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I just read yet another story about Child Protective
Services being called to investigate what seems to be a perfectly innocent situation,
and frankly, I’m pissed. A mother of
three lets her kids play up the street while she’s inside. The youngest, age 6, is spotted alone on a
park bench. Instead of asking, “Are you
lost or do you need any help?” a busybody neighbor jumps the gun and calls CPS,
putting the family through an unnecessary hell that was surely more
traumatizing than — oh no — a child left to play by himself!
Although the mother is cleared, the CPS investigator leaves
her with this instruction: “Just don't let them play outside."
Most of my grade school memories involve playing outdoors for
hours without a parent in sight – as long as we came home by dinner or
dark. We sledded down the neighbor’s
hill, roller-skated up the street and played flashlight tag at dusk. I even wandered in the woods, solo, searching
for wildflowers because my brother wasn’t really into that. He liked forts.
This level of independence was safe, and it helped me grow
into a person who could handle more responsibility and independence.
Are we raising a generation of helpless, dependent babies?
By 13, I was babysitting neighbors’ toddlers. At 14, I supervised my 11-year-old brother on
train trips from our Connecticut suburb into Manhattan, where our divorced dad
lived. From the Metro North train, we’d
catch the uptown city bus and let ourselves into dad’s place with a key. Spoiler alert: We’re both still alive.
These days, families are being made afraid to let kids play
by themselves in front of their own homes. I know the idea is to keep kids safe, but at what cost? How are these kids going to turn out when we
infantilize them? Are we raising a
generation of helpless, dependent babies?
Certainly, there are real dangers out there, like predators,
but there always have been. Surely, the
world hasn’t changed so much in 30 years that kids can’t even play outside
I think the real difference 30 years ago was how we behaved
as a community. Everybody looked out for
everybody else’s kids — not secret service style, but in a “Band-Aids and
lemonade for everyone” kind of way.
As adults, instead of using our keen powers of observation
to rat each other out for parenting choices we disagree with, why not instead
look out for the kids? Check on them – everything okay? I’m here if you need
help. This CPS crap has got to
stop. There are plenty of abused kids
out there who actually need the protection. Since when did a child playing outside while his mother watches through
the window fall into this category?