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Darell Hammond Headshot

Do Children Have a Fundamental Right to Make Noise?

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When a teacher tells students to "use indoor voices," the implication is that once outside, they are free to laugh, scream, sing, shout and generally make a ruckus. But some people disagree.

I keep coming across stories about grumps and curmudgeons who want to silence our nation's children. Not in libraries, churches, or classrooms, but outside -- in playgrounds, streets, and yards. Given that American children spend 50 percent less time outside than they did just 20 years ago, I rejoice whenever I see (and hear) kids expending energy, using their imaginations, and enjoying fresh air. But apparently the same beautiful scene sends some people scurrying to authorities to complain!

Consider these two outrageous stories:

  • In Douglas, Mich., residents Kate and Heather have been fighting since 2006 to close the playground at an Early Childhood Center (ECC) next to their home. Kate told The Allegan County News, "The noise from the playground is deafening. It's unbearable." In response to their complaints about noise, the state of Michigan recently ordered the Saugatuck Public Schools to "immediately cease and desist" from using the playground. At the time, the playground was being used for only 30 minutes a day.
  • In Methuen, Mass., some parents who told their kids to "go outside and play" were charged $500 by their condo association. The Stonecleave Village Association, Inc. asserted that children were violating a bylaw by playing organized sports in a common area of the complex. One Stonecleave resident, complaining about "playing and screaming" children, said in an e-mail, "I feel like we are living in the projects." According to the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development, who filed charges against the Stonecleave association for discriminating against families with kids, the association didn't take any action against adults who violated similar bylaws by throwing an unapproved party in the common area.

On a brighter note, children in Berlin, Germany were just legally granted the "right to be noisy." According to the BBC, instead of heeding the hundreds of complaints about noise levels in outdoor play areas, the city dismissed them all in one fell swoop. "We have to consider the rights of children to shout while they are growing up," said Alex Strohbusch from Berlin's Department of Noise Protection.

We can't let the grumps and curmudgeons win! It's time to make some noise to show authorities that we support a child's fundamental right to noisiness. Maybe we can eventually follow Berlin's lead and get it written into law, but until then, we'll have to take it one grump and curmudgeon at a time.

Learn more about the grumps in Michigan and Massachusetts and join our online petitions to make some noise!