Parenting Perspectives: When did it become illegal for kids to play outside?
“Go outside and play!”
It’s the refrain heard on repeat in homes across town now that the warm temperatures have arrived and the sunshine seems here to stay (for a couple days, at least).
I know I’ve said it to my children, ages 6, 4, and 2, enough times that they’ve started tuning it out already. They love to be outside: soccer for my oldest, pretend football for my middle son, and scooting around in her Little Tikes car for my youngest. And of course endless bike rides and pretend “Paw Patrol,” wearing grooves in the sidewalk on the east side of the house.
It’s good to see we’re not alone in telling our children, “No you can’t watch a show! It’s too nice outside!” because the four neighbor girls on the corner have an ongoing summertime rotation of bikes, scooters, and rollerblades that come all the way down the block, turn around, and start again. Even if I have to be inside finishing dishes, it’s fun to hear the giggles as they go by (and the reassuring shouts of sibling rivalry).
Articles and columns begin to circulate and re-circulate on the Internet at this time every year as well. Stories from now-parents waxing nostalgic of their childhoods in the ‘70s or early ‘80s. Stories of summers spent outside on their own all day, no cell phones, scrounging together lunch from the neighbor friend’s fridge, saving their nickels to buy an orange Crush on the way home from the pool, and rolling in at dusk with scraped knees and bruises, ready to do it again the next day.
If the neighbors saw these children of decades past playing out in the yard, riding their bikes down the street with nary a parent in sight, I can only guess they would take a gander to make sure the children were not getting into trouble. If the children did happen to be getting into something they shouldn’t, or playing where they shouldn’t, the adult would give the children an appropriate scolding, assistance, or take them home to their parents, depending on the situation.
The point is, kids are kids, and adults in a community should be looking out for each other, not just looking out for Number One.
Instead, we don’t know our neighbors, they don’t know our kids, and helicopter parenting is now the expected norm. If you dare to let your child play on his own without being within a five-foot distance to supervise, you risk losing your children permanently.
Just ask the parents in Florida who were arrested and children taken away when their 11-year-old son played basketball by himself in their front yard for over an hour. In April 2015, he arrived home before his parents, who were stuck in traffic. So he ate his snack, grabbed a ball, and started shooting hoops. A neighbor called the police and the parents were arrested, in front of their children, for neglect.
Eleven years old. Smart kid for taking the initiative to work on his lay-ups uninterrupted. Sounds like his parents are raising him to be responsible and independent.
A neighbor, concerned. What would have happened if perhaps instead of the knee-jerk reaction being to call in the authorities, this neighbor walked over and asked the boy if he needed anything? If he wanted to come inside for a snack or a glass of water? Or just kept an eye on him to make sure he was safe until mom and dad arrived, as concerned citizens sometimes do?
I let my children play in our fenced-in backyard by themselves, but please don’t turn me in to CPS. I can see them out the window as they pick up sticks, dig in the garden, and visit with the neighbor’s dog through the fence. Every once in a while I have to yell out said window “Hey, get down from there!” or “Don’t throw rocks in the grass!” but overall, it’s good to know they’re getting some sun and getting their hands and feet dirty. (Oh yeah, and we let them run barefoot. We’re practically hippies, I know.)
It is unfortunate that I have to spend any time at all worrying that it might be ILLEGAL for me to let my children play outside, within limits. At the risk of sounding old and crotchety, where has our commonsense gone? Where has our human decency gone? Are we all so afraid of a lawsuit if we interfere with anyone else’s children that our first resort is now to call the police? Shame.
To Dave, Casey, Rose, and Chuck, if my children get out of control, you have every right to reprimand them. I hope their antics are more amusing than bothersome, but they are kids. If you’re concerned about their safety, please come knock on my door. Let’s talk, because I want to know.
But please, in the name of all things wholesome and good, don’t make the cops arrest me in front of my children for making them play outside.
It’s been an idyllic summertime experience. It has brought me joy and even made me love my children more, to see them running and laughing and enjoying the simplicity of childhood. When I see the viral posts saying how we need to “give our kids a 1970′s summer” again, I just shake my head. Regardless of the decade, everything we need for a perfect summer is within us.
In a book I was recently reading, the author referenced a Facebook post that was going around a few years ago. In it, Facebook users were prompted to share a list of (somewhat random) things about themselves. Things their closest online friends might not know about them, but maybe should.
The author used it as an opportunity to pull back the facade on her life and be vulnerable with experiences from her past, feelings in her present, and fears of her future that most people didn’t realize about her. It resonated with all who read it, and the response was overwhelmingly positive.
It occurred to me that I could make a list for my children. 15 Things I Want My Kids to Know About Me.
When I am laughing with my daughter on the floor as she pretends I’m her baby, watching the joy unfold on my middle son’s face as I “fly” him on my feet, or feeling the comfort of my oldest son’s arms around me at bedtime, sometimes my mind will think, “I should take a picture of this.”