to see.
A big problem for the 2007 Bridge to Terabithia film, which is set after 2000. Nowadays, the well-off city-born Burke parents would never have allowed Leslie (their only child and only ten) to go even near the rope or in the woods by herself (or even with Jess), precisely out of fear that something might happen, despite the natural tendency of country-born parents often letting their kids do exactly that, after of course teaching them how to do so safely.
The four junior high protagonists in Camp Nowhere are pretty free-range to begin with. That said, the concept is brought into full play once they set up their own phony summer camp and bring along several of their friends. The trope is also explored in detail—issues like boredom, homesickness, injuries, and brushes with the law crop up throughout.
The three siblings in the French movie Demi Tarif were abandoned by their single mother (though she occasionally calls). They are between the ages of 11 and 8 and live alone, steal food, roam the streets, beg for money, and do anything they want as they live alone in a Paris apartment. They also try to hide the fact that they live alone, which is difficult. The stress of living alone shows on all of them.
Early silent The Evidence Of The Film shows a kid who looks about seven working as a messenger boy, walking across town. The role was played by an 11-year-old girl.
Feeling Sorry for Celia has a great version of this trope. The titular girl, who is herself a Cloudcuckoolander, runs off to join the circus. The mother, who had been worried but expressing it strangely for a good part of the book, is instantly put at ease when she's told that her daughter is just with a traveling circus, saying "Oh, the circus! Why didn't we think of that earlier?" Another example from the same book is when a younger Celia and her best friend were planning on building a treehouse. Her mother is absolutely fine with the idea, no questions asked; however, the best friend's mother wants to know details. The two mothers get in an argument over the issue.
In The Baby-Sitters Club, the eighth-graders are treated like high schoolers, while the sixth-graders are treated like young teens. They're allowed to run around New York City and Europe and take little kids sailing on the ocean, all without adult supervision. Eleven-year-old Jessi gets the starring roles in all her ballet productions, and was left in charge of her 8-year-old sister and baby brother for a whole weekend.
The Famous Five: Certainly there was less helicopter parenting in 1950s Britain, but letting a group of 10- to 12-year-olds go on weeklong camping trips in various desolated areas with no supervision? They have the dog to take care of them, it's probably fine. The books do have them age up a couple of years. Julian was meant to be 15 or 16 at one point. One website worked out, from the pattern of summer/Easter/x-mas/half term holidays they had, that by the end of the books they should all be in their early 20s.
Animorphs carefully averts the trope; the heroes constantly have to make up excuses and lie about supervision for their absences from home, or even get substitutes for themselves. Except Tobias, who's "lucky" enough to have legal guardians so disinterested they barely even notice when he goes missing.
Brilliantly deconstructed in the Tomorrow, When The War Began series. Here are a band of Australian teenagers who roam around the countryside, armed to the teeth, participating in guerilla-style warfare, all without parental supervision. However, this is only because their parents are being held in detention centers after Australia was invaded.
The parents of the seven main kids in Stephen King's IT might as well be nonexistent, considering how they let their kids roam around unsupervised all day despite there being a killer preying on children loose in town. Of course, one of Pennywise/IT's powers seems to be making the townsfolk indifferent, maybe even accepting, of his evils, so it might be justified. Partially justified in story for Bill Denborough's parents, whose grief over the death of his younger brother has made them both withdraw emotionally (even by the standards of the era).
Stephen King wrote the novella The Body, which became Stand by Me.
Elizabeth Enright's Melendy Quartet has the Melendy children running unsupervised all over New York City and the countryside.
When Oliver (who's six) does it in imitation of the older ones, it's not with permission, and he gets into trouble. After that, the older kids decide that they'll accompany him to do whatever he wants on his Saturday, because it's not fair that they have more freedom than he does.
The Boxcar Children series is essentially built on this trope. The children's independence is not only allowed, but encouraged, by their grandfather (who raises them). Henry and Jessie, the two oldest, are only 14 and 12, but they usually seem more like high schoolers and act basically as parent figures to Violet and Benny, the two youngest—who are 10 and 6, but also act older. Throughout the series, they've done such varied things as camping out, exploring the Arizona desert, and even caving, all without a lick of supervision. This makes sense, since the premise of the series is that they lived just fine in an abandoned boxcar for several months before learning their grandpa wasn't a jerk.
Mark Twain's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Huck gets a pass because he's an orphan (more or less), but in general the kids are allowed to go wherever they please, and the parents only get worried if the kid doesn't come home for a few days. A little girl's birthday party includes an afternoon of exploring the local caves, though it's well known that you could get lost and never find your way out.
Lucinda Wyman and Tony Coppino in Ruth Sawyer's Roller Skates. Set in the 1890's, a policeman sees Lucinda doing pretty much as she pleases every day and thinks that New York isn't too big a city to turn a child loose in, "barring a few corners of it." One "corner" turns out to be a fancy hotel, and Lucinda, aged ten, finds an adult friend of hers who has been stabbed to death. The policeman never finds out about that.
In The Roman Mysteries the four main characters border on this trope, and cross the line into it during several books.
In Alisa Selezneva books, the heroine is this. Apparently by the 22nd century children got some freedom back (or at least Alisa did).
The Magic Treehouse series averts the trope by having no time pass while the treehouse takes them anywhere or anytime in the world.
Justified in The Thirteenth Tale. Before they have a governess, Emmeline and Adeline go wherever they want to in the village because the Missus and John-the-dig are too busy taking care of a huge house and too old to keep up with them.
Most of the Stark kids in A Song of Ice and Fire, since they have a tendency to be separated from their parents for long periods of time. Rickon, the youngest Stark at 3 years old, practically becomes feral along with his direwolf Shaggydog. Deconstructed in that the only reason Bran and Rickon Stark can go anywhere is because their home is destroyed and they are both presumed dead. After her father's death, Arya ends up in the company of criminals and assassins.
George in The Teddy Bear Habit.
The Swallows and Amazons series could pretty much be trope namers: allowed to go sailing on their own, even though they can't all swim, from an Island on a lake where they're left alone for days on end. In one book, their 4-5 year-old sister comes along too. "Better drowned than Duffers. If not duffers, won't drown."
Lyra in the His Dark Materials series, due to her interestingpersonalcircumstances grows up with no parents in an Oxford college - that is to say, a place designed to educate adults. As a result her education includes advanced physics but not the fact that the earth orbits the sun, and she's effectively feral, but as a result very independent, Street Smart, brave, and a chronic liar: traits that serve her well in her adventures. Justified with Angelica, Paolo, and many children in Citigazze. Adults can't go into Spectre-infested areas so the children, sometimes orphaned by the Spectres, go where they want. Sometimes, adults even send the children places to find food.
Doris Burn's Andrew Henry's Meadow starts out with one kid, who likes to build complex contraptions, catching heat from the rest of his family for those contraptions getting in everyone's way. He retreats to a tranquil meadow and builds a little house for himself to build stuff all day in. Eventually other oppressed kids show up, and he builds houses for them. They spend hours at a time in their makeshift village until their parents start wondering where they keep running off to.
The kids in most of Zilpha Keatley Snyder's books are this. In The Egypt Game it becomes a plot point because of the child murders in the area.
Pretty much every James Patterson juvenile character exhibits this to some extent, but I Funny's Jamie Grimm went to another town by himself for a comedy contest on his own - did we mention he's paraplegic? - and it's strongly implied he wheeled himself home in the middle of the night.
Books by Diana Wynne Jones exhibit this to differing degrees, depending on the level of Parental Neglect (a frequent trope in her books) and somewhat on the decade in which the book was written. The children in The Ogre Downstairs (early 1970s) have attentive parents, but the youngest child (aged seven or so) is allowed to go to the library on her own in the daytime, though it's clear that none of the children is allowed out after dark. The girls in The Time of the Ghost, set in the late 70s, live in a separate building from their parents, who don't check up on their whereabouts and don't notice when one of them goes missing (on purpose, to test them). Polly in Fire and Hemlock (1980s) ends up wandering alone around a city she doesn't know well, not knowing where she'll spend the night, because her divorced parents have both assumed that the other one is going to take care of her - but it's made clear that her parents are irresponsible, and her granny is appalled when she finds out. Later books tend to have a much elder sibling character (or similar) who can plausibly supervise, such as Vanessa in The Homeward Bounders or Fifi the au pair in Archer's Goon.
In Seanan McGuire's October Daye novel Ashes of Honor, a human child had to live quite close to the school, since she walks, which surprises a young fae. On the other hand, the police only treat her as missing after 48 hours, which causes Toby to think on how they would never wait that long.
Live Action TV
Many of the underage cast of The Wire, in a case of either Parental Neglect or Parental Abandonment (depending on the character), played straight. In one scene from season one, police go to Wallace's mother, fearing for his life. She doesn't know where he is, doesn't care, and doesn't care to be bothered by cops: he owes her $10, and she's "trying to get my drink on." As the audience has previously discovered, the 16 year old Wallace has spent the last several months living in a vacant building with several younger kids.
On How I Met Your Mother Barney's childhood was apparently like this, as he comments that he would go grocery shopping and buy nothing but candy when his mom was gone for the weekend.
The Tomorrow People had a solution to the issue of children running off on adventures with aliens on distant planets or around London that was so simple and straightforward that it is hard to believe: They just told their parents that they were an advanced form of human and were tasked with protecting the Earth. Once they'd seen their children teleport, the parents didn't see themselves as having much choice but to accept it.
Dean on Supernatural was allowed to do pretty much everything he wanted to do, as long as he watched after Sam, which John didn't even have to ask him to do. He reveals this with slightly melancholic undertones to a girlfriend in highschool who seems to be quite surprised and a bit worried.
In the Power Rangers universe the parents aren't seen or even acknowledged unless they're relevant to the plot. A perfect example is the final episode of Power Rangers Turbo where the team boards a rocket to go into space. Justin stays behind to stay with his father. Nothing is mentioned about the other parents, so apparently they wouldn't miss their kids. Granted the Rangers are all high schoolers who spend most of their time in a popular high school hangout and they all have cars. Though the kids going off in space definitely counts (though they return to Earth in a matter of hours due to Artistic license on space travel)
In Power Rangers Mystic Force, there's a two-parter where Vida becomes a vampire. It takes place over several days, naturally mostly at night. We never found out what the parents thought of their teens being out all night, and Vida being nowhere to be found all that time as far as the parents were concerned.
In iCarly, Carly, Sam, and Freddy are allowed to do pretty much anything they want since they usually lack actual parent supervision, though this is sometimes averted with Freddy's overbearing and overprotective mother.
In Round the Twist, the Twist kids regularly wander all about Port Niranda without adult supervision - from a new toxic waste-dump to the depths of the local unexplored forest, nowhere seems off limits. To be fair, the two older Twist twins are 14.
On The Walking Dead, no one seems to be tasked with watching Carl, despite the worldwide zombie apocalypse. Carl wanders freely as the plot needs him to.
Kyle XY tends to zigzag this a lot, varying between impromptu investigative adventures into the woods, hidden bunkers, or just the other side of Seattle, to take down evil megacorps, ferret out conspiracies, or even get a friend's car out of a towing lot to the kids getting grounded and forced to sneak around (and out of) the house. Lying to parents, covering for siblings, and generally skulking about is all over, especially if the quest involves going to a party or a bar. Justified in that they are high-schoolers, some of them are even touring colleges they plan to attend, several of the kids have their own cars, and that Nicole trusts Kyle more than the other kids because he's a super-genius and not a regular, impulsive teenager.
Also increasingly justified as the super-genius starts to change into actual superpowers and the parents, though they legitimately try to keep an eye on their charges, are increasingly outgunned.
Calvin of Calvin and Hobbes is more deeply philosophical than most 6-year-olds, and is allowed to ride his wagon all over creation, because behind his house apparently there's some kind of national park. This may be a case of an Unreliable Narrator, like the time Calvin runs away from home and figures he must be in the next state by the time he's a few hundred feet away. Everything looks bigger to six-year-old Calvin. This aspect of the comic gets even more confusing when you factor in the various times Calvin went time-traveling, or the trip he and Hobbes took to Mars.
Peanuts. The strip began in 1950 but hit this trope due to being a long runner and with the introduction of Peppermint Patty's Cast Herd, who take the bus across town by themselves whenever they visit Charlie Brown's neighbourhood. Then again, adults barely exist except for the "wah-wah" speech in the cartoons, or a few brief appearances in a few of them. Linus's Halloween tradition of spending all night in the Pumpkin Patch was cut short by being forced inside at 9PM the year his Gramma was babysitting. The opinion his parents have of the matter is never brought up.
The Perishers, being a kind of quirky British take on the same concept as Peanuts, also does this. Every year the kids go off on summer holiday without any kind of adult supervision.
Most every character in Mafalda, despite a prominent adult presence. Though most of the time, they are implied to have been sent on errands by their parents, or walking back and forth between home and school.
Rupert Bear and his chums have lots of adventures, often in exotic far-off places, but their parents never worry about their safety.
Mega Man Battle Network: Lan and Mega Man save the world left and right, and wander about it, but Lan is only 11 years old and in fifth grade (a year or two older in later games). Lan's parents sometimes show worry, but he's still able to battle dangerous criminals without being held up in his room. To say nothing about Mayl, Dex, and Yai. While they occasionally can't accompany Lan to something or other due to something during the main plot, they always at least try to follow Lan into the evil base at the end of each game. The epitome of this has to be the 5th game where Yai manages to take the entire gang to a deserted island two hours away from home. And then they go to explore an abandoned mine with predictable results. You'd think after that their parents would never let them go anywhere on their own again.
Mega Man Star Force: In the second game, Geo goes running off to other countries. His mom doesn't seem to notice her son's absence.
Same deal as with the anime, the characters wander about their local region at a young age, with little concern from any adults. Although to be fair, the regions appear to so small that if one chucked a rock hard enough, it could cross several cities. It also makes sense that only children with tamed Pokémon are allowed to roam freely. It seems to almost be a rite of passage. Even then most child trainers don't appear to really go far from home until they're in their late teens (Ace Trainers for example). However it's a bit odd seeing very young trainers such as the kids you see at beaches and Twins being farther from home then Campers and Youngsters. The beach kids, at least, usually make some reference to their parents being around (in RBY, one of them notes that her mom won't let her swim without a float ring). It's just that they didn't want to spend the memory on putting extras around.
Deconstructed in Black and White, as Bianca's father goes nuts at the thought of his daughter traveling out there alone in the dangerous world. Reconstructed as he's reminded that his daughter isn't alone as she has friends and monster bodyguards, and that roaming the world is a good way to expand one's horizons.
It has your character's child wandering about the valley (mostly to and from Vesta's ranch).
Happens in Cute and the Wonderful Life sub-series too. This can be justified being that the valley is pretty small, there's really nowhere to go, it's safe, and everyone knows each other.
Nine-year-old Pearl is incredibly sheltered in Ace Attorney and barely knows anything about the outside world, probably because of her mother. However, after Morgan's arrest it can be assumed that the other women in the village are taking care of her. So why do these women let Pearl walk to Los Angeles by herself (a two hour train ride from the village) and constantly hang out with Maya and Nick? Is anyone paying attention to this kid? But it's because that's a Japanese game, and portrays mainly Japanese society with someEagleland Osmosis. It's pretty normal in Japan for nine year old kids to commute around all by themselves. Even sheltered ones.
The firsttwoMOTHER games are somewhat egregious examples, but MOTHER 3 justifies it by having the island be a former utopia.
In EarthBound, Ness realizes his tremendous role as leader of The Chosen Four, gaining support from his family and his close friends in his hometown, Paula's parents know their daughter has a destiny to fulfill (and how strong she and Ness are), Dr. Andonuts believes that Jeff can take care of himself, despite the fact that they haven't seen each other for 10 years, and Prince Poo is on a mission from his ancestors, something his people take very seriously.
In Sims 3, any Sim older than toddler can go anywhere in town the player or their own free will sends them, subject to curfew restrictions on children and teens.
Final Fantasy X-2. Well, of course. The world of Spira is filled with children who have been made orphans due to Sin killing off the parents. Some, such as Shinra, have found new guardians, at least, of a sort. Others, such as a Calli, Lian & Ayde and the Kinderguardians are definitely very free range. Many of them are more than capable of fighting basic fiends and journey the globe much like the player characters.
The original also deserves a mention: Rikku is only 15 for the duration of the story, and Cid seems fine with letting her hop across Spira, by foot or airship - even inside the Big Bad Sin. Possibly justified by the fact that she is a capable fighter, and she's travelling with several older people (ranging in age from 17 to 35), one of whom is a legendary guardian.
Most Sonic the Hedgehog characters are minors (Tails is 8, Sonic is 15, Amy is 12, etc.) but only three have characters that could be their legal guardians - Cream the Rabbit, who has her mother Vanilla, as well as Charmy Bee and Espio the Chameleon, who have Vector the Crocodile. The latter is a guess, but it makes sense. Charmy and Cream are the youngest characters, both being 6, but everyone from age 7 and up (minus Espio) seems not to even have parents, or any legal guardian for that matter. There's only a few cases where the lack makes ANY sense: With Knuckles, as he's the only echidna left outside of the Twilight Cage. Tails was the only inhabitant of a very small island before meeting Sonic. It's not clear what happened to his parents. Sonic, as his parents could be there and just not have caught up...
Rather disturbingly played in Limbo, where the child protagonist wanders through a forest and a seemingly-abandoned factory. Other children try to kill you. There are no adults.
The Disgaea series often has adolescent protagonists who operate with no adult supervision, even traveling to other universes, and fighting constantly. Justified since the characters are mostly demons, meaning A) they are actually Really 700 Years Old, they just have the bodies and maturity of teenagers, B) demonic parents (if they are still around at all) don't really care what they get up to (best seen in Disgaea 3 where Raspberyl and her friends give themselves a curfew specifically to annoy their parents) and C) they are so powerful that they wield abilities like punching people into the sun or landing meteors on their enemies heads.
Chrono Trigger: Zig-zagged. Chrono, Marle and Lucca are all fifteen years old, and hopping across time and space. Chrono's mother doesn't seem all that bothered by her son running off, beyond mildly chastising him for not stopping by more often. Marle's father (the king) insists that she stay at the castle and behave like a real princess (Marle being Marle, she has none of it). Lucca's father seems to actively encourage their adventuring, given that he periodically gives you equipment for Lucca. Her mother, on the other hand, is a justified case as she's paralysed from the neck down. Even if you change this, however, she still seems quite content to let her only daughter go and do whatever she wants.
Precocious has the Sapphire Lake kids (and on occasion others) wandering around the neighbourhood, and in one arc they go downtown. Tiffany's thoughts? 'I was told lowlifes and villains hang out here [the corner of Cruelty Ave and Evil Rd]. But it's only us! Where are they?'
Kana from Greek Ninja. She wanders so far from home that until she leads Sasha and the team there, all of them are ouffing and panting, and were not talking ordinary people here, but trained ninjas and warriors.
MSF High Forums: Neko. So, very much. Played perfectly straight, too, without any playing with the trope whatsoever.
Deconstructed, in a way, in Avatar: The Last Airbender , where a bunch of kids can travel around the world because, with the exception of a few characters, all of their parents are either dead or busy fighting the war. It doesn't help that every one of the kids is essentially a Child Soldier.
Lilo & Stitch: The Series: Lilo is about 9 years old and yet she and Stitch run about Hawaii finding Stitch's cousins with little older supervision. Mertle, who says she's the best hula dancer in the seven year old division in Lilo and Stitch 2: Stitch has a Glitch, also seems to have a bit more freedom than most children as she travels with her friends. It is kind of justified that Lilo's allowed some freedom after Stitch joins the Ohana, though. Do you want to imagine what would happen to a normal person who tried to harm or kidnap the girl while her super-strong and rather protective alien "dog" was there?
Hey Arnold!: The kids in the story are about 9 years old and in fourth grade, but they run about the city with little concern from their parents. Their maturity level also seems to suggest middle/high schoolers opposed to elementary schoolers.
Doug: The sixth-graders seem to be much more like high schoolers, even though it is stated that Doug is only about 11. The gang run about their town with little concern from Mom and Dad, although Doug sometimes needs his older sister to drive him places.
Arthur: Many scenes in many episodes involve the main 8-year-old third-grader cast biking around the town (which was relatively large) by themselves, eating out at the local ice cream parlor, with no parents in tow. Looking at these kids, they seemed more like middle schoolers/early high schoolers than elementary schoolers.
South Park: The kids are the same age as those from Arthur and have even more "adult" adventures, with little interference from their parents. There was one episode where Stan goes to New York to return a margarita maker, and you never see Randy or Sharon questioning where their son has gone, despite the fact he's on the other side of the country by himself. In "Night of the Living Homeless," they go so far as to applaud the fact that the boys are driving a bus cross-country by themselves, as it spares them the trouble of stopping the homeless problem. On the very rare occasions when their parents are aware that they're missing, the approach they take to getting them back is...less than effective, to say the least. Then again, all of the adults on South Park have the Idiot Ball every episode. The kids have also been to Ethiopia, Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Peru, Imaginationland, at least two other solar systems, and Canada.
Despite being grounded for most of South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut, Stan, Kyle, and Cartman are still free to roam the town as they please, largely because their parents are too busy waging war on their behalf to keep track of where their children are.
The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius: Jimmy and friends, whom are in probably fifth grade, are given incredibly free rein, often making trips to space, Egypt, and the depths of the ocean with minimum interference from parents. There are a few instances where Jimmy is prevented from flying in his homemade rocket into space (Without a space helmet even!) before finishing his chores, but still, that is incredibly free rein. On a typical day, the kids will go down to the local fast food joint to hang out, and their parents are nowhere in sight.
Subverted in The Movie, where the plot revolved around the kids feeling annoyed about the restrictions their parents keep placing on them. But really, the only thing they kept him from doing was going to a theme park on a school night, which really isn't that bad.
Kim Possible is only a teenager, but her parents have no problem with her traveling the world and defeating evil masterminds, just as long as she doesn't go out with any boys. Still, she's somehow managed to build a global network of contacts that she's done favors for and can get a ride to anywhere on Earth.
A Pup Named Scooby-Doo: Their parents are mentioned and even shown a few times, yet they hardly ever give the kids any restrictions, allowing them to run freely around Coolsville, running from creeps and unmasking them.
It is also (coincidentally?) the trope namer, as this phrase is seen in the Halloween episode, Treehouse of Horror V, although it was used rather more literally in that context, the opposite / an inversion of this trope.
As they tiptoe down the hall, Bart can't resist looking into the detention room. It's now set up with small cages in which children are given some sort of IV. Martin looks haggard in his cage and he shakes convulsively, bringing an admonishment from Skinner: "Easy there, young man, you'll only make yourself tired and stringy. Now, to check on the free-range children," he continues, looking out the window at a pasture of children running around. (Thanks to SNPP.com)
Stewie Griffin from Family Guy: A 1-year-old who is able get his hands on the parts to construct superscientific devices and weapons and is frequently far from home, with little concern from Lois. Lack of concern from Peter is expected, though. However, he's still working on how to use the toilet. Stewie, that is.
Well, Peter too, sometimes.
All Grown Up!: One particular episode involved the 11-year-olds Tommy and Chuckie going down to a warehouse in another part of town at night where two possible criminals could have been working, in order to protect Kimi.
Captain Planet and the Planeteers: The kids run all about saving the Earth, but we never hear any complaints from any of the moms and dads about what their kids are doing (the one or two that are still alive, that is).
Would you argue with the Spirit of the Earth? Or your kids if they had super powers they could kill you with?
Rocket Power: The late elementary school cast runs all about Ocean Shores with little concern from their parents. To be fair, Ray tends to be laid back about everything, except when the gang really screws up. He also works in a restaurant near the beach and skate park, where the kids usually are. Twister's parents, just say to him when he gets in trouble, "We'll talk about this later," and little is usually shown after that. Sam's mom is pretty fussy, but he still tags along wherever the gang goes. And presumably, she wants him to be within a certain area where he can contact an adult.
Also it looks like the kids are more around a certain area of Ocean shores. Most of the action takes place around their cul-de-sac and the pier which is right where Ray works. (He's also pretty laid back anyways) There are a couple occasions where they appear to go outside the zone and have to use a GPS, or get in trouble when they're caught doing something unsafe like surfing in a channel.
Ed, Edd n Eddy is usually an aversion, as the action is typically restricted to the cul-de-sac and adjacent areas, like in plenty other suburban areas. For the Big Damn Movie, however, the characters travel across country without supervision (justified with the Eds, who are essentially on the lam, not so much for the others), crossing sweltering deserts, festering swamps, and abandoned factories. The Eds are even "driving" a car at one point (meaning that Ed is running through the bottom of the car, Flintstones style).
On The Fairly OddParents, Timmy and the other kids will be seen wandering the town on their own when the plot calls for it. One episode had Timmy biking through the desert and at a fast food restaurant at night without his parents. He also tends to spend extended amounts of time in Fairy World without his parents noticing.
As in South Park, 99% of the adults in the show aren't exactly the brightest bulbs on the tree.
Invader Zim: None of the parents seem to pay any attention to their kids, but Dib and Gaz have extra free range on account of their dad being a CloudcuckoolanderMad Scientist. One episode seems to lampshade the trope when Zim himself gets lost by trying to go to a different part of town on his own.
On Rupert, Rupert and his friends travel around the world and back, consort with all sorts of mythological creatures... and then are told by their parents that they're too young to go camping out without parental supervision.
Ben 10: Part of Ben and his cousin Gwens' free rein comes from their grandfather Max, who drives them around the USA for their summer camping trip. Still, being part of an interstellar policing counter-terrorist organization would give him the common sense to keep better watch around Ben (who's only ten), who happens to have the most powerful transforming technology in the galaxy but repeatedly disregards caution and attacks alien evildoers with no concern for the consequences. Same goes for Gwen, but her surprising maturity in accessing dangerous situations sort of justifies the lack of supervision. Also the fact that Max should be in his 60s and is not as physically fit as he was in his younger days.
Surprisingly averted in the sequel series, Ben 10: Alien Force, where Ben has matured noticeably from his hyperactive young self, but still happens to be a 15 year old boy dealing in potentially fatal missions both on Earth, space, and other planets. The only reason his parents don't put the leash on him is because they are not even aware of his escapades until the episode "Grounded", afterward they forbid him from using his omnitrix and restrict his day-to-day activities for fear of his safety. Which he promptly ignores because there's absolutely nothing they can do to enforce it when he can transform at will into dozens of super-powered aliens. It doesn't even take all of an episode for his parents to realize his being a superhero is more important.
Touched upon in Rugrats. The parents keep the kids in a play pen, but they just walk away from them after they are put away, allowing them to escape and roam about with no interference. This gets ridiculous in one episode, in which the parents are visiting a store. They put the kids down, and literally walk away like it is nobody's business.
"How could this have happened?! We're always so careful with the kids!"
This trope may be an understatement in Codename: Kids Next Door. The child-based organization's operatives get their training in an Arctic Base built in the coldest part of Antarctica, they are brought to the Moon (toward the KND Moonbase, natch) to be submitted into the KND when training's finished, and while they're KND Operative, usually depending on their job within the KND, may sent anywhere in the world, All with their parents taking little to no notice.
In some cases their parents notice, and often even approve. In fact, curiously enough, while the KDN oppose and fight evil adults, they tend to respect and obey their parents.
Depending on the cutoff age for "children", the thirteen-year olds Beavis And Butthead may qualify. Almost every episode involves them walking around town causing trouble for everyone else. As their parents are never seen, one wonders if they even have parents.
In The Movie they travel all around the country from their town in Texas, to the Grand Canyon to Washington D.C., just to get their TV back. All the while (accidentally) foiling a terrorist plot. And the parents situation is explained too.
In Daria, the high-school aged kids walk around Lawndale without a drivers license until later on.
My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic has the Cutie Mark Crusaders, able to wander all over town and the overlying regions with no supervision, even into the local Eldritch Location on occasion. Only Sweetie Belle is confirmed as having parents; we don't even know if the other two have parents, although Apple Bloom has older siblings.
It's debatable exactly how old the CMC are, however. If one views Cutie Marks as an analogy to puberty the trio could very well be the equivalent of 9 or 10 in human years (possibly even older) which is plenty old enough to be wandering around a sleepy rural village on their own.
Subverted in the episode "Dragon Quest", where the girls let Spike go alone on a quest to join migrating dragons, but it turns out they were planning to follow him all along anyway.
In "Just for Sidekicks," nobody apparently bats an eye at them being missing while they head off with Spike on a train ride to the Crystal Empire.
Fanboy and Chum Chum apparently take care of themselves; in fact, their parents are unmentioned. The same with Kyle. They still do attend school though.
Gary and Joel are Unsupervised, they have no parents with them, and are left to figure everything out by themselves.
Viciously deconstructed in Disney's The Rescuers Down Under. Cody is free to run around the local areas of the Australian outback...but runs into the film's villain (A poacher) and...then you have the plot of the movie. Adult Fear doesn't even begin to describe it.
The heroes in She Zow are able to go to far-off places thanks to the Shehicle.
Inspector Gadget doesn't seem to keep that close an eye on Penny, although she does seem to fly around often with the family dog Brain. Then again, maybe that's for the best ...
Note: The following ranges from the tragic note Third World countries where the eldest sibling must take care of his younger charges due to dead parents, or in ghettos, where apathetic or drugged-out parents make for kids raising themselves on the street to the normal note some parents are less restrictive than others, or it is more culturally acceptable in that area. There's been controversy over a mom allowing her children to take the New York City Subway routes unsupervised, and there's been many people from the American South who learned how to drive by themselves.
The mother who let her son take the subway, Lenore Skenazy, also has a book called Free-Range Kids, How to Raise Safe, Self-Reliant Children (Without Going Nuts with Worry). It offers advice for parents regarding this concept. Could be considered the Trope Namer. There's also her website: 
There have been cases of people calling CPS on parents for letting their kids walk home from school alone, and we're not even talking somewhere like Los Angeles.
A Dutch correspondent living in the USA made a satirical article about that controversy. A thing like letting your child go across town with public transport or by bike is considered perfectly normal in some countries, even other 'first-world' countries.
A good example of that is Japan. Mainly, this is because violent crime is exceptionally uncommon there, so they don't have to worry so much about strange people on the subways abducting kids. It is not unusual to see nine and ten-year-olds using trains without adults, but they will usually be in groups of three or four, so it is not so bad (although accidents and crime can and do occasionally happen). This, of course, also ties into a plethora of anime examples featuring ordinary students as protagonists, from Slice of Life pieces to your average Super Robot, Magical Girl, Occult Detective and Mons fare, including the headlining Pokemon example. While Western Media Watchdogs tend to use the Don't Try This at Home disclaimers even for situations impossible in real life, the Japanese tend to find the situations presented in media far less perplexing than English-speaking audiences do (and are, perhaps, more confused by Western bemusement over the concept).
Russia, despite being not safe at all. Even in Siberian cities with constant supply of freshly released convicts and "prison-style" knives or shivs sold at any flea market. The very concept may be alien enough to call not only for questions about kid-stables, but also looks hinting that people suspect you meant raising them for food. Digging tunnels in two-meter snowpiles or wasting wooden junk in bonfires of same height are normal after-school pastimes, after all. And that's normal kids who have parents, not street urchins (Russia has loads and loads of these, too).
Most Dutch children cycle to school (well, it depends on the distance. young children can't cycle much more than a few kilometers) from the age of eight. Especially in the countryside.
In Germany it's quite normal as well. In the bigger cities children usually learn how to use the subway to travel across town early on and in rural areas, there is often no other option than getting to school with bikes or public transport.
It was common in the United States until at least the late eighties, though in the last two or three decades media-driven fear has really clamped down on these formerly-common childhood experiences. They're not entirely gone though, as some parents are more relaxed about it than others and there are kids who walk to school and you're more likely to see this in small towns or where everything is centralized and there's more trust amongst the populace. As well, a lot of neighbourhoods have this trope. A lot of places aren't exactly pedestrian friendly and sometimes the children have to hitch a ride with a friend or family member if they want to get anywhere in less than an hour. This is worse in rural areas where kids can't always walk to school.
Generally, western Europe is full of Free-Range children. However, this is somewhat subverted by the fact that most of them are expected to carry their cellphone around at all times, with some parents even using online services to track their kids' phones.
Ishmael Beah, originally from Sierra Leone, mentions this in his memoir, A Long Way Gone. The story begins with Beah, his older brother, and several of his friends walking several miles to a neighboring town so they can compete in a talent show. None of them had bothered to tell their parents where they were going, since they planned on being back the next day.
The so-called "Feral Children" is also a major problem in the UK due to the combined results of teen pregnancy, single mothers or general parental neglect even in families where both parents are present and grown up.
Some schools are built around the concept, with limited adult supervision and open campus policies for kids as young as 12 or 13. For example: http://sudval.org/
Of course, there is always lying to your parents about where you will be.
This is actually normal in less-urbanized parts of the UK (e.g.- The West Country), with kids as young as 5 being allowed to wander wherever as long as they come home in the end.
The extent to which kids are commonly sheltered from the outside life in white middle-class US households is utterly alien to most Russians (as can be seen above), where the first-graders are fully expected to walk themselves home from the school, eat their lunch and do the homework all by themselves while both parents are at work. For the five-graders it's the norm to freely commute around the town. It's true that Russian cities, as common in Europe, are much more pedestrian friendly than American suburbia, but still... The cultural consensus seems to run along the lines "If we won't gradually expose our kids to the difficulties of the life from the early age, they'd be much worse off when we decide they're old enough and dump them to the outside world."
Yep. Many of the examples given here, especially in the Literature section, used to be realistic. What the Russian troper says used to be true in the U.S. and still is for many working-class families. In lots of places, as long as it was summer vacation or you didn't have homework you could go wherever and do whatever you damn pleased as long as you were home by dark/for dinner/whatever. Younger children were often supervised by older ones. The clampdown on kids was partly based on fear of "predators" which spread through the news media like wildfire starting in the mid-1980s, although there are many other factors.
Russia is, too, chock full of crime and pedophile scandals. But most parents think that the advice to not talk to strangers is enough.
For the average American crime is so rare that it is a huge deal. There is also the fear among many American adults that Child Protective Services will be able to claim neglect in order to imprison the parents and make their children wards of the state, no matter how true that may be in a given state or not.
There also is a justifiable zig-zag in Suburban American towns. Kids can be allowed to roam all they want, but only around a certain area, usually this is where they can contact an adult that the family trusts if something goes wrong, trusting them with more space as the kids get older and prove themselves responsible. This is also because things tend to be more spread out and less pedestrian friendly as stated earlier. Not all of the students walk to school because for some, walking to school essentially means a commute of about an hour or so. Especially true in more rural areas where the "next door neighbours" can be about a mile or so away.
Note you do see things like that in large cities in the US, to some extent. Though it is more of young teenagers roaming out in the cities, often using public transport.
It really depends on how safe a place is or is perceived to be, and what all is in walking or biking distance. Of course, the worse areas sometimes have more of this trope because, as mentioned before, parents are less able to parent and kids had better get used to ducking when the gunshots start as just a fact of life.
Kids in Saskatchewan can often range around fairly freely, especially in the small towns. In the cities it depends on the neighborhood.
Sometimes the freedom is a well done illusion. Many children are under closer watch than they realize at the time or may ever realize, and in retrospect merely think they aren't watched. It's a fine line many parents walk in wanting to know where their children are and to not seem overbearing.
Walking to and from school is common in many areas of metropolitan school districts where the kids live within a few blocks of the school and policy states it's too close for the bus to pick them up. Also common in families where either both parents work out of the house or a single-working-parent family, where adult supervision is at a minimum and the kids are expected to find ways to keep themselves busy while staying out of trouble because mom and/or dad's time is taken up putting food on the table.
Ironically, statistics show that crimes against children are much less likely to happen to them now than they were in the 1950s. The perceived safety was just that, a matter of perception, and the perceived danger today is mostly due to the ease and pervasiveness of communication — we hear about a child abduction that happened five states away more readily today than we did a missing kid a couple of counties over back then. Add nightly dramas that love to show kids disappearing when their parents turn their back, let alone let them run to the store on their own, and parents are convinced there's a kidnapper around every corner.
In the 00s and the new 10s, in some places this trope may be making a comeback simply because a lot more kids have access to cell phones, meaning they don't have to run to a payphone or ask a neighbour to use the phone so they can tell their parents where they are. Whether or not the kids are responsible to not lose or break said phone is another story, however.