Horse Around, Hover or Text? What Your Playground Style Says About You

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We moved about six months ago into house where I can almost literally throw a rock into the neighborhood playground. There are a lot of families in the area, and because it’s so convenient my two young kids are getting more playground time than they ever have before, much to their delight.

However, all the time I’m spending at the playground as of late has made me weirdly keyed in to the the behavior of other parents at the playground. Generally speaking, parental behavior tends to fall into three different categories — we’ll call them horsing around, hovering and texting.

The horse around parent: Some parents are really engaged with their kids at the playground, in the best way possible — they’re acting like kids themselves. They’re chasing the kids around, hoping up on the slide platforms, pushing the swings, showing them how to use the monkey bars etc. It never fails to amaze me how much joy this brings out in the children. Not only are these parents paying attention to their own kids, they’re also facilitating play between kids and otherwise helping the kids of other parents. By and large, kids really, really enjoy these parents.

The hover parents: Some parents are just natural worriers, and they follow their kids around the playground without really engaging them. They’re simply making sure that their kids are staying safe and out of trouble. In some cases, particularly with kids two and younger, the parents are there but not engaging not because they don’t want to, but because running around the playground and figuring out how to climb things is sort of a necessary part of the discovery/learning process when you’re that young. But that’s rare. There are a lot of hover parents who should just take the extra step of facilitating play and joining in with their kids.

The texters: Look, we’ve all been there. I work from home and my schedule is irregular, so I confess I’ve been that parent before, pecking away on the iPhone sitting on a bench, while my child goes down the slide again and again. No, I haven’t just been that parent “before.” I’m pretty much this parent all the time. And sure, it’s not ideal. You’re neither paying attention or helping your kids have fun. I suppose taking your kids to the playground is better than not taking your kids to the playground, but sometimes I have a tinge of guilt for not taking better advantage of the time. On the other hand, our parents didn’t even bother accompanying us to the playground, so what’s the harm? I figure that this just enables everyone to be happy (until such time my children are old enough to venture to the playground on their own).

Well, I hope this crude taxonomy is helpful. Since I’ve started thinking about it and observing other parents behavior at the playground, it’s made me much more mindful of how engaged I am in my children’s play. The funny thing is that when I’m in the moment, running around with my children at the playground having fun, I find the play time as therapeutic as my kids do.


  1. Stokely

    June 27, 2011 at 12:15 pm

    I finds interventionist parents sorta annoying–except, obvs, when they are supervising a tiny toddler for reasons of safety. When parents are all in their kids’ grills, playing or even horsing around together, it can be intimidating for other young kids to join in. It sequesters kids off from one another. My partner and I call it the “My dad’s my best friend!’ school of playgrounding. We’re close to our child too–we horse around together at the climbing gym, on hikes in the forest and at home–but at the playground, we’re happiest when she’s happily playing with new friends that she found on her own.

  2. sherri smith

    June 30, 2011 at 4:09 pm

    Sometimes I am all three of those parents. We took them to the park . Yay! The rest is up to us. You may see me banging on the big metal music pipes, or running trough the spray ground, but I’m not going down the slides anymore or swinging on the swings. And sometimes, letting them play lets me get in that girl talk on my phone.

  3. mondayjane

    July 15, 2011 at 8:40 pm

    I don’t know. My toddler is 20 mos, and when I go to the park or wading pool I’m usually having fun with her and trying to engage other children who are into it too. I know I am not sequestering anyone off – the opposite actually. I’m not rah-rah camp counselor mom, but my little one is IMO too young to just be running amok on her own in a playground.

    Actually what makes me wonder is parents who can’t be bothered to do anything when their kids push others around or are generally behaving poorly. Maybe putting the iPhone down in this case? I mean, OUR parents didn’t sit around texting when they took us to play in the park. If legitimately too busy to pay attention, then perhaps a sitter or another parent can be arranged to supervise while you focus on your work/girl-talk time.

  4. Kitty

    March 7, 2012 at 4:50 am

    I have been all three – sometimes during the same outing. It just depends on my child’s mood and my mood and what friends come along to play. It varies from one day to the next just like which area of the park she wants to play in. Our “moods” generally are in sync and it is fun to play with her or just watch to protect if needed (though I do not hover unless I feel extra need for security), or sit back and surf while still keeping an eye on her.

  5. Maria Rodriguez

    August 7, 2012 at 10:22 am

    I find myself observing as well and although I am not always engaging in play I try my best to mix in phone time play time…but it makes me a little sad and upset when I see parents who’s don’t engage at all from the time they get there to the time they leave. Our this is a good one a mom staying in her car while her older daughter about 11 is on the playground with her little baby brother…ugh I was super disgusted…

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