Ah, childhood. It’s all about running in the fresh air, playing basketball or football with friends and climbing trees – right? Apparently not so much for a few children in Yardley, Pennsylvania.
When Julie Holcombe’s twin 12-year-olds, Ryan and Patrick, decided to stop and climb a tree with friends on their way home from school they were stopped. The Year 6 boys and their friends – who call themselves “the squad” – regularly hang out in an oval that connects the area’s two middle schools. Recently the boys were climbing a tree when a man (who they didn’t know) approached them.
Stranger danger? Perhaps. Well in this case it’s a bit different than you might think.
The man identified himself as a school official. Holcombe’s son Ryan told TODAY Parents, “The man asked us to get out of the tree, and he said, “I’ve been watching you climb this tree after school for a while, and even sent a security guard over to talk to you, but you were being evasive of the officer.”
The man then asked for the boys’ names and told “The squad” that he would report them to the principal.
Why would a supposed school official not want young boys to, well, to be boys? Ryan went on to say, “He told us, ‘I don’t want you kids climbing, because if you fall and get hurt, the school would be responsible and could get sued.’” He did tell the boys that they weren’t “in trouble,” but that he would go to the principal about the matter.
Holcombe didn’t exactly share the same sentiment as the school ‘official’ did. When her sons came home they explained what had happened. This mum was far from thrilled about her sons’ being told to stop playing. In a time when technology rules, why should a group of middle school boys not climb a tree?
In response to the situation, Holcombe created her own ‘permission form’ for climbing trees. On her Facebook page Holcombe posted, “I think parents are way too quick to place blame on teachers or school administrators for the shortcomings of their own children. With that in mind, I acknowledge that this might be my own overreaction, but I couldn’t help it.” She followed this with, “Because for the love of Pete, kids should be able to climb trees.”
Yes, we certainly do live in an over-litigated age where parents are quick to put blame on what they see as negligent or neglectful behaviours (when it comes to school supervision). Sure, there probably are plenty of parents out there who would be quick to hire a lawyer if their child climbed a tree on school property and fell out (or at least, call the local TV news channel to place blame). But, should that mean schools need to stop children from something that comes naturally – play?
While this mum admits her letter and permission form might be an overreaction, what she titles a “soapbox moment” might just be an unfortunate byproduct of modern parenting.
With helicopter parents hovering over their kids, keeping them ‘safe’ and not allowing them to experience life for themselves (if experiencing life means the possibility of a skinned knee, scrape or hurt feeling), it’s no wonder that schools feel the need to put an end to tree climbing and other similar activities.
Holcombe told TODAY Parents, “It seems like too many of us who are responsible in some way for our children’s development – parents, teachers, school administrators, coaches – have gotten so focused on preventing something bad that it’s come at the expense of fostering something good.”
This isn’t to say that the school was right. In fact, the school didn’t back the official (who was later found to be a teacher). After Holcombe initially posted her letter and permission slip on her Facebook page, she added an update saying, “I spoke again with the administrator this afternoon who let me know that the teacher has now been told he is not to approach the kids again, and that in fact any kids are allowed to play on the tree as long as they are respectful of the property.”
Was the permission form an overreaction? Maybe. But, the mum’s creative solution to a growing problem came out with a win. As Holcombe concludes her Facebook update she sums it up in the best way possible, “Tree climbing for all!!!”