OKEECHOBEE — The words, “I’m bored” have got to be two of the most dreaded words in the English language for parents because most parents instantly feel a sense of guilt when they hear those words and believe it is their job to do something to solve this horrendous problem for their children. Recently, someone, or more likely, a group of someones damaged the helicopter in Veterans Park, and the response of one adult was that no one should be surprised by this because kids have nothing to do in this town. As if it were the job of the town to entertain the local children, and if the job was not done well, we should expect repercussions.
Most adults over the ago of 40 are confused by the idea of entertaining children. When they were raising their children, the kids entertained themselves. In the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, the child just walked out the door in the morning to go play with his friends and came back when it got dark. Mom might or might not have seen him for lunch. Usually there was one house in the neighborhood where all the kids hung out — the Kool-Aid House. They played baseball or rode their bikes. They went fishing. They made up plays and performed them for each other and the neighborhood. They played hop scotch and jacks and marbles.
If you say, “just let your kids go out and play” now, most people act like you’ve lost your mind. “What about kidnappers?” they say, “or serial killers?” “Or what about the parents in Maryland who were investigated because their kids walked home from the park?”
The idea of a stranger abducting your child is one that terrifies every parent, but according to David Finkelhor the director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire, children kidnapped by complete strangers or people they barely know only make up one-hundredth of 1 percent of all children who are missing. He also said the overall rate of children going missing is steadily declining so it really isn’t unreasonable to think it would be safe to allow your children to play outside with their friends.
According to Michele Bell, Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Office public information officer, there is no specific law regarding children being outside alone in the state of Florida, and it is legally acceptable for them to play outside, walk around the neighborhood or go to the park by themselves. However, if children are outside unattended too frequently or not by their own choice, as was the case recently with the 7-year-old boy who was locked out of his home all day without food or drink, it could be considered a case of child neglect. Florida Statute 39, which addresses child abuse and neglect, defines child neglect as depriving or allowing a child to be deprived of necessary food, medical treatment, clothing or shelter. If a parent locks a child out of the house overnight or in unfavorable conditions such as rain or extreme heat, he could be accused of neglect, said PIO Bell.
In addition, children who are outside unattended are sometimes home alone, and though Florida does not have a minimum age that children can be left home alone, lawmakers and child advocates expect parents to use good judgment and carefully consider all potential situations when deciding whether to leave children home alone, she said.
PIO Bell suggests having your children put down their phones and turn off the electronics and the television. Send them outside to play. Use your own judgment on how far from home they can go without your supervision. Some children are more mature than others. Does your child know what to do in an emergency?
Dr. Terrence Selvi, author of Parenting with a Purpose says, “Let your kids be bored.” Turn off the television and the electronics. “If your children are telling you they are bored,” he said, “it means their brains are not working as hard as they should be.” He said when he was a child, he remembers being bored, but he never told anyone about it because he had the mental skills to fix it. These days we are not allowing our children to develop those skills, he said. “Let your kids be bored. That is the only way they will learn how to overcome it. It gives them a chance to develop creativity and problem-solving skills,” he explained.