Growing up I had acres of land to run and explore in, a large drive-way to setup the hockey nets, and often blocks if not miles between myself and my friends. So I had room to express myself as a kid with endless amounts of forts, hide-a-ways, and trails. That is not to say that we, as boys, did not do any damage – we just had more of a cushion. Learning to ride bikes, we took out the tail light of my parents vehicles. There were always lots of ball prints in our garage door, if not dents. We learned to stay away from those neighbors that caused us strife and rarely infringed on other peoples property (there was no need). However, most neighbors often had kids of there own so lawns, yards, and driveways just became extensions of our own.
I bring this up as it is a very different childhood than that which my kids are growing up in. Their entire lives have been spent living in a gated condo/townhouse community. There are limited play areas for kids which leaves community parks for them to stretch their legs. Outside the gates of the community lies a city, be it a small one, still a city and some of the main arteries of that city are right close. While am not a helicopter parent, or don’t like to think of myself as one, I still haven’t come to grips with letting them run around outside the gates of the neighborhood yet … my oldest is only 11. I cannot believe my parents let me do some of the things I did at the same age, I shudder at the thought of my boys doing the same.
Which brings us to today…
As with many condo/townhouse communities, we share a multifamily structure and thus a driveway with our neighbor. Over the last several months we have had a couple of run-ins where the kids play has concerned him about his car. To counter this we have a few rules in place about when and where they play road hockey, but today the boys pushed those boundaries. While I was moving the car to give them space in our driveway, they were taking shots against his garage door and he was not pleased. I asked the kids to respect his property and apologized, but left it there.
Later the kids were playing four-square in the driveway, I even got to play for a bit. I questioned playing where we were, but the kids were being good about it so I brought it up and let them make their decision. I knew they were not going to do any major damage without serious intent. After I had came in to make dinner I heard enough noises outside to step out and see what was going on. What I found was the boys in tears, and their friends looking solemn. Seems that the ball bounced out of control and off the neighbors hood and he had come outside, obviously upset, and confiscated the ball.
At this point I was torn, while I wanted to fight for the boys right to play and demand the ball back I also wanted to teach the boys about the consequences of being careless around other peoples property – that they don’t have the run of the land. In truth, I see both points of view – I understand where the neighbor is coming from. He paid good money for his car and his place, he doesn’t have kids nor has asked for them to live next to him. He has every right to live there, to park in his driveway, and not fear damage to his things. Yet, I also feel for the kids. Living in these communities they have had many rules and restrictions placed on them that hinder a lot of childhood play and exploration. We have been in constant battles with the home-owners associations over playing road hockey, basketball, bikes, rollerblades, and pool times. The kids are starting to feel the world is against them and I see them applying the emotions of the past onto every new situation. The disrespect that is often shown them is being turned right back around, and I don’t see that being healthy down the road.
So I started saying that I had asked them to be careful, but looking at them I decided on a different tactic. Instead of placing blame, I provided some context. I explained why he was upset and that while I understood that it was an accident it still happened, and the fact that there was no (known) damage doesn’t change the fact that he was upset and just protecting his things. Adding the fact that he was already upset from earlier probably didn’t help. So while I understood they were upset at losing their ball – and no I didn’t think that was right, but he was angry and needed time to cool off. So, their task was to write him a note to apologize for accidentally striking his car – and I retreated to finish dinner. Unfortunately I did not get a chance to read their note, once done they placed it as his door, knocked, and ran … too scared to face him.
Over dinner I explained that I knew what happened wasn’t intentional but was a learning experience. I tried to convey that they should not fear our neighbor for he wasn’t going to harm them, and if they treat him with respect then he will be more inclined to treat them with respect. Yet, if they treat him with disrespect he would likely not show any leniency in future situations thus making life living next door very difficult. So, they need to stand up and apologize in this situation, explain that they understand why he would be upset, explain what they will do in the future … and respectfully ask for their ball back.
I reminded them that I was right there behind them supporting them in this, so they did not need to be afraid … and if they were respectful I saw no issues in them getting their ball back … and that is in fact exactly what happened.
You grow from making mistakes. You learn from experiences. These are the life lessons kids face, it is how they grow. It is how they learn right from wrong and how to empathize. As parents, it is not our job to protect them from these experiences but teach them how to deal with each one as it comes up.