Is the World a Playground? Finding Freedom for the Kids

There’s an interesting discussion swirling in my neighborhood, centering around the safety versus freedom choice today’s parents feel they have to make when it comes to letting their kids roam free.

Now, when I was a kid, I didn’t do anything special for the summertime. I went to camp once. The rest of the time, I was at large, having adventures and staying safe–all by myself. I went to the community pool all by myself, crossing busy streets and everything. Nothing horrible ever happened to me. Sure, the neighborhood flasher caused a scene one day in the swimming pool, but the life guards were on top of things and well, those kids who caught a glimpse of something sneaking out of the guy’s bathing suit when the swirling water was just right weren’t particulary traumatized by it. I live in a beautiful, exciting city, and I’d like my son to be able to have the same kind of unsupervised time that I was granted as a younger me.

In my very close knit community, we have designed little window decals, identifying houses where a child might stop and be safe. My kid knows his address and now we’re working on my telephone number. He always has one of my business cards in his jacket pocket, and knows to ask a grown up to call me if he gets into a jam. Course, he’s only almost four, so he’s not allowed to go anywhere by himself — yet. But he could just as easily get lost at the museum. I’m teaching him the tools he needs to take care of himself.

One of the most important lessons to teach your child in the struggle to safe: what to yell if a stranger takes hold. Tell your child to yell, “HELP! HELP!” and “This is NOT my mother/father!” I’d rather spend a few hours at the police station proving that I’m my kid’s mother, in case he decides to yell that when I’m dragging him out of a store, than take the chance that someone assumes he’s a tantrum-ing toddler struggling in what would look to be his parent’s arms. He also knows never to go home with someone who isn’t one of our closest friends. This one was a tough one, because he does get picked up at school by a variety of mothers who bring him to their houses for play dates. I always tell both him and the school if someone is going to come get him.

I find it interesting to read how my neighbors are lamenting the lack of safety in our city. But whenever I go for a walk in our neck of the woods, I’m always thrilled by the number of children playing on the wide sidewalks, or the evidence of fun being had in the left behind smudges and smears of sidewalk chalk, the next block over ring of laughter from some kids-only game in progress.

I hope my son finds a loyal pack of boys and girls to roam with. Kids who will keep each other safe, look out for each other, and stick up for each other. I hope he can ride his bike around the block, run down the street to his best friend’s, and take the subway by himself to visit his grammie. Is it a pipe dream? I don’t think so. I’d like to hope that we have too little faith in our children and too much sensationalism from the news on TV. Yes, there are sex offenders out there. Once upon a time, our mothers taught us how to yell, run, and take care of ourselves, and then flung open the front door with nary an admonition beyond, “Come home for supper when I call!”

I don’t want to move out to the suburbs for some false sense of security. Is it too much to ask that my kid be allowed to have adventures like I did?

Tags: children, safety, unsupervised play, motherhood, mothering

At play, Growing up, Mothering

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