Keeping our children safe?

So apparently a part-time life guard employed by the Brunswick, Maine YMCA was recently arrested on child pornography charges. I don’t know the details, and that particular incident isn’t really my concern.

What bothers me, is that the YMCA is supposed to be a safe place for our children to hang out on weekends, and after school.

Today’s economy is set up so that the working class only has time to do just that…WORK. In most families, both parents are forced to work just to keep the rent or mortgage paid.

In the 70’s and 80’s most families could get by on a single wager earner’s income. Most of the time there was a parent home with the kids. Some families had 2 working parents for extra income, and then there were the single parents who were forced to work.

One thing was certain, there were plenty of safe things for children to do after school, or in the summer, no matter if there was a parent at home or not.

I spent my summers, in and out of the yards and homes of several different neighbors. And the neighborhood kids did the same at my house. My house had the big backyard, so games of kickball, baseball, and whatever other games requiring space were played in my yard.

One of my buddies was an only child, so his mother was the one who took us swimming. Yet another buddy had a loft in the garage that made a great club house.  At some time during the week, you could be sure there was some sort of giant “Hide & Seek” game going on.  Most likely it involved about 10 kids running around with toy, and even BB guns hunting each other down playing war games.  And…Sometimes…We actually played “Hide & Seek”!

If we ever got bored in our own neighborhood, we had the playground at school. My school got out at 2:30, but you could go by on any given day and find kids on the playground until 4, and sometimes later. Most of the time, it was just kids, doing kid stuff. In grade school there weren’t a lot of official after school activities. We just played… Kickball, dodgeball, baseball, basketball, matchbox cars, tag, swinging, sledding in the winter, riding bikes, jump rope, hopscotch, cops and robbers… Kid stuff.

Some kids had parents pick them up, and even the parents of their friends (OH MY!) and some of us simply walked home or rode their bike! EVEN BUS STUDENTS would sometimes walk, or ride their bike.

And not just the 5th & 6th graders! No way! K-6! We all hung out and played together on the schoolyard, and on the sidewalks, and front lawns all the way home.

Sure, sometimes there were fights among us, and sometimes scary older kids, or grown ups did something that “freaked us out” a little, or down right terrified us.

In Maine anyway, things for the most part are the same.  Sure there is some gang activity, and it seems that more kids are drinking, and doing drugs in some of our rougher neighborhoods, but for the most part there is one major difference:


When I was a kid, if you got scared by something, you could go to pretty much any grown-up and get assistance.  A kid knew more than a dozen folks along the walk to and from school that were safe people.  In addition they knew a half-dozen or fewer places they should avoid.

I’m not sure how many deep conversations my parents ever had with the parents of my friends.  But it was known what people you could trust, and you couldn’t, because people knew their neighbors.

Word got around.  A person with a bad reputation could live on the other side of town, but people knew their reputation.  I KNOW!  I had family members that everybody in town knew!  Both good and bad.

Today?  Nobody really knows anybody else.  And nobody trusts anybody else.  For the most part, because of work schedules, kids spend time in day care, or in places like the YMCA, where they are supposed to be safe.

Most of the time, kids MUST be picked up by somebody that is on a list of approved people who the parent’s chose God only knows how long ago.

Parents who want to raise “free range” children are often charged with neglect!You don’t find many kids under 14 home alone that are playing on the playground, reading in the library, or hanging out with friends.  For that matter you don’t even find many groups of kids under 14 without an adult ANYWHERE!  And you CERTAINLY don’t find many kids under the age of 14 who is being looked after by a 14-year-old!  Babysitting was one of the ways I earned spending money!  I even took a course!

There is NO way Susie, and Mary can chat on the playground at recess to set up a play date after school, and have Mary’s mother pick Susie up.  Not without a form signed in triplicate by both parents, and the school, and maybe even the mayor, a pastor, a priest, a rabbi, and a witch doctor.

Because these kids are herded into “safe zones” and aren’t really supposed to come and go as they please, they are left at the mercy of “responsible” adults.  People who are too busy to see what every single kid is doing.   People our kids may have a bad feeling about, but can’t get away from.

When I was a kid, if something felt wrong, WE RAN!  We ran as far, and as fast as we could, and got to a place where we felt safe, and called somebody.  Today our kids are simply stored with other kids until their exhausted parents can come and get them, in places where they are easy targets.

How awesome must it be for somebody who finds children attractive to work at a pool, where only children swim???  And we worry about transgendered children using the wrong bathroom?

How many daycare facilities are shut down because of abuse, or inappropriate touching by adults?  And we are not allowed to leave our children in a large open space where the police, and late working teachers and school staff can keep an eye out for things that are fishy? (not that all school staff, and police officers are above doing inappropriate things… But like I say, KIDS CAN RUN!)

We need to teach our kids at a very young age to be independent.  We need to teach our children to trust their instincts (We forget that human beings are just “intelligent” animals…Our ‘fight-or-flight’ instincts are very real), and most importantly we need to get our country back on track so that there are good paying jobs, so that family takes up more of our lives, than the need to make money!  We need to bring back the neighborhood, where everybody knows each other, and the kids belong to the whole neighborhood.

That’s it,  My rant is over.  I don’t know how to fix it.  I just know it needs to be fixed!

Doug Alley

About Doug Alley

I grew up in Bath, Maine in an upper lower class family with 3 step sisters, a step brother, and a little sister. After high school I spent 3 years serving in the USAF at Elmendorf AFB in Anchorage AK. I've competed in, and won, demolition derbies. I've competed in, and never won, stock car races. I am the 47-year-old father of an 11-year-old boy who is pretty sure he is smarter than I ever was. We live on a little less than an acre of land in a 1973 mobile home in Stetson with my wife Jen, some cats, a few chickens, and rabbits, and a couple of goats. I hunt, fish, camp out, dabble in photography, gardening, and I cook in variable degrees of near success.