I don’t know about you, but once my kids turned four, it was impossible to keep clothes on them. During the summer months, they always seemed to be in varying states of undress—a phenomenon that was particularly contagious when we were visiting with friends. As soon as one child stripped off his shorts, the rest of the kids would follow suit. It wasn’t uncommon to have half a dozen kids between the ages of two and six playing in a sandbox, blowing bubbles or riding bicycles in their birthday suits. The only thing we were concerned about as parents was ensuring that there was adequate sunscreen applied.
Last Sunday, Tyler McIlwaine, a preschooler in Squamish, BC, did what I bet many other four-year-olds across the country were doing now that nice weather has arrived in Canada: He played outside without clothes on. But for some reason, Tyler’s naked romping garnered a visit from the police.
Tyler’s dad, Ian, told the CBC that his two sons were playing outside in their yard while Ian was washing and waxing the family car. “First hot day of spring and they’re itching to get outside after a long Canadian winter and first thing they want to do is have a water fight,” he told The Early Edition’s Rick Cluff. Predictably, Tyler’s pants got wet and, rather than putting on a dry pair, the youngster chose to take off his pants and continue playing. “It was all what seemed to be harmless innocence,” McIlwaine told the CBC. “I felt like, at four years old, he’s still pure, he’s still innocent.”
McIlwaine’s neighbours obviously disagreed and called the Squamish RCMP to complain. A few days later, officers showed up at McIlwaine’s house while he was away on a business trip and spent 30 minutes speaking to his wife, even telling her that “further action” could be taken if young Tyler was found outside naked again. The incident has left the McIlwaine family upset, and Tyler is now reportedly fearful of police. In a written statement, Staff Sgt. Brian Cumming said that he has spoken to the family and offered an apology about how the matter was handled.
However, late Wednesday afternoon, the RCMP told the CBC that safety, not nudity, was the reason they visited the McIlwaines. “There was mention that the children had been naked in the street, but that really wasn’t the concern,” said Staff Sgt. Cumming. “The concern was with the children’s safety in general.”
Whether the issue at hand is the nudity of a young boy or kids playing on the street, the entire situation has been blown out of proportion, and neither circumstance warranted an intervention by the RCMP. Since when is it illegal for young kids to play outdoors, whether they have pants on or not? And if McIlwaine’s neighbour was so concerned about the safety of the youngest McIlwaine child, why didn’t he just speak up and help the child back into the yard or house?
But what do I know? I’m just a free-range parent who lets her kids play outside in the buff—and happens to care enough about other children to help them out if they need it rather than calling the cops.
Jennifer Pinarski shares her experiences of giving up her big-city job and lifestyle to live in rural Ontario with her husband while staying home to raise their two young children. Read more Run-at-home mom posts or follow her @JenPinarski.