The other day I let the kids play in our fenced in back yard. I sat at the dining room table with the door open so I could see them, but I thought it would be good to let them play by themselves for a bit. Do you know what I was worried about? It wasn’t that someone would scale the fence to my back yard and take them, that one of them would fall and get hurt, or that they would start arguing and need me to mediate. It was that a “concerned citizen” would call the police on me. When did our society get to this point? When did we have to start fearing police or Child Protective Service intervention for letting our kids play on our own property or in our neighborhood? When did our instincts and knowledge of our own children stop being enough? I’m not sure when it happened, but it’s unfortunate that strangers’ and neighbors’ opinions can have such an effect on how we raise our children.
When I was young, I had 10 times more freedom than my kids do. I learned to make real decisions by myself and was given responsibilities that my parents thought I could handle. No one questioned them for letting me ride my bike to a friend’s house or walk to school alone. We hear more about stereotypical child abductions now than we did then, but they were actually more common then than now. In the 1980s, there were around 200 per year and now the number is closer to 100 each year. I wish that we lived in a utopian society where these horrible things never happen, but that has never been the reality of the world. Hovering over our children and giving them zero freedom out of fear is doing them and our future society a disservice. Next, will we never allow them to ride in a car? Because they are far more likely to be hurt there than by someone taking them from their own back yard while their mother watches through the door.
I think that parents should have the right to determine what responsibilities their children are capable of handling. I do not believe my son is old enough or mature enough to walk to school alone at 8. Other parents may be perfectly comfortable with it. It should be their decision, and they shouldn’t have to worry about what other people think about it. It used to be said that it “takes a village” to raise a child. I feel that the village has turned against us as parents. Instead of reaching out a hand to ensure that a child is safe, people pick up the phone and accuse parents of neglect.
They hear “Don’t run, you might fall”, “don’t play there, you might get dirty”, “don’t climb that, you might get hurt”. If we never allow them to do any of those things, how will they learn? I’m not saying that I want my children to fall and get hurt, but a skinned knee isn’t the end of the world. It will teach them to set boundaries for themselves, to learn what they can and cannot do. We can teach them about the world, but they need to experience some of it themselves. So, I’ll continue to watch them play from the table and pray that onlookers realize that I’m not neglecting, but actually nurturing their growing minds.