Can Kids Still Play Outside?

Can Kids Still Play Outside? September 17, 2014

The issues brought up in this article in which a Texas woman was visited by CPS for allowing her child to play 150 yards from her house completely freak me out. I don’t know any details about this particular case other than what is in the article, but I often have fears about letting me kids walk down to a neighbors house without me. What if someone calls the police? We have another homeschooled 10 year old on our street, and, yet, I worry about the consequences of them playing outside together at noon on a weekday without me right there. I am a rule follower, but I hate to see my children robbed of opportunities to play, develop social skills, independence and leadership.

Just last month, when I went to visit the hospital where I plan to give birth to my 5th baby to get a tour and review my birth plan (which hasn’t changed in 10 years) and I was told they would have to call CPS if we declined erythromycin (the antibiotic eye goop that is given to babies just after birth to prevent blindness from certain STDs). I was so taken aback that I didn’t even know what to say! We have declined erythromycin for all of our previous babies, one of whom was born in a hospital, without any issues (see article at Evidence Based Birth for more info). The fact that Texas state law mandates this, superseding my rights as a parent to choose not to have a completely unnecessary antibiotic given to my baby within two hours of birth, upsets me tremendously. When I reach a stage in life in which I have more time to dedicate to these issues, I will certainly be raising a ruckus! What is to prevent laws enforcing HPV vaccines or mandating that all kids have to be in child care to a certain age?

Does anyone else have these fears? Obviously times have changed tremendously, but when we read older books, I am struck by both how much freedom and responsibility children had  100 years ago. How do you balance parental rights and wanting to raise responsible, healthy children with government interventions?

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  • Sarah

    We live in a nice suburb (where I was also raised) and the parks are virtually deserted (playgrounds are not, but are highly supervised). My husband always says that he and his friends would have given anything for access to the kinds of facilities (basketball, tennis, fields, etc.) that sit empty in our town. I worry that they’ll lose funding and just disappear or get developed into more McMansions.

  • J’

    I am completely terrified (and furious) about stuff like this. In my mind it fits completely with the distorted macro societal thought, spoken or not, that the ultimate goals for everything are to a) prevent suffering and b) control as many variables as possible to help that end. This applies here in so much as they want kids to not be kidnapped or not have an education or whatever the case may be…so by all means all children playing in a completely normal way are still ‘at risk’ somehow in their line of thinking, rather than just…playing. On the antibiotic, that makes me so frustrated. I would wager this isn’t the only issue like this, and I do have fears that it will get worse without pushback and defense of our rights as parents to make decisions for our children in any realm, health or not. Guidelines are fine in most cases so I can make an informed decision, mandates are not. I would be very interested for whomever told you that at the hospital to back it up with documentation on why (legally) that would warrant getting the CPS involved.

  • There was a woman in South Carolina who worked as a McDonald’s manager and allowed her 9 year old daughter to play at the playground (1/4 mile from McDonalds) unsupervised. She was arrested and charged. From what I have read, people are donating for her defense, and now the playground that used to be a space for local children to play w/o their parents is pretty much empty. Her daughter did nothing wrong, another parent just thought it was unsafe when she asked the girl where her mother was and the girl answered honestly. That parent called the police.

    We live in a culture where neighbors or strangers would rather call an authority figure than even address something with another parent. It is very sad. This summer, a woman in my town posted about “unsupervised kids” at the pool on a local town internet site. She witnessed some 6 and 7 year old kids at the pool and when she asked them about their parents location, they told her their parents were in another area of the pool (there is more than one pool at the site). This parent of an 18 month old was horrified at the lack of safety and neglect she saw (even though both children she cited were ‘swimmers’ with parents at the pool but not right on top of them!). Seemed there were a tremendous amount of parents of younger children who were completely supportive of these types of “water safety” concerns and the “abuse” occurring at our town pool. And then there was a bunch of parents of older children (like me) who were dumbfounded that anyone would think it unsafe for a 7 year old swimming child to not have their parent right on top of them in a situation like this.

    I’ve starting to find my voice more on this issue because I think we live in a completely over regulated society obsessed with safety and controlling every parental choice. I think parents of young children are particularly vulnerable to this type of thinking — safety first, but as kids age you start to realize how little you control and how so much of parenting is about letting go in a loving way.

  • Katrina

    Oh my goodness, I will put up a huge fight if I am ever forced to give my child the Gardasil vaccine! Have you read this article:

    We are blessed to live in a wonderful neighborhood where kids can ride around on bikes and safely get to their friends’ houses, the playground, etc. Many children as young as 8 walk or ride to school on their own. I will say that there are some children that should, in my opinion, be accompanied by an adult until they are ready to be more responsible about stop signs, etc., but for the most part, I see this as a very positive thing!

    I find it so ironic that parents are being chastised for letting their children play outside on their own, yet there is such a low standard for the supervision that kids get on the Internet, while watching TV, or while playing video games. We are trying to protect our kids against the wrong things if we’re more worried about them playing outside than we are about them surfing the Internet!

  • I will fight with you Kat! I always appreciate you speaking out about this issue.

  • Most states with mandates on stuff like erythromycin have judicial bypasses available. In Michigan, they had several mandates like this, including vitamin K shots. We knew several families who filled out the bypass paperwork and were able to not get the unnecessary treatments. I think they must provide you with a bypass for certain medical treatments. Thankfully, in NJ these things are not mandatory, so with my last hospital birth I was able to decline. Good Luck!

  • buildingcathedralstexasmommy

    In the state of Texas there are bypasses for vaccines and Vit K, but not erythromycin. Trust me, I have looked up the laws now! The birth centers here just ignore it, but the nurses who fail to administer it w/in 2 hours of birth can be charged with a misdemeanor per an update to state law in 2008. There is absolutely no legal opt out. I also had both my OB and pedi talk with the hospital.

  • buildingcathedralstexasmommy

    Kat, your assessment of the government “protecting” our kids against the wrong things is so right on! Red, I see a future builder’s political campaign on these issues!

  • buildingcathedralstexasmommy

    Indeed, I have already done that and have the Texas state law on this issue. It is such a slippery slope, though, and without parents speaking up I am so afraid for what will be required in the future!

    “Health and Safety Code, Section 81.091, requires a physician, nurse, midwife, or other person in attendance at childbirth to use or cause to be used prophylaxis approved by the Texas Board of Health (now the Executive Commissioner of the Health and Human Services Commission) to prevent ophthalmia neonatorum. This law provides for medical care for newborns to prevent neonatal conjunctivitis and complications such as blindness that may arise in the newborn through birth to a mother with untreated gonorrhea (neisseria gonorrhea) or chlamydia (chlamydia trachomatis) infection. The law provides that it is a criminal offense, a Class B misdemeanor, for a person to fail to perform a duty required under this law. Section 97.136 lists the approved prophylaxes in rule.”

  • buildingcathedralstexasmommy

    Yes, so sad that childhood has been sterilized and a parent that wants their kid to play and develop certain qualities must live in fear! Children do learn by taking risks as well!

  • buildingcathedralstexasmommy

    I also think it is healthier to learn about risks and leadership when they are younger and the consequences are smaller rather than living so protected and then making mistakes with huge consequences when they are older.

  • I read this today, and am shocked that such a law was passed, in Texas of all places! But really, the penalty is on the nurse/midwife not on the parent. Parents in this country always have a right to refuse, so you really still can refuse, but you will face some potential consequences, in that they may/will call CPS on you (if I was a nurse I’d do this to protect myself because of the way this terrible law is written). Seems from the stories online that you can easily prove it is against your wishes, have documentation to that effect, and that you have consulted with your doctor and ped. about this issue, etc. But do you really want to go through all that to avoid the drops? I was unwilling to get a judicial bypass in Michigan, because I just didn’t care THAT much to make the effort. This requires even a greater effort and hassle, so I admit that I’d probably just get the drops. But more power to those who choose to fight it! At the end of the day, they really can’t make you give your child this type of treatment without your consent. But at what cost are you will to fight it? I’d be much more willing to go to task to avoid the Gardasil vaccine (in fact, I’d probably go to jail to avoid them giving that to my kid!), but I just don’t feel that strongly about the eyedrops.

  • buildingcathedralstexasmommy

    I am really scared of the slippery slope issue. If the state can mandate unnecessary antibiotics for newborns, what is to stop a law against Gardasil, especially with powerful pharmaceutical lobbies? I think even my husband thinks I am making too big of a deal about the erythromycin (escalating it though the hospital administration, etc.), but it is part of a larger issue.

  • And can I just say Tex that I admire your spunk! First Lands End, now the hospital and Texas State Law, you go girl! Tell Mr. Tex that I am disappointed he is thinking you are taking this too far, lol. Go Tex, go!

  • buildingcathedralstexasmommy

    I know, but there is the slippery slope issue. That is what scares me more than unnecessary eye goop I can wipe out. Plus, I really don’t want to have to have our lawyer come to the hospital immediately after birth to deal with the threatened CPS interview. Unless, maybe, Mr. Red wants to take our case 🙂

  • Sarah

    I was reported to the state apparently for declining a re-test of my son’s hearing when he failed in one ear after being tested 16 hours after birth. His delivery was quick and the (non hospital staff) worker told me kids often fail under 24 hours because of amniotic fluid in their ears, especially those with a speedy delivery. Yet she insisted on doing the exam at 16 hours (her convenience) and reported me for declining the retest (for which she would surely be billing my insurance twice). Even my pediatrician was alarmed and when I asked what they would do if they found my son had partial or even full hearing impairment in one ear (the other was perfect) he gave me a very longwinded “nothing”. When I politely declined again, he said “but it’s free”? As if that were true! I am thankful for excellent insurance, but SOMEONE is paying that bill.

  • Sarah

    Oh! And when I asked if it was required in the first place I was told yes. I then read the leaflet she left in my room without telling me, and Illinois law requires only that the hospital “offer” screening. I guess I’m still mad about it!!

  • buildingcathedralstexasmommy

    I completely understand your frustration, Sarah! I think now, more than ever, it is important for us to educate ourselves about what is being done to/for our kids and why, both medically, but also as far as education and technology go. Also, it takes time and energy to confront these issues, but we do need to say something and raise awareness!

  • buildingcathedralstexasmommy

    I’m getting too old for this 🙂 I am not the 23 year old political operative I used to be!

  • Mary Alice

    The thing that always stood out to me about that story, though, is that the girl was unsupervised while her mother is at work. This is not the same as a child who is out on a bike ride and has a set time, destination, time to be back, etc. A nine year old who is home alone, unsupervised for several hours while her mother is working also seems like a really bad idea. It is worth asking why this woman didn’t have childcare options available to her while she was working, given that we do seem to have lots of state mechanisms for that. I agree that I wish that the witness had tried to talk to the parent and child rather than call the police, but while I don’t think that the mother necessarily should be prosecuted for this, it does seem like a situation where a social worker is needed to connect her with appropriate supervision for her child while she is working.

  • Mary Alice

    Recently speaking with friends who live in New York City, and the irony is that city kids have much more freedom and opportunity to take these sort of risks and have responsibilities, even though their environment is not as safe, because of public transportation and walking. My son has to be driven everywhere, but city kids can take the bus and subway, they can meet friends at a coffee shop for breakfast, buy some groceries for mom on the way home from school, go to a minor league baseball game, by themselves beginning in late middle school.

  • Jennifer

    Can I ask what the issue is with the Gardisil vaccine? I have three daughters and just learned the vaccine is required for 6th grade entrance for girls in my state (though parents can opt out). From what I have read, it is safe and effective for at least 10 years. It’s true that cervical cancer is slow growing and can be caught early with regular pap smears, but hpv also causes “pre-cancerous” lesions that may have to be removed from the cervix, potentially causing fertility issues and complications for pregnancies. Even if my daughters don’t do more than hold hands before they get married (which really, I have little control over), what if their husbands have hpv? I didn’t realize there was controversy over gardisil (or over erythromycin, which I can see being unnecessary in many cases). What am I missing?

  • I suggest reading the article Kat linked to in the comments here. It is very debatable that the vaccine actually works for 10 years, more like 3 years. And we are giving it to 11 year old girls. Also, there are numerous complications and side effects that are very severe compared to other better tested vaccines. Finally, the vaccine only works on a few strains, so it doesn’t really lower the overall incidence of cervical cancer much. The numbers just don’t add up to a better or healthier outcome for all our girls to be mandating this vaccine. Again, read the article. Encouraging safe healthy choices and regular pap smears is a better answer. Of course, we all know that some kids, even the best raised ones, will sometimes make choices to be sexually active before they are married. BUT even if they make that choice, the vaccine doesn’t really provide them protections that are worth the risks associated with actual adverse reactions to this vaccine. In my opinion, teaching them to visit the OB for regular checks and educating them on the risks of sexual activity outside of marriage are very reasonable parenting choices. When you look at the numbers, the government mandate is out of line, and puts girls making good choices at higher risk. That isn’t ok.

  • Jennifer

    Thanks. I read that article, but it doesn’t cite anything for its conclusions, which are contradicted by the CDC website (which also doesn’t cite anything). For example, the article says Gardisil is effective for 2-3 years; the CDC website says it’s effective for at least 10 years. The article says the vaccine isn’t safe; the CDC says it is safe. etc
    Agree that encouraging healthy choices and regular pap smears is preferable to the vaccine, but they aren’t mutually exclusive. Also agree that a government mandate is ridiculous here–but I will still have to decide whether to opt in or opt out.