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The state needs to stop intimidating parents

Pothole Prairie by Tim Engstrom

Overboard rules and regulations created by state governments and meant to protect children are doing them harm, too.

Boys used to play pickup baseball games in the summer. They used to play 500 or workup. They would go to the playground to meet friends, catch toads, frogs and salamanders, have apple-tossing wars or snowball fights, scurry around neighborhoods on bikes and play freeze tag at a friend’s house or engage in games like cops and robbers or cowboys and Indians.

And parents used to be glad to get their kids out of the house. “Don’t come home until sunset” and “Be home by sundown” were common sayings.

Young men these days don’t even know what 500 or workup are. Many children don’t even walk to school. I walked a half mile in first grade. Just last fall a teacher told my son, who was in first grade, he wasn’t allowed to ride a bike to school until third grade. I inquired about school policy, and it was a completely fabricated lie. Why would a teacher discourage exercise?

We all are familiar with the term helicopter parent — ones overly concerned about every detail of their child’s upbringing. They are like micromanagers. Some experts call it “overparenting.”

I disagree with that kind of parenting. In my childhood, I benefited quite a bit from having the free time to go play at the playground, the ballpark, the sandbox, the lakefront, the farm or at friends’ houses without much concern except keeping the trust of my parents to return by a set time, such as supper, lunch or dark.

I remember one time my cousin and I were left alone at my grandparents’ farm, and he and I accidently let two piglets out of a pigpen. We chased the piglets at full speed all over the farm. We only caught one of them and right away admitted our mistake to Grandpa.

Now, I know we cannot pretend today’s world is the same as yesterday’s. But we do go overboard these days. There has been a paradigm shift in the supervision of children.

Freeborn County Department of Human Services has social workers who visit parents who let unsupervised children play for too long after school. I’m not kidding. The staff member might even visit homes accompanied by a police officer. If this isn’t government pushing parents to helicopter their kids, I don’t know what is.

They come after receiving an anonymous call. No one broke any laws, but the government still wants to peer into your personal life. The parents do not get to know their accuser, and DHS and the police make no recourse if the anonymous caller was full of malarkey. I could call 377-5480 right now and report anyone as being a lousy parent, and under state law the social worker would have to visit the parents or guardians, possibly with a police officer.

They even hand out a brochure to the parents showing Minnesota’s guidelines. Not laws. Just guidelines. Made by invisible bureaucrats.

• Children 7 and under should not be left alone for any period of time.

• Children 8 and under should not be left alone for more than three hours.

• Children 11 to 13 should not be left alone for more than 12 hours.

• Children 14 and 15 should not be left alone for more than 24 hours.

• Children 16 and 17 should have adequate adult backup supervision if left alone for more than 24 hours.

The brochure goes on to explain when children are old enough to watch younger children and on and on and on.

As a parent, I know my child better than some age-defined stereotypes. There are many parents who find it needless to find child care for the late-afternoon time between when school lets out and when parents finish work. For some kids in after-school programs, that gap becomes 45 minutes. After driving the kids around, the parents would end up needing 15 minutes of day care to meet the state’s rules. Do not tell me that a mindful 7-year-old could not be at home for 45 minutes. There are many kids here in Albert Lea who play on playgrounds for that time without serious problems every day.

You might ask: Well, what about child abuse or, worse, child abductions?

According to various research studies cited by the Child Sex Abuse Prevention and Protection Center, anywhere from 85 to 93 percent of cases where child abuse occurs, the children were abused by someone they knew — not strangers.

In addition, no child in the history of Albert Lea has been abducted by a stranger and gone missing. Our city’s crime rates are about the same as 30 years ago when children roamed the neighborhoods, not the couches. Our city’s violent crime rate is about one-third of the national average.

By sheltering our children, we, as a helicopter society, are doing more harm than good. We are part of the obesity epidemic.

We are letting the pedophiles, drug dealers and other bad guys win.

Even the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights has acknowledged the importance of play in the cognitive, physical and emotional well-being of children. And here we are, taking it from them. Our children are in greater danger when we drive them at 70 mph on freeways than when they are playing unsupervised with friends at parks.

In the olden days, boys played pickup games of baseball. Now, they only play baseball as part of an organized summer league, surrounded by grown-ups telling them what to do. It used to not be that way. They used to just be kids, playing how they want to play.

Where can young people go to get away from grown-ups and be themselves? For at least one generation, they have gone to video games and the Internet. They aren’t allowed go play with friends at the park because a social worker will visit the home, so, instead, kids will find strangers online.

So because we are worried about the imagined ill will of strangers at parks, we force our kids to stay home where they find strangers over the Internet or get fat playing video games.

Way to go, society.


Tribune Editor Tim Engstrom’s column appears every Tuesday.

About Tim Engstrom

Tim Engstrom is the editor of the Albert Lea Tribune. He resides in Albert Lea with his wife, two sons and dog.

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