Too noisy for the neighbours - should kids be quiet in the park?

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock 

One of the reasons mums are exhausted is that we're constantly monitoring our kids' behaviour. Not just checking whether they're happy and safe, but also whether they're annoying anyone. All day and night, whether we're on the bus, at the library or just at home, we need to nag them. Keep the noise down. Use words not fists. We don't pull other ladies' tampons out of their handbags. 

Thank goodness for public playgrounds, designed for children to gleefully run amok. A safe place for parents to temporarily power down the "noise monitoring" app in their brain.

Or so I thought! Then I read this complaint to the 4,600 members of our local community Facebook page. 

"At 7am on a Sunday I love to sit on my veranda and enjoy breakfast...What I don't enjoy is the screaming and yelling of small voices or the incessant barking of dogs in the park at 7am. There is a time and a place for everything." The post goes on to specifically object to children at the playground using "outside voices in full force" and "crying uncontrollably". 

I agree wholeheartedly with the poster that there's a time and a place - and for boisterous outdoor play, the playground IS that place. After a tiring day of remembering to use their "inside" voice at home, school, daycare, the shops, where else CAN city kids use "outside" voices? And if young children were developmentally capable of managing their emotions and "controlling" their crying, as a parent I would shed fewer tears too.

Children need to play outside for their physical and mental health. According to Melbourne's Royal Children's Hospital, parents recognise obesity, lack of physical activity and excessive screen time as our three biggest worries about kids' health. More time at the park is an ideal antidote to each of these.

We already have plenty of barriers to sending children outside to play every day – like heavy local traffic, the lure of screen time, being busy parents, and the fear of abduction. We don't need judgment from intolerant neighbours added to the list. 

In our area, like many others, there are several developments constructing hundreds of townhouses as I write. The type of small house where you step out the back door and graze your nose on the fence. And at the same time, dozens of 40-year-old family homes are being demolished to make way for two or three smaller houses on the same block.  

Official figures show lot sizes for new houses in Australia have more or less halved since we were kids. From an average 802 square metres in 1993-94, they're down to a median of 407 square metres in 2016. This increasing housing density doesn't leave a lot of room to kick the footy or play tag at home. As more of us live more closely together, the need to get out into the park for essential physical activity increases.

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But maybe 7:00am is too early? I do remember sleep-ins from my pre-parent life. But this lady is already up and having brekky at 7:00am. I know there are plenty of families where little ones unfailingly bounce out of bed before the sun. Come 7:00am, they're breakfasted, dressed and bouncing off the walls. It's the same time that noisy construction work is usually allowed to start. And in Australia's summer months, first thing is the coolest time of day to walk or ride to the playground.

In this neighbour's defence the playground was built after they moved into the house. Plus she has gone to trouble to keep the post super courteous ("Thank you for taking the time to read and have a great Sunday.") But I'm still not convinced kids we should restrict children to quiet play at the playground.

Look, I don't like noise either. I'm certainly not about to suggest a game of "Who Can Scream The Loudest" at the park, or anywhere. But I accept that by living in suburbia and not Woop Woop, I'm going to hear the neighbour's leaf blower, the adjacent builder's nail gun, and the passing tantrum. 

If the noise of children playing really is too much, perhaps it's time the house changed hands. What young family wouldn't relish the chance to give their kids outside play every day? In such a valuable location, I'm sure they'd make the owners an attractive offer.