I live next door to a school and the happy, boisterous sound of children is a daily part of my life all year long. I love it, but it's LOUD.
I'm also all to familiar with the heart-stopping panic that comes from seeing kids dart out of the school yard and into the road after balls, on bikes or during rambunctious games of tag. I've screamed at more than my fair share of speeding cars and wild children in an attempt to get them to slow down and watch where they are going.
Growing up I lived on a one way street and me and my merry gang of pals rode bikes and roller-skated on the road. We played ball hockey and the warning shouts of, "CAR!" were frequent. That's how we protected each other. We were never shooed from the road but rather taught from a very early age how to watch out for ourselves and our friends.
With spring in the air and children flocking outside after many months of being cooped up, a small wave of controversies involving children playing outdoors—and on roads—have cropped up across the nation.
CTVnews.ca reported recently about Lisa O'Kane, a mother in an Ottawa neighbourhood, who placed one of these safety turtles in the intersection to warn on-coming cars to be wary of kids at play. Not all local motorists or residents took kindly to the gesture. "It gives the kids the idea that it's OK (to play in the street), and it's not," commented one resident.
O'Kane was well-meaning in her actions, simply wanting to keep children safe from speeding traffic; however, it is against Ottawa city bylaws to place objects on the road and for children to play sports on any road that isn't protected cul-de-sac.
In another recent story, a family in Coquitlam, B.C. received a violation notice by a city bylaw officer. The yellow slip said her children had been creating "noise that disturbs" while playing outside of their home during the day and came with a financial penalty. Mom Jana D'Addabbo turned to Facebook stating, "How do you complain about kids playing outside and being noisy during the day?"
Mayor Richard Stewart weighed on the situation on his own Facebook page stating, "This particular household had multiple complaints over multiple years from multiple neighbours," and called this an extreme case.
Then, in Winnipeg Manitoba, Jacqui Kendrick a mother of three, received a visit from Child and Family Services for letting her children play unsupervised in her own backyard. Her children, aged 2, 5 and 10-years-old, often play outside in her fenced back yard—sometimes she's with them, sometimes as she watches from her living room window. CFS was called by an anonymous source.
While these are all clearly extreme cases and solid debates can be made for both sides of each story, these incidents may beg a larger question—are we over-cautious when it comes to letting kids be kids during outdoor play?
I doubt there's any debating the fact that almost all parents will do anything to protect their children from harm or that we all expect our kids to be respectful of their neighbours, their friends and their environment. Still, in the age of helicopter parenting some would argue that we're all a little too quick to protect and report. All this hovering and hysteria is creating kids who can't fend for themselves when they need to.
Instead, as the argument goes, we should give our kids the information and tools they need to stay safe—against cars, strangers and other harmful situations—and then back off and let them have space to play independently.
My kids are not allowed to play in the road. A distinctly different experience than my own. I often go out and tell them to quiet down if I feel they are being too loud or inconsiderate—my mom did the same. I do not discipline other people's children (unless they are in my care) or complain to the teens in the schoolyard about their distinctly teenager-y behaviour. I won't stand for bullying, but swearing? It's gonna happen.
Sometimes I have to struggle against my own (over?)protective instincts and hold back to let the kids figure things out on their own. I'm ever-watching, but also letting them be.
What do you think? Are we being over-protective of our kids when it comes to outdoor play or simply doing everything we can to protect them from harm?