Complaint About Naked 4-Year-Old Prompts Visit From Police

CC BY 2.0. Allan Lee

Parents of a 4-year-old boy, along with many others, are outraged that an anonymous neighbour would call police over a child playing naked in the backyard.

April 19 was a beautiful spring day in Squamish, British Columbia. A father named Ian McIlwaine sent his two little boys out to play in the backyard, where they promptly got soaked in a water fight. McIlwaine told his four-year-old son to go change his pants, but instead he ran out of the house naked – something that most parents of four-year-old boys would doubtless consider normal behavior.

The story should have ended there, but instead Mcllwaine’s wife received a visit from police on April 22. Apparently an anonymous neighbor had complained about the McIlwaines’ son “being out on the street with no clothes on.” Why the neighbor waited three days to complain is unclear, and McIlwaine says he never saw his son out on the street, only in the backyard.

The police eventually apologized to the family for handling the incident poorly and for terrifying their older six-year-old son, who is now fearful that he and his brother will be taken away from their parents. The police, however, justified their visit as being more about safety than nudity.

CBC reports: “‘Officers were responding to a concern about children playing in the street, not whether they had clothes on,’ said staff sgt. Brian Cumming. ‘The nakedness is just not the issue at all. The issue is child safety.’”

Not surprisingly, the incident has outraged countless parents across Canada and received significant social media attention. How many of us stripped down to play in splash pools, sprinklers, and hoses when we were small? How many of our own children have dashed around the house stark naked on a glorious summer day? And when did letting kids run along a street – if that’s indeed what happened – become such a terrible crime? The fact that a grumpy neighbor should pervert such normal childhood behavior and even go so far as to involve police is disturbing.

Parenting is tough enough as it is, but when you add a judgmental society that feels free to express criticism anonymously or online, a police force that responds to absurd complaints about children playing naked on a warm day, and organizations like Child Protective Services in the U.S. and the Children’s Aid Society in Canada that waste resources investigating decent parents when there are far needier situations to address, raising kids becomes an overwhelming task. All too often, parents are fighting for the right to raise their kids the way they see best, but are condemned to struggle because their method isn’t consistent with the status quo.

It seems the government, police, and CPS/CAS want all kids to fear danger, even where there is none. Rather than teaching kids how to be confident and independent, parents are urged to over-protect, guard, and shield their children from the most unlikely events, while ignoring other things that threaten their wellbeing -- such as not being able to be a kid and run around naked in the backyard.

The nudity incident follows closely on the heels of the “free range kids” debacle in Silver Spring, Maryland, when ten- and six-year-old Rafi and Dvora Meitiv were picked up by police and taken to CPS for being allowed to play alone at a park close to home. Their mother Danielle Meitiv wrote a piece for the Washington Post, in which she urges parents to “take back the streets and parks for our children,” a powerful and much-needed message:

“We need to refuse to allow ourselves to be ruled by fear or allow our government to overrule decisions that parents make about what is best for their children. Overpolicing parents in this way does not make children safer; it disrupts families and makes our kids fearful, anxious, and unhealthy.”