Katharina Nuss, a mom of three in Winnipeg, Canada, had a recent run-in with the authorities which radicalized her -- if it's radical to work toward a day when parents are allowed to send their kids down the block unsupervised for a minute or two. We spoke by phone. Here's her story:
I have three kids: 9, 7 and 3. This summer, in July, everybody was playing outside. We're fortunate to live on a block with many young families, so our kids find playmates and climb trees and we have a bakery down the block where we go often.
On this day, it was lunchtime and my kids wanted cheese sticks from the bakery. The 7-year-old was excited to go and the 3-year-old decided to tag along and I was like, "Okay." My kids tend to be cautious, so I'm happy when they show a desire for something like that. If I stand on the sidewalk I can see them almost until they enter the bakery, and then I can see them on the way back. They left my sight for about three minutes. How awful, right?
They ran back happily and excited. But then I saw someone following close behind them. It wasn't my neighbor or someone I knew -- it was someone on her lunch break. And when she got close she kind of looked at me and said, "Is everything okay?" And I said, "Yes, I'm watching where they're going. They're practicing their independence." And she said, "They seem kind of young." And she looked back at us when we went into the house and I realize now that she was checking our address.
I didn't think too much more about it, but then a month later a Child and Family Services worker showed up. I was busy in the kitchen -- I was canning or something. He said he was from CFS and a complaint had come in. And I realized right away what he was talking about. It was a stranger interaction than I'd had with the woman. If people are watching out for kids in the neighborhood, I think that's great! But this wasn't a helpful interaction, it was more suspicious and accusatory. So I said, "I think I know what you're referring to. Let me explain the situation. I was watching where they were going, it was to a familiar place," and all that. And he said, "Yeah. I know. But you can't let them do that. Things can happen. They can get kidnapped."
That's what really got to Katharina.
I said, "You know, you're talking in front of my kids as if getting kidnapped in front of the bakery is something they should be worried about." After he left I was so angry I did some research and found your site [Let Grow], and I looked up the CFS Act in Manitoba, which said that if kids under the age 12 are unattended without 'reasonable provisions for their supervision and safety' -- that's not allowed."
The question then becomes what is "reasonable"? Is it unreasonable to let kids walk down the block or to school? Must they be driven to the park and driven home again till puberty?
To Katharina, the ambiguity means parents are required to stunt their kids' curiosity, bravery and competence to comply with a rule that has nothing to do with any statistically likely threat and everything to do with assuming or even pretending that kids are in constant danger.
So she has started a petition to overturn this assumption and any regulations it has seeped into. Here it is! In the wonderful piece accompanying it, she wrote:
We believe that the Child and Family Services Act in Manitoba needs to be updated to specifically allow kids under the age of 12 more freedom, similar to the bill passed in Utah, because as it stands,
- it is out of touch with reality, as most parents allow their children some independence long before they are twelve (as I believe they should)
- it is not in our children’s best interest—it does not allow for them to learn the skills needed to safely navigate the world, and thus is ultimately detrimental to their safety and wellbeing
- it does not allow discretion for parents to take into account their child’s maturity or the context in which we allow them out of our sight for brief periods of time
And next she is meeting with the Deputy Minister of Families in Manitoba to discuss updating the act. Fantastic!
We stand with Katharina and those fighting unreasonable parenting laws and rules. Here's our page on how to change the policy in your town or state. Let's make 2019 the Year of the Competent Kid (and non-hassled parent)! - L