'The reason I hate playgrounds'

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 Photo: Getty Images

I hate playgrounds. That's a horrible thing to say, I know, what with me being a father of three and all. My young kids love nothing more than their dad taking them over to the park for swinging and sliding and that sort of thing, but I think I'm officially over it.

Why? Because playgrounds are the prime place in modern society where parents feel justified in depositing their poorly behaved children. Adults feel OK about gabbing with friends and paying more attention to their social media feeds than their progeny, while simultaneously earning kudos for the time their kids are enjoying outdoors, being active and away from screens.

While in actual fact, their little darlings are busy terrorising smaller, younger peers without a word of correction or consequence from their oblivious elders.

Now, not all parents at playgrounds are mentally checked out and emotionally distant, nor are all children who play there horrid. You and yours, dear readers, most assuredly are not. But you must admit that most every playground that's at all crowded with children has some bad apples in spoiling the experience.

My problem is that I have no issue correcting the children of strangers. Especially when their misbehaviour impacts the wellbeing and safety of my own children, or others at the playground. I realise that I'm breaking some unwritten code of parenting in doing so. But children can get up to mischief if left on their own, admit it. The angels of our better nature as evolved humans are rarely on display as they enjoy the Lord of the Flies-like freedom of an unsupervised neighbourhood playground.

Kids today are fearless. Having never been told not to do something by their own parents, they're sure not going to take it from some grumpy dad trying to police the local playground.

My last playground visit - ever, maybe - came recently when I took our youngest (she turns 2 this month) to a playground not far from our home. I rode with her on the larger slides, and helped her climb the steps to the toddler ones, watching warily as she slid down by herself.

Upon a couple of occasions, a boy perhaps twice her age came over to her and got in her space, if not her face. The first time he grabbed a small plastic doll of hers. To his credit, the boy's father was there quickly, acting the way a parent does who knows his child is a handful. He didn't correct the boy, and neither did I. No harm, no foul.

A bit later, the same boy climbed up a higher slide my daughter and I were getting ready to ride together, and placed himself in such a way as to block us from riding the slide. The father again was on it quickly, entreating his son to move. The young fellow would not comply, so the dad physically removed him from the scene. Again, I said nothing.

The boy threw a tantrum at his father's feet, so my daughter and I moved to a smaller slide on the other side of the playground.

A few minutes later, she was at the top of a tiny slide, ready to ride down. I was at the bottom and to the side of the slide, ready to catch her. The same boy came running from the other side of the playground toward the bottom of the slide, with the clear intent of running up it. I made a small pivot to step in front of the slide so he could not do so. He tried to push past me, unsuccessfully.

He ran away crying, and my daughter proceeded to complete her slide-riding safely. A moment later, the dad (a large and somewhat imposing fellow) came up to ask what happened. I told him. He expressed his displeasure with my actions, saying I should come to him if I have a problem with his kid. I explained I was protecting my daughter's safety in the moment; there was no time to tell him. A loud discussion ensued. Since I was the one with a tiny child in my arms, I walked away. He followed me, aggressively, for several steps.

Hey, I get it. Dads protect their children. That's what we do. But it was his kid who had it out for mine. He knew that, or would have if he'd been paying attention.

Once safely home, it took some time for my fight or flight adrenalin rush to subside. I shared the story with my wife, and she recounted a dozen times she'd done the same, interceding with a discipline-deprived kid while the parents sat nearby, oblivious. She observed that the unruly kids often target children who are getting actual attention from their parents.

That's a warm and fuzzy theory: by being an engaged and involved dad, I'm making a target of our children at the playground. Just another reason to avoid the places entirely. So be careful; it's a jungle gym out there.

- Orange County Register