Taking Back Our Streets! How to Encourage Safe Outdoor Play in Public Places for Children Under 12

While most Boomers grew up with a mom at home who probably shuffled them outside to play unsupervised on a daily basis, it’s ironic that this same generation has been accused of being hyper-cautious helicopter parents who have created new generations of even more extreme helicopter parents. Whether you buy into this accusation or not, there is no question that these days suburban streets, parks and school playgrounds are mostly empty most of the time.

Ironically, these child-friendly public spaces are not full of kids hanging out, organizing impromptu scrub or basketball games or playing freeze tag. So where are all the children? Why aren’t they out on their own, en mass, in public spaces?

It’s fear—fear that our children will be hurt, bullied, stolen or abused. These fears are the ones that keep kids under lockdown after school, on weekends and during summer vacation. And when you couple that fear with the fact that most families have both parents working full time, you end up with empty street and empty playgrounds.

There is no question that there are individuals in every community who may be dangerous, but is there any way to salvage this situation? Is it possible to give the streets, parks and playgrounds back to our children?

Here are a few things you can do to help take back the streets for your kids.

#1. Live in the right place. When choosing a place to live and raise a family, don’t underestimate the value of an area where there are lots of families with young children. Then, choose a cul-de-sac, dead-end street or a townhouse complex that is somewhat self-contained. If you can combine that with an elementary school in walking distance, your life as a parent is going to be sublime.

#2. Supervise in shifts. Even if it feels like you are hardly ever home and never have time, it pays big dividends to know your neighbours, especially the ones with children the same ages as your own. Come up with an outdoor play supervision schedule. In shifts, one parent at a time can be the outside play supervisor.

#3. Use a rubber brand bracelet. If it is reasonable to send your child to play in a public area that is not supervised by an adult, take a thick rubber band and write your name and phone number on it. Have your child wear the rubber band as a bracelet.

#4. Travel in groups of two or more. Make sure your child knows to always take a buddy with them to a public play place. The bigger the gang of kids the better.

#5. Teach “stranger danger” and first aid rules. Tell your child what you want them to do if a strange adult or older child is rude or approaches them. One popular suggestion is to yell loudly and then run directly home. You can also teach them some simple first aid techniques and throw a band-aid in their pockets.

It’s possible for us to tone down the helicoptering and encourage age-appropriate independence and a deep love of outdoor, creative physical play while keeping our children safe. It’s time to take the streets back for our kids!

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