THE BLOG

Misplaced Priorities in Child Safety and Youth Sports

04/22/2015 12:19 pm ET | Updated Jun 22, 2015

Recently, there's been a lot of talk about a couple of kids in Maryland whose parents let them walk to the park unsupervised. This story brought back some memories of our kids doing the same thing, but we never worried a bit. And they all survived. Actually, it was probably one of the best times of their lives, and ours as parents.

They would wake up on a Saturday morning, eat their breakfast as fast as they could and be out the back door and off to the park. We didn't see them again until almost dark. We often thought how great it was that they were learning some of life's great lessons while being on their own as they made up rules for their games, be it baseball, football or whatever the sport season. Sure they had arguments, but they settled things on their own.

As a physical educator by schooling, I learned in one class what Plato said many years ago, "A child is at its learning best while at play." Nothing could be more evident from the results my wife and I saw of our kids' Saturdays at the park.

Today's parents seem so paranoid about their kids being safe once they go out the front door. It might be understandable in that with social media today, if someone dropped a rock on their foot in Darlington, S.C. we would all hear about it in the next 20 minutes. I know it sounds silly but that's the way it is today. However, when it comes to kids being safe in today's world, all the literature I've seen indicates that things are not much different than they were 50 years ago.

The irony in all of this is that the same people who are paranoid about letting their kids be on their own are the same people who drop their kids off at the field with a stranger they hardly know.

In organized youth sports, leagues must depend on volunteers to coach teams, and in many cases the league takes whoever agrees to volunteer. How do parents know these people aren't child molesters or drug dealers? (Because background checks aren't enough.)

Now don't get upset. I know that the overwhelming number of people who volunteer to coach in youth sports programs are wonderful, caring people. But I also know that there are many not-so-great people out there, too. And for the most part, parents never seem to care. They just love having someone to watch their kids while they go off shopping for a few hours. Think about it. It's like hiring a babysitter to watch your kids. Would a sensible parent ever do so without knowing something about the babysitter?

The bottom line is that to me letting your kids go to the park unsupervised is a whole lot better than putting them in the hands for a full season with someone you haven't a clue about.