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Kids Playing Unsupervised Is Not a Good Reason to Call CPS

Photograph by Getty Images

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."

I’m sorry, but have we all lost our minds?

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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 anymore?

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.

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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?

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