I’ve lived in Manhattan since 1989, when I moved to the city after college. That sounds absolutely pre-historic, I know. But in the 1990s, I lived on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, a few blocks from Central Park. I had a dog back then, so I spent every morning in Central Park, many afternoons and more than an occasional evening. There was a dog run, and I also jogged around the reservoir and met with friends for walks and picnics.
Central Park is absolutely glorious. On a weekend afternoon, it’s a painting come to life, a Norman Rockwell scene of families and happiness, with heady dose of urban vibe thrown in. It’s as close to perfect as things that don’t involve Channing Tatum can be and I love spending time there. Since I’ve had children and moved downtown, we’ve been to Central Park several times, visiting one of its many playgrounds or walking through it to get to the other side of town after visiting one of the many museums that surrounds the park.
But despite my love of Central Park, it has never, not for one second, occurred to me to drop off my children there and return for them a few hours later. Because Central Park is beautiful, but it’s not a care giver. And I believe that young children deserve care and supervision.
In case you missed it, Lenore Skenazy, the force behind Free Range Kids, recently announced that she will be offering an unsupervised playgroup for children ages 8 to 18 in Central Park for a fee of $350. Now a lot of people are outraged about the price tag, which, in my opinion, is misplaced. Skenazy freely admits that the fee is a way to get attention and that she’ll give a “scholarship” to anyone who wants one, no questions asked. But she believes that there is a real benefit to getting children to play in the Park unsupervised.
But not my children.
Here’s a list of things that I’ve encountered in Central Park over the years: People defecating outside, in plain sight, a person, and I use the term loosely, hitting his dog, a lunatic ranting and raving, people having sex (although admittedly this was not at a playground), language that I don’t necessarily want to expose my kids to and people in what I can only refer to as an altered state, and a zebra and a lion escaping from the Central Park Zoo. Oh wait. That was Madagascar. I’ve never seen violence against another human being, but my friend and her son did have a volatile confrontation that could have easily gone bad.
Why risk it?
Why leave children alone in Central Park and then make the effort to leave the park so that your kids can be there without you? That’s at least a 10 minute walk each way for the parent and what, exactly, is the benefit? That the children are there by themselves? That they play without you? That you get to tell your friends that oh, my son spends the afternoon in the park alone? Why is this necessary?
Skenazy points to the FBI statistics- crime is at an all-time low! Unfortunately, when it comes to my kids, I’m not comforted by statistics. I don’t know how a parent could look at the data and conclude “I like those odds!” Isn’t part of parenting wanting to protect our children, through superhuman-against-all-odds-strength if possible? Besides, living in NYC, I know that we’ve been plagued with violence all summer. Every week there’s a report of a shooting or stabbing. And although I want to say that this is not the environment to be leaving your kids alone in, but if I am honest, I’d feel that way even if there were nightly news reports of strangers holding hands and singing Kumbaya.
Look, sometimes it makes sense. I don’t love having my 14 year old take the subway by herself, but there’s no other way for her to get to school. So of course she does it. Because it’s necessary.
But stunt independence- having our children do something at an earlier age than we feel is safe- just to show that they can? I don’t see a value in it. Even if it is absolutely free.
Photo source: Wiki
For more of Marinka, visit her personal blog Motherhood in NYC and The Mouthy Housewives, where she doles out advice as though it were candy. Mmm … candy. Also, follow her on Twitter, where she never refers to herself in the third person, but does have a potty mouth. Sorry!
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