August 02, 2010

A ban on unaccompanied parents?

Recently in Miami Beach, a local commissioner introduced a piece of legislation that designates 19 playgrounds as "children's play areas," and bars access to adults not accompanied by a minor.

To be fair, the commissioner was reacting to some “lewd” behavior he witnessed near a playground, but since there are already laws on the books about lewd behavior in public, especially near schools and playgrounds, the logic behind these unaccompanied adults laws must be that they will somehow prevent children from being abducted. We’ve seen these rules before and have a number of concerns about them:

  1. In 2009, there were 74.5 million Americans under the age of 18. Only 494 of them were abducted by strangers. While each and every one of these incidents is a tragedy, we need to keep these events in perspective. The likelihood of a child being abducted by a stranger is 1 in 1,500,000 whereas the odds of being hit by lightning are five times greater, at 1 in 280,000.
  2. Most playgrounds aren’t staffed, so in order to enforce this ban, a responsible adult would still have to be there to report the unaccompanied adult, and since the presence of a responsible adult would prevent an abduction, these bans don’t add any benefit.

These unaccompanied adults laws do not protect children the way their creators intended. In addition to doing little good, they send a very clear message to the entire community that potential predators are everywhere. Anyone without a child in tow is a threat.

This is not the message we want to send residents and children. We should not be turning playgrounds into inside-out jails. Parks and playgrounds should be multi-generational multi-use spaces for everyone to share and enjoy. Instead of passing legislation like this, communities should consider forming playground watch groups, where a trusted adult comes out to the playground to keep an eye on things. Parents could form a co-op and share the responsibility. This would also get more kids out to the playground more often, making it more fun for everyone.

We should have older people walking on trails around playgrounds, couples picnicking, teens playing sports nearby, parents socializing and kids playing. Parks and playgrounds should be places where we WANT communities to come together. We need to get more people involved in our parks and playgrounds, not less. Locking out every “unaccompanied adult” is also a tactic that may have serious unintended consequences. As community participation in parks and playgrounds decreases, so too will the public support and public funding for these public spaces, leaving children with even fewer places to play. And that’s a very real danger our children face.

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