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Parenting: Neglected Children in the Playground
REPRINTED WITH PERMISSION from the Florida Jewish Journal
The boys, about 7 years of age, were racing up the slide and skateboarding down. The lone girl enthusiastically ran up and down with the rest of them. My grandson, whose hand I held tightly, was fascinated by the commotion, fascinated by what it could mean to be “big.” He pulled on my arm and I let him lead. I’m not the overprotective type. I encouraged him to climb the ladder at the other side of the play structure, and he approached the slide. His thumb was in his mouth, a sure sign of intense concentration combined with feelings of insecurity.
He longed to go down the slide, I could see, but, of course, being not even three years old, he planted his little feet a few paces away from the wild kids. “C’mon,” I coaxed him, “you can take a turn.” I patted the slide. All to no avail. My soft words neither moved him closer nor moved the little rowdies away.
Suddenly, a flip-flop whizzed past us and a frightened—and barefoot—child lunged for it. The other children laughed as the flip-flop went the other way. My eye scanned the circumference of the playground. There were absolutely no adults anywhere. This was too much for me. Rowdiness, I can tolerate; they are children after all, and without supervision to boot. But no shoes? The grandmother in me took a back seat and the mother in me stepped forth.
The grandmother in me took a back seat and the mother in me stepped forth.
“Where are your shoes?” I demanded of the little rowdy.
Looking into my eyes, he replied, pointing to a little older kid, “He said I could use his.” He was sniffling.
I looked hard at the boy who was throwing the flip-flops and he sheepishly returned them to the barefoot one. Suddenly, all the children settled down. They parted a path for my little grandson to go down the slide and I commented to no one in particular, “Well, that’s nice.”
Taking two trips down and having gotten it out of his system, he was once again attracted to something he certainly wouldn’t see at home: Boys on rollerblades carrying—and using—large supersoakers, racing after one another, and drenching the area. As my grandson pulled me, I warned, “We’re going to get wet,” but he didn’t care. Sure enough, we got a sprinkle and he jumped back. “You know what?” I asked him, “I think it’s time to go. This park is really not the place for us.” I think he agreed because he didn’t object in the least as we headed out. I chose a somewhat longer route around a small building so as not to get wet, but I wasn’t quick enough. There were the boys, skating after one another and barreling down towards us. Once again, I was forced to intervene in business not my own. I held up my hand and said firmly, “I don’t want to get wet.” Once again, the boys held a cease-fire for me and we exited the park.
I will take issue with any adult who labels these kids, “bad.”
I will take issue with any adult who labels these kids, “bad.” Clearly, they listened when I gave them much-needed guidance. They were respectful; they knew what was right. It was for this reason that their parents felt they could handle themselves alone and unsupervised in the park: They knew what to do; they knew how to behave. But it is precisely for this reason that their parents were wrong. One-hundred percent wrong. Teaching the child right is not enough. Being there to ensure that everything comes out right is necessary. Part of parenting is teaching and part is seeing that what you teach gets used. All the time. Call it coaching if you want.
How many of us always do what we know to be right? If adults don’t do what they should—even when knowing that Someone is supervising—how can they expect their children to do the right thing when parents aren’t supervising?
And please don’t use the argument on me that “they have to work it out themselves.” That’s just a lazy excuse for people who don’t want to do their job. I dare those people to undergo surgery with partially trained medical students. First the students have to learn; then they have to practice under the skilled eye of someone who knows more than they do. That’s just plain common sense.
I wish the problem only belonged to the four or five families of the children in the park that day. Obviously, it doesn’t. The problem belongs to millions of cheated children, children who are cheated out of getting the best possible start in life by parents who don’t know
- what their children watch on television.
- what their children’s friends do when they are not supervised.
- what their children do themselves when they’re just “hanging out.”
- how their children talk on the school bus.
- what music their children listen to when they’re in someone else’s car.
- who their children see on Saturday night.
- how much value their children place on other people’s feelings.
- how much value their children place on other people’s property.
- exactly what their children value, period.
- just how far their children have gone sexually.
Don’t be surprised at the footage of adolescents beating mentally ill homeless people. They are the same children I met in the park, a dozen years later. And they didn’t have to be.