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Playground Politics

I’ve started to dread playgrounds.

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It started when my daughter was about 18 months old. It was a snowy winter day, and since we’d gotten used to a daily walk/stroller push around the park, we were getting antsy sitting indoors. I decided to take her for a brisk walk around Meadowood Mall, after which point I thought I’d let her play at the mall’s indoor playground.

Everyone else had had the same idea. Parents, exhausted with trying to entertain their kids, lined the benches surrounding the playground, while kids ran wild within it. My child was one of the youngest there, which to me accounted for the lack of any other parental presence.

The playground consists of several plastic structures, one of which is a small slide. Kids—many of them too old to be playing on playgrounds—piled on top of each other trying to climb up the steps to the slide, then rode down together in clumsy, giggly packs. Amid the chaos, my little toddler ambled up the steps, while older kids pushed past her and over her to jump turns and pile onto more of their friends. I took it upon myself to police the slide, seeing that no other parents seemed concerned. “Hey, guys,” I urged them, “let’s take turns, OK? She’s trying to climb up, just wait for her to take her turn.”

This did little to slow them down. My daughter had a couple successful slides, nearly colliding a few times with other kids. Exasperated, I looked around for another parent, anyone, hoping I could meet eyes with someone and ask, “Hey! Are you seeing this?”

And that’s when it happened. Some little boy, pushing past my daughter on the way up to the slide, knocked my child off the steps.

Physically, she was fine, but her incessant screaming and crying meant that we had to leave the playground. Which was fine by me, because I was disgusted—with the little snot-nosed twerp who pushed my kid, yes, but mostly with his parents and the sea of other parents who sat idly by, staring at their cell phones, completely unconcerned with teaching their kids manners or even whether or not their kids were playing safely.

Since then, we’ve experienced countless situations in which my daughter—who is now 4 and is naturally docile and shies away from confrontations—has been pushed aside, knocked down, intimidated by, and actually run right over by rambunctious boys on playgrounds. In one more recent instance, while playing at the Scheels indoor playground, she was terrorized by a boy who was probably a good six or seven years older than her and insisted on sitting at the entrance to the slide, growling and frightening any young child attempting to slide down. She was so frightened we had to leave.

And where were the boy’s parents, you ask?

That’s a good question. I was wondering the same thing. They weren’t nearby, that’s for sure.

I want to be clear: I’m not anti-boy. I know there are plenty of delightful, well-behaved little boys. But in my experience, most of the playground bullying behavior I’ve witnessed has come from the boys, not the girls.

WAY too often, I also see a “boys will be boys” mentality among parents—the belief that this is just how boys are, and kids need to learn to settle things themselves. Too often, I see parents celebrating their boys’ dominance as if it’s a sign of leadership, while what they’re really doing is making it acceptable, even preferred, to bully.

I watched this happen at Taylor Creek Visitor Center at Lake Tahoe a couple years ago, when my daughter found a caterpillar at the creek’s edge and was excitedly watching it. That is, until a boy, accompanied by his dad, ran over, picked the caterpillar up from under her nose, and threw it out into the water.

“Good job, buddy, good throw!” said his dad. “Let’s see if he can swim.”

My husband and I stood there dumbfounded, determined to go ruin the next thing that kid got excited about.

Scientific research and child development experts all say that it’s innate for boys to play more roughly than girls. Part of it is nature.

But that doesn’t mean that parents don’t have a role to play in teaching their boys boundaries and common courtesy—wait your turn, no pushing, no teasing, no destroying other people’s fun… And if your child is going to play on a playground, that’s not the time to stare at your cell phone and check out. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that whenever I see a child playing on a playground whose parents are also nearby and paying attention, I also generally find those kids to be more polite and friendly.

And trust me, if I see your kid pushing mine around, you’ll be hearing from me.

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About Jessica Santina

Jessica Santina
Jessica Santina’s love for writing started the summer when she was 11. She and her father created their own hand-bound book of poetry that they’d written together, which they called “Pop & Kid: Collected Writings.” It’s this love of the written word that fuels Jessica’s business today as a freelance writer, editor and university instructor, as well as spending countless hours sharing beloved books with four-year-old daughter, Olivia. When she has a few minutes to herself – a rare gem – Jessica loves to cook, read chick-lit novels, watch cooking shows, and take long, leisurely walks that allow her to come up with blog ideas. Check out her blog for words of wisdom on writing and more.

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