Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Suburbia's Fortress Mentality

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Suburbia's Fortress Mentality

Article excerpt

My three boys sprawl on the couch, fingering their Game Boys. I wish I could shoo them outside until dusk. I wish they could tromp to the marsh to search for polliwogs. I wish we didn't have to live in a fortress.

But we don't let our children play in the front yard, because a sex offender lives two doors down. Instead, like other families in this neighborhood, we've built private playgrounds in the back.

From my kitchen window, I see two wooden play structures, three trampolines, and four basketball hoops, including our own. The kids on our street don't play unsupervised on common ground. They have play dates now, arranged by protective parents.

Carefree childhood of the '70s

The unsupervised outings of my 1970s childhood are over. When Mom told us, "Be back before dark," we'd check in sooner only if our stomachs insisted.

My family lived in a subdivision full of cul-de-sacs with small ramblers and split-level homes. I wandered freely. My sister and I traipsed past construction sites to undeveloped land beyond. We'd romp in waist-high grasses, trampling down areas we'd pretend were houses. We wandered in the woods.

We explored the creek, trying to keep the mud from sucking our sneakers right off our feet. I used to ride my banana-seat bike (without a helmet) down the busy road to buy candy at the gas station.

That would never happen today. Two-thirds of Americans say it's likely that a convicted child molester lives in their neighborhood, according to a 2005 Gallup Poll. Yet the constant supervising seems to be taking its toll.

Is it any wonder children don't get enough exercise? They aren't allowed to walk far enough to raise their pulses. My kids can ride their bikes only if I'm supervising.

Has the preoccupation with protecting our kids contributed to the plethora of organized sports and the shuttling of kids hither and yon? …

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