I know that this might be alittle controversial and a rant …. but this is something that really annoys me. I admit up front I have a bias. As mentioned before LittleMan is almost 4, has autism and as a part of that condition is non-verbal. LittleMiss is almost 2 and a little dynamo. For LittleMan’s benefit (and my sanity) we tend are limited to a very small group of playgrounds that I know that the kids enjoy and can play safely. I am not the parent of a teenager … and has been a while since I have been one 😛
Yesterday afternoon after a pleasant drive around Sydney we after 3:30pm. Those that have read my blog over time would know that Livvi’s Place is my all-time favourite playground. Why? Livvi’s Place is the first and the only truly all abilities playground purposely designed and built to cater for all abilities. Livvi’s place’s unique design enables children and parents of all abilities and ages to play side-by side on the same equipment, ensuring integration of children with special needs. Livvi’s Place caters for a broad range of special needs in a responsible and respectful manner including Autism Spectrum Disorder, as well as mobility, vision and hearing impairments to provide for both physical and emotional needs regardless of age or ability. So for obvious reasons for us when it is time to go to a playground it is usually my first choice.
And before I start I want to say something about teens. I get that it is not an easy time. One of my previous occupations was as a high school teacher. I get it. In the modern world teens are caught in this no-man’s land between childhood and adulthood. For many teens these years are filled with confusion, uncertainty and chaos as they try to develop notions of who they are and want to be while at the same time battling with authority figures who are trying to do it for them (parents, teachers, grandparents, aunts, uncles). And that is before you get to the social pressures and influences of friends and peers. And todays world just makes it harder with social media, mobile phones and the internet (gosh I am sounding old … ‘In my day missie’ 🙂 ). And I recognise that a consequence of their chaotic world that an area generally not of strength for most teenagers is showing an awareness and responsibility of how their actions and behaviour might affect (adversely) those around them … but yes it still urks me.
So where is the controversy and what has a kids playground have to do with teenagers? Well in simple terms … I hate it when a children’s play area is overtaken and overrun with teenagers. I am not saying one or two quietly being together and having some fun (just platonic friendship fun) … what I am talking about is when they arrive on mass as a herd and dominate most of the play equipment. It really drives me nuts when teenagers come in a large group and dominate the playground (all of the most popular equipment at the same time) … and it is not like their ‘turn’ is for 5 minutes … they are ‘play’ on the equipment for at least 15-30 minutes in a single stretch. How many 3 year olds are going to go up to a teenager and ask if they can have a turn … assuming they have the language. Seriously it is not going to happen.
What really annoyed me yesterday is that I saw several instances of small children (2-7 years) waiting patiently beside or near equipment for a ‘turn’ and just totally being ignored by the teenagers on the equipment (who had been there for some time) and only moving on when a parent or other supervising adult politely reminded them about sharing and suggested that they move on. Some examples
- LittleMan was involved in one of those instances. He was waiting to play on the swings. For him this is very hard but it did an excellent job. However the three girls, remained on the swings chatting, sometimes swinging very high and making the whole area around them a hazard (there is no way they could have stopped quickly if a small child walked in front) and generally dominating the swings for at least 15-20 minutes.
- On the sit-down and stand up (with the ropes) spinning things that are designed for sharing the teenagers were just playing in a way that generally said go away. They were climbing all over it and spinning them very fast. The message was loud and clear. If you aren’t big enough to hang on when it goes this fast … go away. I had to encourage LittleMan to get on the standup spinning thing and encourage him to ‘play with the girls’ and stand by so that they would not continue to spin it very fast.
- On the bird nest swing two girls were using it like some summer lounge – chatting and having a nice relax. I saw more than one parent reminding them after they had been dominating it to share it with other small children.
I guess the real dilemma, for parents of young children, is that there’s not a an age limit sign posted. And yet, common sense suggests it’s really not designed for the bigger kids. What I don’t get is why are teenagers hanging around a park for small children when there are so many other better alternatives for teenagers out there? For me I get frustrated because there are so few options for us as far as playgrounds where I can let him go .. run around and have a great time .. where he can play and enjoy things in a safe environment that really caters for his needs. I get frustrated when those that have so many other options make it hard for kids like LittleMan but also typically developing kids to enjoy this space when they do have so many other options.
What do you think? Should playgrounds be the domain of little kids and teenagers should make the use of the range of other facilities that are out there for them? Or do you think that playgrounds are dominated by helicopter mothers of toddlers and that teenagers should be able to ‘do their thing’ just as much as the next person?
Images: All of these photos within a minute of each other.