For Tammy Cooper, a stay-at-home mom of two in La Porte, Texas, pulling a lawn chair out to watch her children scooter around their suburban cul-de-sac was a familiar evening routine. But one evening, she was shocked when the police showed up at her door and told her she was under arrest for child endangerment.
Her young daughter clung to the officer’s leg as he cuffed her mother and escorted her into his squad car. Cooper, who had never had a brush with the law in her entire life, spent a “humiliating” 18 hours in jail, orange jumpsuit and all. She soon learned a neighbor had called the cops, accusing her of letting her children play outside unsupervised.
After Cooper’s story made national headlines, she decided to sue, and she recently appeared on the Anderson Cooper Live talk show to share her story.
Not surprisingly, most people found Tammy Cooper’s story horrifying. She was a good mother with a good reputation, trying to raise her children in a safe neighborhood just like everyone else. Though she admitted she occasionally stepped inside while her children played outdoors, she always checked on them frequently and never believed they were in danger. She believes the accusation was way out of line and says she will continue to let her children play outside.
Cooper’s story sparked a debate around the country.
“We tell our kids to play outside to battle the obesity epidemic and then we are accused of being unsafe,” one blogger wrote. But just how safe is it for our children to play outside, and should they always be supervised?
According to one survey on babycenter.com, 63 percent of parents said they would not let their young children play outside unsupervised, and 29 percent said they would but only if the children remained in the driveway while they checked on them periodically.
When asked at what age they believed children should be allowed to play outside unsupervised, 31 percent of survey participants said between the ages of 6-8; 21 percent said between 9-11 and 9 percent said age 12 or older. Only 7 percent said it was never safe to let a child of any age play outside alone.
“These days, you just can’t be too careful. It’s just not safe anymore,” parents everywhere say. But interestingly, crime rates are at a 40-year low. While crime rose during the '70s and '80s and continued to peak until the '90s, it is now back to where it was in the early 70’s. So why do we continue to feel the world is more dangerous than ever?
Perhaps it’s all those true crime shows we watch late at night, says one controversial mother.
Lenore Skenazy is the founder of freerangekids.com. Her philosophy statement on her website says, “Fighting the belief that our kids are in constant danger from creeps, kidnappers, germs, flashers, etc.” Skenazy, who lives in New York City, believes that we have become a generation of “helicopter” parents who have created too much fear in our children’s minds. She believes kids these days are safer than ever, so much so that she recently let her 9-year-old ride the subway all by himself. She claims he came back from his jaunt around the city beaming and proud of his newfound independence. She hopes more kids will discover the true joy of childhood and learn to be more independent by spending more time outdoors alone.
Though Skenazy has been dubbed “America’s Worst Mom,” she laughs at the title and reminds parents to stop taking every ounce of life so seriously.
I admit that I love Skenazy’s optimism, but my first instinct upon reading about her 9-year-old son riding the subway was, “No way in heck would I let my 9-year-old do that, much less in the busiest city in the country!” Only last year did I start letting my 11-year old walk the four blocks home from school after he continually reminded me that I treated him like a “baby.” And I never let my 7- and 9-year-old play outside without supervision in our very safe cul-de-sac or even walk the dog without my watch. But am I being too overprotective?
“You can never be too safe these days,” many moms say. “There was that one show where that one boy got kidnapped, you know. You would hate for something to happen the one time you weren’t watching.”
I believe they are right, yet I long for the days of my childhood when we all ran outside until the street lights came on or our parents went scouring the neighborhood to call us in for dinner.
My husband claims he rode his bike around until midnight when he was in grade school, and nothing happened to him. And with cell phones (some with GPS tracking systems installed!) shouldn’t we feel safer than ever? Maybe. Or Maybe not.
Most can agree Tammy Cooper did nothing wrong. But the question still remains: Are our kids safe outside? Have we become too overprotective, or should we err on the side of caution at all times? Moms, we want to hear from you!
At what age did you or will you let your children play outside alone? And do you feel our children are more or less safe these days?