I grew up in the hilltowns of the Berkshires in Western MA in the 70’s. My sister and I had to stay within hearing distance of Mom’s whistle, and let her know where we were going before we left the house – but that was pretty much the only rule. I took 5 mile walks with friends down to the reservoir to fly kites off the spillway, rode bikes down into the next town just to test out the brakes. Built forts, climbed trees, picked berries, went swimming – and got really scratched up, bug bit, and dirty in the summer. If one of us got hurt, someone was appointed to go for help – and did. Fortunately that didn’t happen very often. There was really no such thing as adult supervision or play dates. There wasn’t thought to be a real need for it. You called up your friends and met up, period. Adults had little to do with it. Oh, you could run to the neighbors for a glass of water or a bandaid if your folks weren’t available. That was the extent of the check in. You could even leave your doors unlocked at night if you felt like it. The world is a different place today. Very very different.
Today I will admit to being an overprotective parent. My mother lives 2 houses down the street from me and I make my girls call me when they get there. (Obv the 19 yr old I don’t do that with anymore – but I do insist she let me know where she is and who she’s with) Once they’re out of my sight, I worry. Not a lot – I’m not paranoid by any means. But its there, lurking in the shadows. That “what if” worry every parent worth their salt experiences.
Other than my folks and our neighbor in between, I really don’t know my neighbors. Thats a complete 180 from my day. Now, Everyone works, everyone’s busy and there’s very little time to socialize. I don’t live in the ‘hood by any means. Its a blue collar neighborhood. We’ve lived here since 96 – a quarter mile from what used to be a nice playground back before we moved here (so I’ve been told). The homeless have a summer camp site just the other side of the dike from it, have since forever. Are they harmless ? probably – but you never know. I’ve seen more than one of them doing the thorazine shuffle on the walkway behind the house on their way back and forth. An uncomfortable sight when your then 4 and 10 year olds are swinging on the playscape 20 yards away – compassion for the mentally ill notwithstanding.
If you check in any neighborhood I’d bet that there’s a registered sex offender living within a half mile of any given address. That’s not a pleasant thought for anyone, parent or not. So when they were littler I made my girls stay in our fenced in yard. With the dogs. I was the koolaid mom. And you bet your ass I was outside with them.
So where did they/do they play? Backyards of friends, and our backyard. Where else do we as parents allow them to play when the public playgrounds aren’t safe? That’s tricky. Im not talking about keeping our kids from the usual bumps and scratches that come with childhood, those things will happen. I’m referring to letting our kids be free to do those things in a place they won’t be exposed to crime, drugs or violence. Its our job to make sure they’re protected. Letting our kids be kids safely takes some serious planning these days. Keep them busy with activities like dance, gymnastics, music lessons, soccer, little league etc. And it’s supervised. Or, let them veg out in front of the tube, playing video games or watching cartoons. That’s easy, and safer… But it’s not better for them. I miss the 70’s. I need to have a long talk with my mom. Did she worry then like I do now? I don’t know.
Photos courtesy of: Ian Pouliot. Nemesis Photo
So where are some of those safe places? Organizations like the YMCA and Boys & Girls Clubs provide wonderful opportunities for kids to be involved in structured activities; and also just PLAY. Kaboom is a very cool organization that I had the opportunity to work with when I was on the Board at our local Boys and Girls Club. They came and helped us build an awesome playground for our Club kids, and reminded us grown ups that taking time to play has immeasurable value. I read an article today on their website about encouraging kids to take risks during play and how our society has shifted in terms of how we view what is safe and not safe. It got me thinking, and writing. Here’ s the link to the article: http://kaboom.org/blog/encouraging_risk_risk_averse_world?utm_source=020712&utm_medium=email&utm_content=featlnk&utm_campaign=eblast If you click on the link I highly recommend you surf around their website awhile. So, what are your thoughts about safety and promoting healthy recreation? How do you balance things? Do you encourage outdoor activities, and if so where? What’s your criteria for a safe play environment? I’d love to hear.
Photo by: Ian Pouliot. Nemesis Photo