Originally Posted – www.transitionpgh.org – August 9, 2011 @ 11:00 AM
Growing up we belonged to a country club… country club only by name I should mention… Whitehall Country Club consisted of a pool, tennis courts and basketball court… No golf course or fancy restaraunt, we had shuffle board and a snack bar. When it was really hot and the pool was filled to capacity, every two hours the lifeguards would blow their whistles and yell “adult swim”. I absolutely loathed the adult swim and never understood why the old people got 15 minutes of my valuable pool time. I mean just who in the hell do they think they are, forcing us out of the pool.
When we first moved to Whitney Avenue. the children had no boundaries, they did what they wanted and went where ever they felt like going. We wanted the kids around but we had no sacred places in the neighborhood that the kids would respect. This blog will be about creating places in your neighborhood that are off-limits to children while adults are present, and also about how frustrating it can be if your neighbors don’t help enforce rules.
Last summer we had six boys that were on our street on a daily basis, these kids have very few boundaries and no rules. I love spending time with these kids but occasionally we needed some time to ourselves. These kids had NEVER been told where they could and couldn’t go, so this was a huge hurdle to overcome. Initially I wanted our back yard to be our sacred place, or atleast just a place we could all retreat to when we needed a break from the kids. Our landlady even gave us a couple hundred dollars to buy plants for the backyard because she realized how badly we needed space from the kids. We built a fire pit out of bricks from the neighborhood and last summer we spent at least 3 nights a week out by the fire.
I explained to the kids that our backyard was off limits and that when we were back there, it meant we were done playing and needed time to ourselves. The kids hated this, but they did respect it to some degree. This rule also had the added benefit of making our backyard a special place and the children knew that when they were invited in, they had done something good and were being rewarded. The picture of Brandon and I sitting by the fire is a perfect example of how well this originally worked. Brandon had been helping me on the farm for 6 gruelling hours and really went above and beyond anything I would expect from a ten year old. I felt he deserved a reward… I rewarded him by inviting him into our backyard to have a fire, eat pizza, drink organic pomegranate juice, and make smores. I also took this opportunity to teach him how to properly build a fire and keep it under control. Basically everything I learned about fires in boy scouts that he would otherwise never be told. Believe it or not, I made a lot of people mad by doing this, but I feel that fire is an important aspect of life. Now he knows how to responsibly build a fire and how to safely contain a fire. Survival skills were historically taught to all boys and I feel that this is an aspect of life that all boys should be taught to some degree. Knowing how to start a fire could possibly save this kids life some day.
Brandon has a reputation of being a pyro-maniac and has had the neighborhood residents call the police on him several times for starting fires. When I was a ten year old boy growing up in South Park starting fires was something that I was taught in boy scouts and I was taught to do it responsibly and safely. If I had the cops called every time I started a fire, I would still be locked up. I had the woods to go and be bad in, while children in urban settings don’t have places to hide like we did. When I was bad I did it in the woods away from prying eyes but these kids really only have the street and when they are bad it is usually in front of people.
When dealing with children who have no rules or boundaries, consistency is absolutely necessary. If one adult says something or sets a rule for the children, then all of the adults have to enforce this rule. The moment an adult lets the kids bend or break a rule then it is done forever. It is frustrating to attempt to enforce a rule that is important to you and finally see some progress only to have your neighbors destroy any hopes of ever enforcing the rule permanently. In our case we had the backyard effectively closed to kids, they could come to the fence but they could not come in. This was a rule that I was very strict about and would enforce it even if we were not hanging out back there. I didn’t want to give them an inch because I know from experience that an inch will turn into a mile if we gave them the opportunity.
About the only method I have of getting space from the children anymore is by calling “Adult Swim” I can do it just about anytime we need space from the children. They know what it means and most of the time respect it. I think that the kids in our neighborhood need rules and boundaries and if an adult in your neighborhood sets rules for the kids then all of the adults need to enforce those rules. I can call an adult swim from anywhere in the hood and the kids will respect it. This is one rule that has not been screwed up yet and I intend to keep it that way.
In short what I am saying is do not be afraid to set rules for the children in your neighborhood. If one of your neighbors has a rule that they try and enforce, out of respect – enforce it and unless you want to piss off your neighbor NEVER undermine a rule that they are attempting to enforce. Children have a way of running with things and anytime someone tells them they can break a rule they will almost always run with the opportunity. Once a rule has been broken and they have had an adult’s consent while breaking the rule, then it is as good as dead. Controlling the children in a neighborhood requires complete cooperation from all of the adults in the neighborhood. The second that you lose cooperation, you lose the kids. Mutual respect from all parties involved is the only way to make the adult swim and sacred backyard rules work.