What Playground Parent Are You?

I will willingly admit that I am a bit of a “helicopter parent” – as the mother of an overly friendly three year old who enjoys talking to strangers and is pretty sure he is unbreakable, I kind of have to be that hovering reminder that “mom is still watching.” And I don’t think he minds – as brave as he is, he also likes to know mom is nearby and often will look me right in the eye before attempting some maneuver that he knows I’m going to yell at him for – maneuvers he maybe doesn’t have any intention of trying but maybe wants to make sure I’m watching? I don’t know. I’m also the mom who – no – will not let my kid walk up the slide, block other kids from going down the slide, steal toys from other kids, or bring totally inappropriate items into a play area.

I bring this up because since moving into our apartment and making three attempts now at bringing MM to the apartment playground I’ve seen a brand new kind of Playground Parent – one I’d never encountered at local parks in Massachusetts – the Parent Who Isn’t Even There. Now I’m not talking about the grade school kids who can probably handle being in a playground by themselves (actually all the school aged kids I’ve seen have come with a parent) – I’m talking preschool children – MM’s age and younger – at the playground, totally alone. No parents. How does this happen? Does the parent just open the door and toss them out? Do they go out unannounced? Is the parent even home? Is anyone home with them?

It’s hard enough for me to deal with the parents at the playground who don’t make any attempt to teach their kids Playground Etiquette or intervene to keep them and others safe – I apparently now have to give those parents credit for being there at all. Because these children – with no parents or caregivers in sight – they are something else. I’ve come across two different children in this apartment complex who come to the playground completely unaccompanied and I swear they cannot possibly be older than four years old – and they are not the kind of children I want my relatively well behaved child hanging out with. Forget climbing up the slide, they do that, sure, but these kids go out of their way to create chaos like I’ve never seen. They are deliberately rude. They bring their snacks to the playground and leave the leftovers and wrappers on the ground when they leave. They shriek at the top of their lungs for no apparent reason except maybe to give pregnant women heart attacks. One little girl even brought a small plastic chair on to the jungle gym and placed it in areas so that it took up all the room on an area, making it so easy for someone to trip and fall – at one point she actually brought this chair onto the top of the playground’s tallest slide and then threw it down the slide while another little boy was still going down – seriously? Am I allowed to say something? Is this socially acceptable? Where the freak are her parents?

Being the doormat that I am, too afraid to yell at a small preschool child who isn’t my own, I simply decided it was time to leave. No, my child will not be playing with you today – it’s time to go home. Am I naive? Is this really considered okay? I know there was a time when our kids could go out and play unwatched – roam the neighborhood and do their thing – but I’m pretty sure they weren’t four years old and I’m pretty sure those days are gone. We know too much – we know that kids get abducted and worse – that crime is out there and while we can’t do everything to protect them, we can surely at least be there. I’m trying to tell myself, whatever, we can still go back again another day. There were other fairly well behaved children, who – go figure – had parents there with them – nice parents even. I wouldn’t mind going back to see them. But it kind of pains me to know that my little boy is going to be influenced by these other children everytime we go there. Because he’s friendly and wants to be friends with all the children there. And then I feel like the world’s biggest jerk for thinking unkind thoughts about a child. I don’t consider myself a judgemental person and maybe I’ll read over this and decide I was over reacting, but at the end of the day, I don’t think I am. I don’t think it’s okay to let preschool children especially play outside unsupervised. It’s not okay.

8 thoughts on “What Playground Parent Are You?

  1. Oh my god, a 3 year old running around by himself? That’s terrifying!

    I’m not a helicopter parent – my SIL is and I hated how she did it. However, I am an involved parent! I don’t let Toby climb up the slide, knock over other kids’ block towers, steal balls from kids, etc. And, I keep watch from the sidelines so Toby doesn’t, and I let him know when he’s done wrong. At home I let him have more freedom; we’re not completely fenced in but he knows the limits. At a public place I’m more concerned with how he treats other kids and how other kids treat him.

    Do you think it’s that the apartments can see the playground? I mean, I don’t think that’s an excuse, and obviously if a kid hits another what can the parent do from the apartment, but maybe all they’re concerned with is nobody snatching them?

    ;\

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  2. Alright – you know I give Aly more freedom that most parents, and I don’t live in an area with a community playground…

    I do let her have free reign of our fenced in backyard. I let her play across the street or down the road with neighborhood children when the parents or teenagers that typically babysit Aly are out there too. I always have the door open so I can hear what’s going on.

    If I lived in a place with a community playground, the only way Aly would be allowed out there alone is if my door was open and within a close distance to reprimand bad behavior or help if she fell. I’m comfortable with a distance of like 25 feet. If I wasn’t close by, she’d only be allowed out there if there’s another mommy that I’m very good friends with or a teenager that usually babysits her and knows that she comes first and has to come home when said sitter goes home.

    I know finding a teenager like that is one in a million. I’m lucky to have great neighbors that brought up a responsible girl 🙂

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  3. Hard as this may be to believe (& I do agree most emphatically that it is wrong!) but there are quite a few parents out there who feel that their children are just fine to be out @ the community playground alone. I know you don’t feel comfortable saying too much to the child but if you do you might find that they would be willing to follow your lead if only because you would pay attention to them. You will probably get some lip too, though.

    I wish you the best w/ this. I always hated situations like this.

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  4. Ok, I’m not a helicopter parent – I don’t let him go up the slide or block other kids either but I don’t hover. As long as I have a general idea of where in the playground the kids are, then I’m happy. BUT I would never, ever, in a million years, let my kids go to the playground alone. I let them in the backyard, peeking out to check on them frequently, but that’s it.

    Oh and I have NO problem disciplining another child if the parent is not there to do so themselves, either because they’re not paying attention or physically not there. Especially if they’re endangering my own child or possibly teaching him bad behaviors. If the parent has a problem with that then they should be watching their own kids.

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  5. That is crazy! I let my kids play outside in our own private fenced in yard when they were 4 or so…but I would never have done it in a more public place!

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  6. @ Jen – Our Daily Big Top: I was a latch key kid, but I was a lot older when I was left alone – I always had a baby sitter or was in day care when I was young. This just makes me very sad, because everyone loses, you know?

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  7. Unbelievable. I feel bad for those kids. What if they’re at their daycare providers – maybe their parents don’t even know they’re not being watched? Scary! I probably would have said something like where are your parents especially after the throwing the chair incident.

    Sounds very familiar. I have kids who are unsupervised living next door. I swear I’ve talked to the mom 5 times in the almost 5 years we’ve lived here. Anytime we’re outside they come over and make themselves at home (only outside; I quickly set boundaries) and now that they’re older, they have more freedom to roam. They are really nice kids but seem to be left on their own a lot.

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  8. It’s absolutely NOT OK! WTH are people thinking? I probably would have done the same and decided it’s time to go. I don’t even let the boys go to the neighborhood playground alone, even if it was just Gameboy(10).
    I wonder if you should mention something to the management. Not sure if it would make a difference but at least it makes them aware.

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