Letting Life Lead
I have watched these reports bulk up over the last ten years, and I am floored at the things people are calling CPS about, and the reprimands parents are getting. Is it for hitting their children? Abuse? Withholding food and water? No. It are parents who leave their children to play outside in their own yards, leaving children for two minutes to pay for gas, and letting children play at the park by themselves. A mother has child care conflict with her night class and she leaves her twelve year old in charge in their home for a couple of hours, and a neighbor (instead of helping out) calls the police.
A Maryland couple who was being investigated for allowing their two children to walk home alone from a neighborhood park have been “found responsible for unsubstantiated child neglect” by the state’s Child Protective Services.
When I was eight I walked to school by myself and I was really one of the oldest who hadn’t walked by themselves by then (my family was quite strict)! I was babysitting a child under the age of five when I was ten. Virtually all babysitters and mother’s helpers were under age of sixteen. My husband was driving tractors on his grandparents farm when he was thirteen. When I was eight I was allowed to walk to the neighborhood store a half a mile away that required the crossing of one major street. Prior to that my own grandfather would walk miles by himself under the age of ten to school or to play with other kids in neighboring towns. Gone are the days where children would leave the house after breakfast and come home only for lunch and then go back out until the street lights came on (and back then no kid had a cell phone; at best you had a dime for a pay phone). You can’t go outside these days and see groups of children playing pick up games or yard hopping in their neighborhood; its rare where I live. If you do see these children, you may be taken by fear that if they trip, fall and get a bloody nose on your property that someone might sue your or you’ll get arrested for allowing it. Even at schools, to see children out at recess for any length of time is fast becoming a rarity.
I don’t give these accounts to say, “I was fine,” or that “nothing bad ever happened to anyone. ” I say this to demonstrate that children were once seen as capable of doing so much more than they are now given credit for. There are serious consequences to never allowing children the freedom to assess risk and to learn how to navigate their world.
While my heart might be in my throat when my two-year old went up a big slide alone, I allowed it. When my five-year old climbs to the top of the climbing dome I have to just offer only a, “Three points of contact please!” and then shut my mouth. When my then four-year old daughter fell off the trapeze on a swing set (after assessing injury), I encouraged her to get right back on it despite my own inner fears that she’d fall again. I let each of my children at nine months navigate stairs up and down without a baby gate, saving the gate for certain times not every time. To me it was wiser to let them help themselves, than to always be worried about a tumble in places where there were no gates or to have a gate fail.
These days if you let your toddler walk six feet in front of you in a practically deserted store or lobby, you get the stink eye. You let your five-year old play in their own back yard while you do other things and your fear is not the rare chance of a kidnapping, but the neighbors calling CPS on you. Neighbors aren’t now the people who would be the extra ears and eyes in the neighborhood — behaving as a village — now they are the eyes that might be the catalyst to a police visit because one of your babies isn’t wearing pants. Give a three-year old a butter knife and you’ve lost your mind.
When I sent my five-year old daughter into the small neighborhood post office with change to buy a stamp while I waited outside four feet from the building in the car, I wasn’t worried about her getting snatched. What came to mind was a “good Samaritan” calling the cops on me.
How about not calling the police, but telling your neighbor, “Hey, I’ll keep my eye out for your kids.” If you are that worried about the kids in the car the gas station while a parent pays the attendant, keep quiet, watch out for the car-jacking child molester in search of the beat up station wagon and tackle them before they get a chance to figure out the car seat buckle and snatch the kids–in broad daylight — boxed in by other cars.
Zero Risk Doesn’t Exist
Is It Really More Dangerous Today than it Was Twenty Years Ago?
Other Places Know the Value of Letting Kids Do Their Thing
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Author of suspense novels Search For Maylee, Aggravated Momentum, The Stix, and New Age Lamians. As well as the short story collection Time Wasters and (co-author of) The Suspenseful Collection. Columnist for The Conscious Talk Magazine.
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