Yes, my teen hangs out at the park, maybe even on the swings. But he's a good kid who is just looking for a place to be with his friends.
Parenting SPM/MM

My Teen Hangs Out at the Park and He Doesn’t Deserve Your Judgment

By Jacqueline Miller

My son turned 14 this summer, and our house seems to have a revolving door for his friends. Sometimes they hang out at the park across the street.

As these 13-to-15-year-olds chat on the swings or sit on the play structure (always giving the “littles” priority), I love that they’re getting outside, away from the lure of the Xbox.

But it pains me that other parents see them as would-be troublemakers scoping out incognito places to drink, smoke and vandalize or, at the very least, bother the younger kiddos.

When I spy on my son and his “bros” from the window, I see kids who are clutching to a piece of their childhood, in gangly bodies too big for them with voices that suddenly dropped overnight, who can’t yet drive around and explore their world, so they’re left exploring their neighborhoods.

I can appreciate the sentiment from toddler moms on the Internet who complain about teens and preteens in play places. I might have expressed the same concerns 10 years ago. And certainly, there are plenty of preteens and teenagers roaming around, looking for trouble and making poor choices. There are also plenty of children of every age group whose parents are inattentive or simply not as present as they should be.

But bad behavior isn’t restricted to the teens and preteens among us.  I’ve witnessed parents at the park who litter, swear or gossip loudly on speaker phone. One of my neighbors used to trek around the block each night, with his baby in the stroller, as he chain-smoked right over the infant’s head.

I, too, have spent a lot of time in play spaces with my children, and it’s a shame when people behave badly and disrespect those special areas of wonder and excitement.

But let’s not paint all adolescents with the same brush and assume every 11-to-17-year-old is up to no good.

There are so many amazing, genuine, well-mannered teenagers out there. They’re your children’s camp counselors, babysitters and coaches. My fifth-grader went to band camp this summer, and every single day two high schoolers volunteered in his instrument group, getting there by 8 a.m. for three weeks out of their vacation break, just to guide and mentor the younger kids.

So yes, my teenager and his buddies sometimes hang out at the park. They also go fishing at the creek. They swim at our community pool. They sit in the stands of high school football games, frequent the shaved-ice shop, Dairy Queen and the skate park, and go roller skating every Friday night.

And, no, I don’t pretend my teen and his crew are perfect angels all the time. They’re still learning and growing and figuring out who they are. (Not so different from a toddler. Or my 40-something self.)

Bottom line, when you see a group of teens or preteens out together in public, even at the mall, neighborhood park or play area, please take a moment to judge them based on their behavior. And not just on their age.

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About the Author

Jacqueline Miller is the lone female in a house full of guys. She travels freakishly light and can balance two kids on her Dutch bicycle. Her recent articles appear in Today’s Parent and The Christian Science Monitor. Follow her at Boogers Abroad and https://www.facebook.com/boogersabroad.