Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Do you speak up at the playground?

In a big city, deciding whether to intervene at the playground feels complicated and possibly dangerous.

Do you speak up at the playground?


My son and his friends were playing at the beautifully renovated Roberto Clemente playground recently when a child who appeared to be about 10 years old started doing back flips off of tables and other surfaces.

At first, we praised his athleticism, but when he climbed up a curvy slide to do his black flip, all I could see was his head smacking into the playground equipment or the ground. I asked the other parents, whom I did not know, if we should stop him. They said nothing.

I asked again. They stared at the ground.

“Your back flips are great,” I said to the child, “but I don’t think you should do them from the slide.”

He moved and went to practice his gymnastics from a picnic table.

One of the other parents then said, “I didn’t want to say anything. You never know where the parents are. The last time I said something to a kid, the mother came over and yelled the most horrible things at me.”

His mouth hung slightly open, as if the shock of the incident still clung to him.

My husband has told me that I’m a little too inclined to speak up about other people’s bad behavior. I’ve asked people not to litter and told a neighbor to stop when I saw her beating her child in the middle of our street. My neighbor responded with a string of expletives.

Until recently, my husband and I joked about how someone might shoot me in response to one of my little sermons.

It no longer seems like a joke after a woman, chastised by a fellow bus passenger for spanking her child (for the record, probably not something I would speak up about unless the spanking was vicious), got on her cell phone and called friends who strafed the loaded bus with semiautomatic weapons fire in North Philadelphia.

You can read about it and see a few pictures here.

The June 18 incident shocked many and prompted me to reconsider the wisdom of speaking up. I’ve tightened the rules around when I will say something. Littering no longer bothers me enough to invite a possible attack.

But the safety of children? I don’t think I can stay quiet about that.

What about you? Have you had experiences like these in the city? Do you say something or keep quiet? Write and tell me how you handle this. And if you’re a suburban reader, let me know about parallel situations where you live.

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Miriam Hill
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