Why I am starting to hate playgrounds (and other public, child-oriented places)

We have some really nice playgrounds in the area. Two of them are totally awesome, and are pretty similar. They are meant to accommodate everyone, from teeny tiny kids to their elderly caretakers, from mamas pushing strollers to grandparents with their walkers. One of them has a misting station – perfect for hot days, and the other one has a big sand pit. They are great. Maybe a little too great.

We’ve been hitting up the one playground fairly frequently lately, and I’m noticing a trend. Upon entering the playground (which is fenced in but does not have a gate or door at the entrance), caretakers (parents, babysitters, etc) are simply letting their children run free. Those adults are then burying their faces in their smartphones or gathering into pairs or groups to chit-chat. Whether they are doing the former or the latter, they are basically ignoring their little ones. And when I say little ones, I mean little ones – even toddlers.

The playground is split into two sections, but like the main entrance, there is no door or gate to separate them. Toddlers can easily find their way from the “Tot Lot” to the section for big kids (over 5 years old, as marked). That “doorway” is mere feet from the main entrance, and it would be soooooo easy for kids to wander away. I saw one toddler bolt out the main entrance the other week. Thankfully his mother (or whatever she was to him) saw him and she bolted after him and caught him before he got into the lane for traffic. She was watching him fairly closely and he still got away from her; other adults aren’t paying such close attention.

During the last few outings to the playground, I’ve found myself almost “forced” to take care of other kids. I know I didn’t have to, but I felt like I did, because no one else was.

One one occasion we were climbing to the top of one of the structures via a ramp, and we found a little girl who looked to be about 3 years old. She looked completely forlorn, and was crying. I stopped and asked her if she was okay. “No,” she said, “I can’t find Leah.” We stopped and looked around for Leah for a few seconds, but she couldn’t find her. At this point, I figured we needed to help her find Leah. I told Little Dude we had to help her, and he wasn’t happy. He wanted to go down the slide. I convinced him that we had to help this little girl stop crying, and then he was on board. With a toddler on each hand, we walked around and around and around. She said she didn’t see Leah. At this point, I asked her if Leah was a grown-up, since I assumed she was. “No,” she said, “she’s 5.”

Crap. I’m looking for a 5 year old? What the heck did I get myself into?

We kept looking, but didn’t find Leah. Finally a girl of about 16 stood up when we passed near her. I asked her if she was in charge of our new little friend. She said she was. I told her that I found her crying because she couldn’t find Leah. At this point I was feeling almost silly for inserting myself in the situation. The babysitter then said, “Oh. Leah was supposed to be watching her. Geesh.”

A 16 year old decided that it was a 5 year old’s job to watch a 3-ish year old? Brilliant.

During our last outing to the State Museum, we encountered the same parenting style from two women who were using their time at the Curiosity Connection as gossip hour rather than watching their kids. One of their little ones, who was just barely walking, toddled up to us and decided he was our new friend. He proceeded to put all sorts of things in his mouth and then put them back in the communal bin for everyone else. Since I didn’t want my kid picking those items up and getting a handful of slobber, I tried to keep the kiddo from putting stuff in his mouth in the first place. Since I didn’t want to touch someone else’s child, my attempts were in vain. I could see the mamas over yonder, just yacking it up, where they had been for quite some time. I guess they figured that since their kids couldn’t leave without passing by them and pushing open very heavy doors, they didn’t have to watch them. Heavens to Betsy.

I don’t mean to insinuate that parents need to be right on top of their children at all times. This is impossible if you have multiple kids, and is impractical if you are trying to teach your kid a sense of independence. I follow my kiddo pretty closely when I knew there are open spots where he could easily fall, but even when I let him run amok, it’s a supervised amok, if there is such a thing. I always have my eyes on him. I might be hiding behind a structure to give him the impression he has freedom, but I’m never at a point where I couldn’t get to him in 2.5 seconds flat. Never. And I am not a sprinter.

I have multiple issues with these parents and caretakers.

  1. Their kiddo could fall.
  • Yes, their kiddo could fall even under their very watchful eyes. I know of a particular little girl who fell off a slide and broke her arm, despite 3 adults watching her. Accidents happen. However, the likelihood of them falling is reduced if a responsible adult sees a possible hazard and alerts the child to it. And if the child does fall, the adult who is paying attention can attend to that child immediately – before there is a bunch of blood or whatever other bodily fluid one might emit after such an event. No one wants their kid exposed to that yucky stuff, and the longer the injured kid sits there, the more likely it is that other kids will congregate around them.

2. Their kiddo could push/kick/hit/otherwise injure another child.

  • Yep, this can also easily happen with supervision. However if there is someone supervising the kids, the offender can be corrected and, if needed, can be removed from the situation. The last thing we need is for the other child to retaliate and for there to be a playground brawl.

3. Their kiddo could exit the park and wander away.

  • Like I said, this would be super easy to do. This park isn’t on a main road, but some are. This one abuts a traffic lane leading to a parking lot. It isn’t out of the realm of possibility that a kid could wander in front of a car.

4. Someone could walk away with said kiddo.

  • This one freaks me out. No one would really notice if someone walked in without a child and walked off without one, unless that child made a scene about it. And even then . . . how often do we see parents dragging their screaming kids out of a location because the kiddo doesn’t want to go? It would be hard for a stranger to determine whether it was a situation that warranted concern, until they say the local news that night.

I’m not trying to be a overly-protective-batshit-crazy mama, but I am trying to make a point. Parenting a child – or taking care of a child – is not something to be taken lightly. You have an obligation to that child to insure their safety. You are responsible for their development into a healthy, functioning adult. Get your eyes off of your iPhones and save the political discussions with your galpals for the coffee house and WATCH YOUR KIDS. You can do your oh-so-important Facebooking and gossiping during nap times or after they go to bed. Seriously – it can all wait. Heck, you might even enjoy going down the slide or doing the monkey bars. How would you know unless you tried?

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