If your community isn’t safe, make it safer

Look look! An other post generated based on the conversation in the comments of the last post! I am on a role.

So the jury is in and apparently I am reckless/neglectful nuts for being willing to leave my daughter (when she is school aged, which she is currently not) alone in a nearby park for a day. FWIW, I’d still do it.

In the course of the conversation I realized something though- part of the reason that I feel comfortable with that idea is because a) I did it as a kid and b) I don’t have any personal direct experience with anything bad happening that would make me more sensitive to the risks of doing so. Oh and one other teeny tiny thing. I live in a very safe and connected community.

When I say community I do not just mean neighbourhood. I mean Community, with a capital C. Like, as in, a sense of community. And whether you live somewhere that has that, in my opinion, can make a big difference to if you feel comfortable with the idea of your kid being outside of eye sight.

We are incredibly lucky to live in the neighbourhood I grew up in. What does that mean? Well, it means that I know a good 40% of the people on my block. And then I know a couple down the street and a couple a few blocks over. When Audrey is old enough and I let her head to the park on her own, I know I won’t be the only one watching out for her. I know all the neighbour hood kids that play outside every chance they get; they know her and will be looking out for her. I also know that the elderly neighbour down the street can see the park from her front window and that one of my neighbours teenage daughters walks home from the bus by going through the park. I know people who drive by and walk through the park all the time. Even those I don’t know by name, I know by face. I know all the other parents on the block who also let their kids play without direct adult supervision would be looking over from their windows every once in a while to check on the kids. As would I be. We can’t all see the whole park, but we can each see a part. We have a community. And boy, does that make things seem a heck of a lot safer. I would also argue that doesn’t just seem safer. It is safer.

I know that is not something everyone has. I probably wouldn’t feel as comfortable letting my kid play alone in a park in a completely new neighbour hood where I didn’t know anyone.

You know what bothers me? We think everyone we don’t know is out to get us or hurt our kids. We think around every corner there is Danger! We are trained by the media to be afraid of everyone and everything. Everything has warning labels. Every stranger is ‘bad’. This fear, I feel, is part of the reason that so many places don’t have a sense of community. Apart from the tendency to live in spaced out suburbs, we live in isolation because we fear each other. We are suspicious of each other. We look out our windows at every ‘weird’ sound. We don’t like it when a new car drives up and parks. We are scared. That ‘get to know your neighbour’ idea is lost. Or at least less common and an eroded concept. And when we aren’t afraid, we are indifferent. Too busy doing our own thing in our busy lives to make the effort to connect. I am guilty of that. I think we all are.

In many cases, our kids force us out of that. I don’t know about you, but I have talked to more strangers having a kid then I ever did before she was born. (Although, I have always been a stranger talker and been know to chat with anyone at the bus stop from the time I started taking public transit to school when I was in Junior high. That’s right- gasp- public transit.) Strangers with kids are safe. I am sure there are exceptions, but I don’t fear anyone I meet a the park with their toddler.

My point is that being a parent gives us a unique opportunity. Which is totally open to non-parents, but can be made easier by the kinship of parenting. Here is my suggestion to make your community safer: Get to know your neighbours. Get to know the family down the street. Get to know the little old lady one block over and offer to help her with her yard work. Get involved with your community association. If we build community and we know each other, the world becomes a lot safer. We could all use more people looking out for us and our kids.

And then get your (school aged) kid to gather up all their neighbour hood friends and go over to the park alone to play. And all the parents can keep an eye through the windows and trust that there are enough eyes to give the kids some freedom to explore. Or if you don’t feel comfortable with that, get all the parents together and all go with them over to the park and chat while they play. Whatever you feel comfortable with.

What about you? Do you live in a Community? Do you think it makes your neighbour hood safer?

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4 responses to “If your community isn’t safe, make it safer

  1. Alan September 16, 2010 at 12:54 am

    Sounds like a great situation you have, and I like your suggestions. This post probably should have come first!

  2. Perpetua September 16, 2010 at 4:21 am

    You are so, so right about this. If I were living in the neighborhood where I grew up, I’d be near most of the people that went to school with me, a good number of relatives, and another good number of people I know by sight. If that were the case, I’d feel comfortable letting E roam, too. As it is, we currently live in an apartment complex that is big and has high corporate turnover. And, according to the Megan’s Law thingy, there’s at least one sex offender. Oh, and we’re currently looking to buy a house…and had to eliminate one neighborhood because there was a shootout, an honest to god shootout, with people shooting at each other, in a busy parking lot, in broad daylight. And it is considered a “good neighborhood,” too.

    Sorry, got carried away there 🙂 When we do finally move, I’m going to have to step outside my comfort zone to meet other parents in the neighborhood. You are totally right about that.

  3. Lisa Sunbury September 18, 2010 at 2:06 pm

    I’ve been reading your last couple of posts and the ensuing discusssion with great interest. There’s so much food for thought here. I love your suggestions for being proactive, and getting to know neighbors in the interest of creating a safe community for children.

    If we can’t come together around the care and protection of our children, I wonder what can bring us together? I’m reminded of the old African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child.”

    I’m of two minds when it comes to allowing children to venture away (even short distances) from home without trusted adults nearby to intervene if necessary

    .I grew up in a small town, where everyone knew everyone, and as a school aged child I was allowed to roam freely about my neighborhood, with other children, riding bikes, to the park, to the library, to the school yard.

    Our dentist lived next door, a policeman lived on the other side of us, the mayor lived around the corner, one of my teachers lived up the street, and the adults did watch out for the children, and yet we managed to find plenty of trouble to get into, and when I was eleven years old, I was molested by an elderly neighbor.

    So when it comes to the children and families I care for, and support through my work as an early childhood professional, I tend to err on the side of caution in this area. I believe children need the opportunity to take risks, and make decisions for themselves, otherwise how will they learn?

    After all, eventually our children must walk into this world and stand on their own two feet – but until they are well into middle school, I ‘d like to see them in the company of at least one trusted adult- even when they are just down the street at the park.

    • amoment2think September 19, 2010 at 6:25 am

      Lisa, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and you story. I do hear where you are coming from and I find your personal reasons for feeling this way very moving; I am not sure what to say.

      I have been thinking a lot about this topic this week and about everyones comments. I get it, I do. Why put a child at any avoidable risk. I am lucky to be able to say that my childhood was one where I didn’t experience any of those terrible things that can happen. But I know they do and its not like I am just thinking ‘but it won’t happen to my kid’. But I am thinking that I am the person I am today because, in part, of the freedom I had as a kid and I want my daughter to have that opportunity. I know there is more than one way to raise a confident and happy child. And I know there is more then one way to give kids the space to explore and learn on their own. But I think back to all the time I spent with friends at the park and I can’t imagine my childhood or my daughters with out that.

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