Streetlights and Hypocrites

Playing in the setting sun is an added thrill for most kidsThis week I’ve found myself wondering if I’ve become a hypocrite. It stems from a struggle between a sincere belief that a living in a Playbourhood is both desirable and vital for our children’s healthy development and the natural instinct as a parent to protect my kids.

Looking around my own neighbourhood, I see plenty of kids interacting with each other, playing in the street and having a great time just being kids. Recently the kids a few houses down invented a game of tag played on their scooters. They race up and down, back and forth, around and around. They’ve found a way to make their own fun. And, by their laughter and the loud droning hum of little rolling wheels, it is apparent they are enjoying themselves. It has become a nightly ritual that lasts until well after the streetlights come on. I’m elated by the opportunity this presents for my own children, when they get a little older, to get involved with this sort of fun with their neighbours. And that’s where the problem begins.
My kids are still too young to be outside playing at that hour. In fact they are being tucked into bed at the exact same time the kids out on the street start to get boisterous. Every parent knows there are countless challenges to putting kids down to rest, even in ideal conditions. When kids hear excitement and laughter drifting in through the window, that task is compounded tremendously. Our first instinct is to protect our kids and ensure they get a good night’s sleep. In other words we want to silence the distractions.

The other day, my wife and I sat down on the sofa after getting the kids to sleep… finally. We shook our heads in dismay, and wondered aloud at the inconsiderate parents who allowed their kids to be so disruptive at such an hour. A little while later the word “hypocrite” came crashing into my head. Where do we draw the line between providing kids freedom and respecting neighbours’ rights to a healthy environment? Should we even draw a line?

An enlightening rule for kids?My desire to provide my own kids with the ability to enjoy their youth in their neighbourhood won’t always easy – for them or for me as a parent. I’m certain there will come a time when somebody else will shake their heads at me. But if we truly want the best for our kids, we all have to be a little tolerant and understanding. When I was a youngster, “Come home when the streetlights come on” was a fairly standard edict from our parents. As a proponent of Playbourhoods, I like to think this is still a great way to manage our kids’ ability to pursue unstructured play. So, when my kids get a little older, it’s a rule I think I’ll impose on them.

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