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Playground Police


“Every one minute, you come back and check in with me. If you go to either of the other climbers, come and let me know.”

That’s what I overheard at the playground today. A mom told this to her eight-year-old daughter. She repeated it, too, holding up her index finger to emphasize: one minute.

Now, I have witnessed a lot of helicoptering hyperparents at our playground in the last few years, but this trumps them all. How can a kid enjoy herself when she is forced to break every sixty seconds and report back to her mother? More importantly, what message is this type of parenting sending about her daughter’s ability to trust her own judgment?

We were sitting in a classic example of the twenty-first century playground, or The Land of Fake. It’s inside a large park but enclosed by a fence that includes only three token trees, the most majestic of which was cut down last month. We have jungle gyms rather than tree climbing, a chlorinated wading pool to mimic the lake, and sand instead of dirt. Still the child cannot run and play?

Yes, there are dangers, and it is tempting to protect our kids and keep the reins tight, but we need to find a way to weigh the risks against what our children gain when we let go. We must empower our children to protect themselves against danger. After all, there will be times when mom is not around.

Lenore Skenazy, author of Free-Range Kids and, gained notoriety as the mother who let her nine-year-old son ride the subway alone. She has since started a movement to unite parents who agree that many restrictions placed on children harm more than protect. Skenazy points out that, statistically, our children are far safer than our culture would have us believe.

In Under Pressure: Rescuing Childhood from the Culture of Hyper-Parents, Carl Honoré warns, “Psychologists argue that when children are overprotected, when every moment of their day is regimented and supervised, they are more likely to grow up to be anxious and risk-averse...Kids who are wrapped in cotton wool may eventually swing to the other extreme, seeking out the turbo-charged thrills of drugs, sex, dangerous driving or violence.”

We must set our kids free, letting them make mistakes and learn to solve their own problems. Life shouldn’t be a series of micromanaged events. Life should be an adventure.

Laura Kelly is a Toronto writer, singer, crafter, and mom of two wild children.

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