Summer is here. The heat part, anyway. School is dragging on, the the calendar still says Spring, but the pools are open and so are the snowball stands.
With summer comes summer memories. As a parent, I want to share with my daughter the summer joys of my childhood. I try. But there is one most crucial gift that I cannot seem to give her: freedom—independence.
I remember being able to play anywhere in the neighborhood as long as I was home to help set the table for dinner. And long summer nights of play where everyone knew they had to be home before dark. I rode my bike, with its sturdy front basket, to the corner store to buy milk for my mom. We walked to the pool, went to the playground, built a treehouse, and made roads for toy cars in the mud in an empty lot.
There were no scheduled "playdates." We were flowing back and forth to each other's houses, putting on talent shows in someone's cool basement, eating popsicles on the porch. Of course, a lot of this was made possible because all of the moms were stay-at-home moms. Just like in the Charlie Brown world: Grownups were there, not visible, but in their own way, making it all possible.
But the reason my daughter can't live that life today is because we don't allow our kids that lifestyle anymore. It is considered unsafe. We live in fear that something bad is going to happen. Our kids are being stifled by a world of scheduled activities, organized playdates, supervised "fun."
But on most days that seems better than those monstrous fears that motivate us. And once you go down that road, then how old is "old enough" to have any independent experiences?
The signs posted at the CA tot lots inform visitors that children must be supervised at all times. Really? Is that the way it was when Columbia was first built? Are there truly more dangers to children now than there were then?
Well, would I allow my 10-year-old daughter to cross the street and go to the tot lot on her own? Hmm...I feel like I should be able to do that. But I don't.
As we work together on making Columbia a more livable, walkable, sustainable place for the 21st century, it is imperative that we address this issue. Our children are losing the opportunity to enjoy childhood and are missing out on developing the valuable social-emotional skills that come from exercising independence.
Until then, more and more of our kids are staying home, safe, where we can see them. And where is their new playground?