Remember the good old days, when having kids was basically the same as having dogs? You’d feed them, make nice to them a little, discipline them if they were bad, and then open up the door and let them run. Clearly, those days are over. We’ve told the stories about our unfettered childhoods. We’ve heard the lamentations about the loss of kids’ freedom. But this story might take it to another level.
In the suburbs of Pittsburgh, Govindaraj Narayanasamy took his kids, ages 6 and 9, to the park. While the kids were playing, Dad was enjoying a game of tennis there. He then went to the store to buy snacks and decided to stop at the gym for a quick shower. He returned to the park after what he believed was “around 45 minutes”, but in fact was more like “almost two hours”. In the meantime, an onlooker had become concerned about the unchaperoned children playing on the slide and swings, and called the police. Govindaraj Narayanasamy was charged with two counts of child endangerment.
I don’t know if I’d leave my kids alone in the park for over an hour. But I can certainly relate to losing track of time while running a quick errand. And I have definitely considered the possibility of running across the street for a cup of coffee while they played. They’re in a playground, designed for children, where adults are only allowed in the company of children. They are both responsible enough to handle sharp objects and navigate the streets of New York City (with vague supervision). In other countries—or at other times—children of these ages would be fully responsible for the care of infants, and/or full time work. Obviously the servitude of children is not something we’d like to return to. But conceptually speaking, is a 9 year old really too young to play on the swings alone, or to supervise a 6 year old sibling?
Free Range Parent Lenore Skenazy was predictably outraged. “Kids playing without an adult around! That this fact was “disturbing” to an onlooker is what is so disturbing about our culture. For millennia, kids kept themselves occupied while their parents were otherwise engaged. A 9-year-old watching a 6-year-old was NORMAL, not a REASON TO CALL THE COPS. But call the cops she did. And when they got there, they charged the dad with two counts of child endangerment. Meantime, of course, child protective services is investigating, too. Because any time you trust your children or your community, YOU cannot be trusted. That’s what we’ve come to. You are punished for believing in your kids’ self-reliance and the neighborhood you chose to raise them in.”
This is somehow even more disturbing to me than the cases where children are left home alone. Maybe because it so clearly calls into relief the radical difference between the freedoms of my own upbringing and the completely contained lives our children are being made to lead. I understand that safety is a concern. But holding parents responsible for “child endangerment” for just letting their kids be independent in a safe environment reminds me of holding women accountable for sexual assault based on their behaviors. For how long are children expected to be under 24 hour supervision? If the 9 year old had walked to the store, would that have been endangerment? If the 6 year old had gone with her father?
We already know that our kids’ generation is suffering from a lack of open-ended play time. What will it mean for our kids that they aren’t legally allowed to explore the world—even the ostensibly kid safe world—independently until they’re almost teenagers? How will this affect our children’s trust in their own instincts and confidence in their ability to protect themselves?
[via Free Range Kids]