Hello, I’m Michele and I’m a parent.
As a group, parents get blamed for overprotecting our children or hovering or helicoptering — all of which prevent our children from experiencing the free play we loved and learned from when we were children. The same is true of the flip-side — if we don’t keep a very close eye on our kids we are bad parents.
Failure to supervise has become, in fact, synonymous with failure to parent.” – The Overprotected Kid by Hanna Rosin (Atlantic Monthly, March 2014)
Do you think this is my choice? Oh my goodness! How I wish I could set my children free to climb trees, collect rocks and sticks, build forts with their friends, and play away from adult meddling.
In her blog post called “If Dogs Get Their Own Parks to Run Free, Why Can’t Kids? Too many look-don’t-touch-rules harm children and parents,” Janice Swaisgood from the Children & Nature Network wrote about this hands-off phenomena when visiting her local wilderness park. I imagine Janice out there in nature letting her child play. She’s close by, but not imposing her grown-up narration of play. She’s there despite feeling as though she might be chastised at any moment. I can say from experience that this is a horrible feeling. Why would I be motivated to go anywhere to get that you-are-totally-breaking-the-rules-and-gonna-get-in-trouble feeling?
I really, really WANT to get my kids “out there.”
But where are we supposed to go for unstructured free play, let alone nature play?
One of my strategies has been to stay after school and let my children experience free play there. Guess what? Apparently, the children who are free playing after school are interfering with paid after school programs — so, in a newsletter blurb, parents like me have been asked to closely supervise our kids: “Parents, please be sure to pick up your children on time and keep them with you once they are released into your care. Unsupervised students may be disruptive to aftercare and tutorial programs.”
So then I’m forced back into bad-parenting-hovering. What’s a parent to do? I mean, really, this is NOT good for the kids. They are the ultimate losers. Since kids set foundations for lifelong learning and social interactions through play, it’s really important they get time to navigate play on their own. Unfortunately, I’m starting to become well-practiced in being a play advocate for my children as more and more limits are placed on their play.
Even though I know this new policy is a result of responding to a complaint, I want to make sure the unrecognized consequences of this decision are heard.
Dear School Administrator,
I can totally understand the frustration of after-care providers when unsupervised children join their programs. That should stop. But I have to argue that school is one of the only places I feel free to let my kids have FREE PLAY. It’s valuable to me to let them have time to play and roam in a relatively safe environment when I know their friends and other adults will watch out for them. They play differently without my eyes directly on them or hovering over them. I’m always there and they know where to check in with me. I’ve directed them not to interfere with the after school programs. But I feel like it’s the last safe haven for free play which is so valuable.”
Okay, that might be an exaggeration. It’s not the LAST safe haven for free play.
We’ll always have our neighborhood, right?
Well, my HOA came out with this zinger in our community newsletter later that same week: “The Common Area and the streets are not a playground. Children should be supervised when in the common area. Parents may be fined if their children do not obey the rules and regulations of the common area.”
Parents may be FINED? When they are playing on the community basketball court? If I wanted to give my 12 year old an ounce of freedom to “Go Play Outside!” — now I’m in danger of being reported by my neighbors and literally paying the price.
Do I say something? I know this is a response to a complaint over some specific incident, but does every kid have to pay the price for whatever rules and regulations were broken? I can’t be silent when it comes to play — and neither should you. Parents need to speak out when it comes to our children’s right to play.
Dear HOA Board,
Why do I even bother?
It takes time and thought and energy to come up with these responses. And, realistically, my kids are not even going to benefit from my fight because social change takes time. But think about what our collective PARENTAL voices could do for speeding up the change and cementing play as a priority for the next generation of kids.
I don’t think HOAs or school administrators or park rangers are maliciously out to restrict children. It’s just a response to a complaint or a policy or an ordinance. It’s a worry about liability. As parents, we need to invite the complainers and lawmakers to play and remind them of play’s value for building a successful person who looks back on a childhood filled with joy and lessons that made a difference in their life.
Play is one of the greatest gifts a parent can give their child.
Play doesn’t require any assembly or directions. The kids know what to do with it.
All kids need is a place where play is allowed and the time to explore it on their own.
As a parent, I will defend and protect my children’s right to this precious gift.
Even if my world bans it.
Even if I’m accused of bad parenting.