The “Get Off My Lawn” Crowd Goes Virtual

I fondly remember the days in the ‘90s when I ran around the neighborhood like a feral child. My friends and I dirtied our feet black-as-tar from running barefoot on the neighbors’ lawns, climbing trees, and riding our bikes from dawn until dusk nearly every weekend and school break day.  We had independence and freedom and made our fair share of trouble. I sometimes wonder if my parents even knew where I was most of the day.

We had a couple neighbors who would run out of their homes and chase us off their lawns when they saw us. The neighborhood kids all knew what lawns and driveways to avoid, unless someone was feeling particularly ornery and wanted to ruffle some adult feathers that day, which happened from time-to-time.

I mourn the loss of a simple childhood for my kids. Now that nearly every home has cameras, and people carry high-tech cameras in their pockets every day, grace, understanding, and empathy seem to be at an all-time low.

My two sons have a group of neighborhood children their ages that they love to run and ride around the neighborhood with. Though we can no longer allow them to freely roam from dawn until dusk like I did, I try to garner as many opportunities for independence for my children as possible. I want them to learn, as children should, how to navigate making decisions and solving problems by themselves when they can and guide them when they can’t.

But, my boys have run into a problem I never had to experience in my early days.  Recently, they were hanging out on a neighbor’s lawn who lives near the neighborhood greenbelt. We do not know this neighbor.

Do the boys know they shouldn’t be on a neighbor’s lawn without permission? Yes. Have they been told over and over? Yes. Do they sometimes push boundaries and explore their limits as is natural and healthy for their age group? Yes.

They came home early from a day of play because their usually good-natured roughhousing went a bit too far and they became angry with each other. They realized they needed to come home, and so they did. They talked it out, separated from one another, calmed down, and enjoyed the evening at home.

Everything was fine until I logged on to social media and saw several videos of my children. The neighbor whose lawn they were on posted videos of my children and their friends hanging out on the neighbor’s lawn to our neighborhood social media page. 

In one of those videos, the boys were roughhousing. Of course, out of context, and for someone who doesn’t know my children, I could see how it didn’t appear to be roughhousing. There was really nothing else notable about the videos, other than the kids were standing in the yard talking.

My heart sank. And, though inside I knew my kids were being normal kids, I felt horrible. I felt like a terrible mom. As a solo mom, I deal with mom guilt on a regular basis without anyone else’s help.

A flood of comments hit the post almost immediately.  Half of the people berated me and my children. They were “out of control” and I was a terrible mother who should “be ashamed” of myself. How could I let my children stand on another person’s lawn and driveway? Wretched, evil mother.

The other half argued in favor of my children being able to be kids without their videos plastered over social media and my children and myself shamed. “Did you talk to them?” One poster commented.  “Do you think it’s fair to share this post if you didn’t bother to talk to them and ask them to play somewhere else? It’s clear they didn’t hurt anything on your property. They’re kids.”

Embarrassment and worry flooded my mind as I watched the comments and reactions grow. We were the talk of the ‘hood that day.  I worried about how my children would be perceived and what consequences they would suffer for not following my rules, for one moment, on that one day.  I chose to take away outside play privileges for a few days, even though I hated to force them to isolate in the house to let things die down.

Within a few days, the administrators removed the post because of the arguments and name-calling that took place- on both sides of the aisle. Who knew children playing could be such a divisive issue? The bitterness and vitriol blew my mind and made me feel worse.

Though I felt relieved the posts were taken down, I thought about how much simpler life was when I was a child. I remembered the adventures and explorations my friends and I had before our brains, emotions, and self-regulation were fully developed and I thought of how mortified I would be if those adventures were immortalized on video on social media for all time.

I appreciate and understand differing viewpoints. Though I would much rather a gaggle of children congregate on my lawn than choose activities that hurt themselves, other’s property, or others, I respect other people’s boundaries and values. I try to teach my children to respect differing opinions, values, and ideals, and not only not to touch or take others property, but also, to stay off other’s property. 

But, sometimes, kids forget. Sometimes, kids push boundaries. Sometimes, kids play around in the yard next to the greenbelt even when they know they shouldn’t.

I welcome any and everyone who sees my kids being ornery to call them out, firmly but kindly. I warmly invite you to approach me if they disrespect you or your property and I promise I will handle the situation swiftly and properly.

But, I implore you to approach me or my children before you push “upload” on that video of my kids on social media. My children and I are not just moving pictures on a screen.  We are living, feeling, breathing beings who sometimes fail, sometimes make mistakes, but mostly are as worthy of grace and understanding as you are on our bad days.

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Sarah Stewart is a Wills and Trusts attorney, entrepreneur, writer, speaker, and human rights advocate. Sarah is a solo mom to two boys. She loves jiu jitsu, coffee, travel and adventure. She published her first book in October 2022- The Monster in My Home: Surviving Evil. You can find out more at www.solidserenity.com.

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