Is It Safe To Raise Your Kids In L.A.?

The Girls and I enjoy Catalina. A vacation from a Thug’s Life!

This is a guest post by Shannon Colleary. 

We live in an upper middle-class neighborhood between Pico and Olympic Boulevards in West L.A.  We’ve heard gunshots, loud helicopters, drug-addled, homeless Jesus Advocates, horns of Starbucks-amped commuters and quite particularly the mating cry of a feral cat named Jafar who is the lusty owner of a pair of particularly intimidating cat balls.

We’ve seen an armed robbery at the Bank of America (okay, our neighbor Claudia saw it, but it scared the crap out of us just to hear about it).  And we discovered that our recently departed (not dead, simply moved out) teenage neighbors were drug dealers.  Fine, they were pot dealers.  Still, it could’ve been meth.  So the burning question is:  Is it safe to raise our kids in L.A.?

I grew up in the ‘70s in suburban Southern California.  We lived on a cul-de-sac and my parents sent me outside to play with the neighborhood kids until dusk.   My siblings and I didn’t watch TV, play Wii, text, computer, iphone, nada.  We played war in the lemon grove next door, building forts out of cardboard boxes and grenades out of dirt clods (which actually really hurt if you threw them hard enough).

My kids, who are 7 and 9, stay within the confines of our Spanish courtyard.  We schedule play dates with the neighborhood kids and one parent sits outside with them if they insist on riding their skateboards and scooters on the sidewalk.   Forget about letting them ride their bikes in the street because cars shoot through here doing 50 mph during rush hour.  This means my kids TV, computer, Wii and iTouch their brains out.

Sometimes I feel like I’m raising veal.

To answer my own question, it’s not as safe to raise my kids in L.A. as it would be to raise them in, say, Thousand Oaks where a lot of my fellow moms have fled.  Good public schools THROUGH HIGH SCHOOL (!) and one of the lowest crime rates in the country.  Sounds good to me.  Being the parent of young children in L.A. means extra vigilance, extra get-off-your-butt motivation and extra cash.

Having said all that, here are the things I love about raising my kids here:

They attend a multi-cultural public school where every religion, race, color, class and creed is represented.  My kids are blue-eyed white girls of agnostic Christian background.  Their friends are white, black, brown, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, you name it.

Their friends’ families come from New York, India, Mexico City, El Salvador, Russia, San Francisco, Iraq and Israel just to name a few.   Their friends come from every kind of blended family, including same-sex married couples despite Prop 8.

I’ve taken my children to the Getty, LACMA, the Natural History Museum, the California Science Center, the Skirball Cultural Center, the LaBrea Tar Pits and Page Museum, the Peterson Automotive Museum, the Zimmer Children’s Museum, Kidspace Children’s Museum and many more I’ve blocked from memory.

I’ve taken my children to a drum circle at the L.A. Music Center, to eat taquitos at Olvera Street, to be terrified by the bizarre Bob Baker Marionette show in downtown L.A., on field trips to the Watts Towers, Descanso Gardens, the Huntington Botanical Gardens, the UCLA Observatory and again, the list goes on.

Man I sound like an awesome mom.  I did all these things over several years while jacked up on anti-depressants so don’t feel too intimidated.  The point is, if you can get your butt out of a sling there’s a lot for kids to do in L.A. and a wide variety of influences and activities that you just can’t find anywhere else.

The last thing I love about L.A. is that I’ve made my best friends here, mom or otherwise.

There’s something about L.A. that draws like-minded people to it.  Certainly there’s the dream of succeeding in the entertainment business, but there’s something more.

In L.A. you can redefine yourself, shed whatever labels you’ve been given by your family, your church, your school, your small town.   This is the place where it’s safe to explore, if not always the streets, then your own internal landscape.  This is a place where you can discover who you really are and how you want that to manifest in your life.  This is where often you find your tribe of kindred spirits.

I don’t know if we’ll stick it out in L.A. through middle school and high school.  There’s the problem of the beleaguered LAUSD and the exorbitant private school fees.  There’s the random violence.  And let us not forget sex, drugs and Miley Cyrus.  But I’m hopeful we’ll stay and navigate our way.  That our children will survive and even thrive.  Because moving to L.A. from my safe little suburb truly made me a citizen of the world, taught me tolerance, street smarts and helped me find my authentic voice.

I’d love to know what challenges you face raising your kids here, but also what you love about it…

One last glimpse of paradise. Cherry Cove on Catalina Island a mere 3-hour boat ride away.

This is a guest post by Shannon Colleary. 






  1. Christina 31 August, 2011 at 08:30 Reply


    Despite the very serious concern from my family that my children would join gangs or become gay if we moved to L.A., I moved to Fairfax and 3rd about 18 months ago. My husband, 10 year old, 3 year old and me 8 months pregnant. We were lucky to find our community where my oldest can play outside with his friends because we have more security than the mall in our complex but my babies can often be found riding push cars through the halls and playing ball in our tower lobby. We live walking distance to several museums and other business’ that have family and kid activities weekly year round.

    There are days where I think “if I have to ride in one more freaking elevator today with my 3 kids fighting over who gets to push the buttons I am going to run away” but you know, parking garages are not so bad on rainy days 🙂

    The parks in LA may be someones bed at night but in the day they are alive with families. The parks in our old suburb were lacking kids but so were the streets. We our out with our kids more because there is more to do, and we can walk to do it!

    We love raising our kids in Los Angeles.

  2. Melissa 31 August, 2011 at 08:37 Reply

    I think the ability to raise children anywhere is about the parents and not always the location. Of course you can raise them in L.A., you’re clearly a great mom with mad skillz in parenting. We have family in Long Beach and their kids seem to be decent human beings also, so it sure seems possible. Love this article, find things to do and work hard to keep them safe, and you can raise kids anywhere.

  3. Yvonne Condes 31 August, 2011 at 08:39 Reply

    I love this post because it’s exactly how I feel about Los Angeles. I’m in such a love/hate affair with it. I love that we can go anywhere and do anything. That there’s diversity and culture. But I don’t like that we came home from camping to find an lapd helipcoter buzzing the five blocks around our house for 3 hours!!! It feels to me like the city could go crazy at any moment, but on the other hand I love our friends and I love our neighborhood. Ugghh.

  4. The Woman Formerly Known As Beautiful 31 August, 2011 at 09:46 Reply

    I love this conversation. I’d be curious to hear from people who have moved to L.A. from relatively safer suburbs. I had a dear friend that moved from L.A. to Bronxville New York and found it to be too wealthy and WASPy for her comfort and ended up back in L.A. Anyhow, I’m putting on my riot gear to take the kids to the park.

  5. DanaWentSnap 31 August, 2011 at 13:15 Reply

    Love this line: “And let us not forget sex, drugs and Miley Cyrus.”

    We’ve lived in Vegas, Phoenix, San Diego, Denver and now LA with our kids. I grew up in Thousand Oaks and other than the issues with LAUSD, I think it’s good here. (We live in South Bay.) I think we can do a great job culturing the kids in the community. Plus the Disneyland passes help keep me calm. (They’re more for me than the kids.)

    Great post, and really good topic!

  6. Alma 31 August, 2011 at 21:53 Reply

    I grew up in the middle of horrible conditions. As a child I did not know any better. I loved LA anyway because it was my home. To me the sirens and the noise were part of a song that played every night in my neighborhood. My view was always positive. To have no noise and have quiet is weird, only because it feels empty. LA is as unique as it is complicated. It is like Mother Teresa accepting everyone with open arms, but with a bite from Mike Tyson.

  7. Alexandra/The Empress 1 September, 2011 at 04:17 Reply

    I love this essay.

    There is so much about your life in it.

    We make choices throughout our days, and no decision is a perfect decision. Postives negatives to all of it.

    We live in a suburb. My kids play unsupervised, they walk to parks, they leave their bikes unlocked at the town pool but ME?

    ME? I am dying of boredom.

  8. Shannon Colleary 1 September, 2011 at 08:47 Reply

    I have relatives who live on the Big Island of Hawaii and it’s been great for raising young children there, but I think now that the kids are teens they are hungering for the mainland. I’m hoping as my kids get older and they’re less likely to be carried away by hooligans some of the benefits of a big city will kick in.

  9. sonora 7 September, 2011 at 11:41 Reply

    Hilarious! Try raising your kids in NYC. Seems so safe here in comparison (in same neighborhood as the author). Clearly, though, our neighbors think we are nuts for allowing our kids (7 and 12) to run around the block by themselves (best way to get their ya-yas out when they are driving us nuts) — in NYC we’d make them run stairs (the building had 16 floors). We let our 12-year-old boy walk to the local mall on his own. Why? Because they’re city kids; they know how to cross an intersection and cross the street when they spy a questionable individual. They run fast. They know to glom themselves onto the nearest mom-with-kids if they feel threatened or afraid or lost in any way. And my boy is really cautious, equipped with heightened radar honed by years on the streets and buses and subways of NYC. That said, the part that made NYC seem safer in some ways: safety in numbers. There is really almost no foot traffic in our neighborhood so hard to find someone to intervene if they did feel threatened. But we have plenty of retired neighbors who a) keep a close watch on all comings-and-goings around here, and b) will be home when my kids come a-knocking. What about the rest of you? How much independence do you allow your kids, and at what ages?

  10. Winning Isn’t Everything | Moms LA 22 September, 2011 at 08:42 Reply

    […] I live in an urban LA neighborhood. I love it, but I often complain about the traffic, the crowds, the cost of living. I often question if living here is the best thing for my kids, like Shannon Colleary so eloquently wondered in her post “Is it Safe to Raise Your Kids in LA? […]

  11. RookieMom Whitney 23 September, 2011 at 08:38 Reply

    I grew up exactly where you live, a block or two off of Beverly Glen. I went to public schools from 4th grade forward and made it through. I feel that I am a little more worldly, street savvier, and nonchalant about “weirdos” than my friends who grew up in the ‘burbs, but I’m questioning whether I want the same for my kids. I live in a different melting pot city now and still see the advantages, but also feel the urge to protect my kids from distractions and put them on a more isolated path to success (ie private school). I can’t really defend my position, but there it is…

  12. kuyam 26 September, 2011 at 09:48 Reply

    It really depends on the neighborhood. Some areas, like a lot of Beverly Hills or near the Grove in West Hollywood, are really nice and have a high young-family population.

  13. Chris 27 September, 2011 at 16:22 Reply

    From what you have written, I don’t live too far from you (blocks!) and feel the same way that you do about living in LA. It’s a challenge, especially with a tween who is craving independence (it’s hard for me to not let her loose when I was going to the store for my mother and -gasp- babysitting at the ripe age of 11!). But at the end of the day, I’ll take LA (and the beach and all that it has to offer) over somewhere else any day. We as parents find ways to make it work, ways to raise our children with a value system and to teach them how to be aware of their surroundings. My 11 year old daughter was just sent to the store (3 blocks away from home) for the first time last week. She asked and I was nervous, but figured if she asked then she was ready. She took her cell phone, some money and brought home milk, a baguette, a Tiger Beat Magazine (or whatever it is called now) and a HUGE smile and sense of accomplishment. My worries were worth it and she felt like she was on her way to growing up. Letting go isn’t easy, especially in an urban setting, but baby steps for all are a great thing.

  14. RookieMom Whitney 19 December, 2012 at 17:44 Reply

    Shannon, I’m back to comment again because I now know that I lived EXACTLY where you live. Like, the room where your daughter sleeps is where I slept. My mom called me today to tell me about walking through your house. While times have changed, true, I hope you find it reassuring to know that a kid who lived there turned out to be a, er, um, blogger?

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