Children’s Sidewalk Chalk Drawing Outlawed

Hi Readers! Get a load of this — little kids in Australia have been found guilty of violating graffiti laws with their chalk drawings on a sidewalk outside a cafe. This might not be such a Free-Range issue except for this:

Mayor Ben Stennett visited the cafe yesterday as anger mounted. Almost 200 people have signed a petition to support the drawings, which [cafe owner] Ms White is happy to erase each day.

“The mayor said they would like to issue us a permit but can’t because it raises health and safety issues, in case somebody fell over a child on the footpath or into the street,” she said.

Can we PLEASE stop catastrophizing this way in every situation? If the kids are an accident waiting to happen while they draw on the sidewalk, aren’t they an accident waiting to happen while they just stand on the sidewalk, too? After all, someone could bump into them! A car could jump the curb! A dog could chase them into the street! And inside the cafe, a patron could spill boiling tea on them. Every situation can be dangerous if you think about it hard enough. Why use THAT as an excuse to curtail childhood? — L.

58 Responses

  1. I loved drawing with chalk on concrete when I was a kid! My friends and I did it all the time. It’s a good creative, fun, inexpensive, and perfectly harmless activity. It kept us busy and out of our parents’ hair for hours. I suppose Mayor Stennett thinks it would be better if the kids stayed inside and watched TV instead — what a dolt.

  2. Are there tables outside? Because if there are, then people could trip over chairs and such just as easily.

    Or, is it the loitering aspect?

    No, it is the drawing, I don’t really get this. The county park around the corner of where I used to live (Corralitos, CA) had a grounds keeper who hated it when kids drew with chalk on the sidewalks. He always tried to blame it on the preschool program that is held there on Fridays, even though that group always picked up more trash than they created, and never used chalk.

    I had no problems with it unless it was teens doing graphic images, or (teens) doing gang related. And the gang related usually involved something more permanent that chalk.

    Occasionally even the adults would get into it – we did a huge drawing of North America one time, with pretty good indications of all the states including Canada, US, and Mexico. Even what the kids did was mostly educational when you think about it. (Except I really didn’t need those images of body parts the tweens or teens found so amusing.)

  3. I don’t blame someone for accidentally stepping in gum or dog poo, but if you trip over a child, you have no one to blame but yourself. They’re small, but they’re not THAT small.

  4. It’s true! My preschooler is a horrible tripping hazard with an uncanny ability to get in my path. Can I crate him until he’s a teenager?

    (Um, huh?)

  5. My old neighbor was kicked out of the apartments because her kids drew on the sidewalk with chalk.

    My upstairs neighbor had screaming fights with people regularly – he was allowed to stay.

    I told them they had their priorities screwed up.

  6. I’ve heard of children being sanctioned for chalk art in New York too. What a shame that something that was once a staple of childhood has been criminalized.

  7. You know had they just said, it’s a pain in the ass to have a lot of kids blocking the flow of pedestrian traffic on the sidewalk I wouldn’t have thought twice about it and likely supported it… Maybe that’s a function of the fact that I hate tripping over low people when I am trying to walk around the loop….

  8. I’d think small kids are just as trip-over-able no matter where they are or what they’re doing.

    (This is to say, not very. I’ve had toddler-ish children bump into ME, or dart right in front of me and balk/trip/crash me, but I don’t recall having EVER just tripped over a child who was doing something on the ground.)

  9. I saw this yesterday Lenore and wanted to send it to you but didn’t know how. Just crazy. Sounds like there is a lot of community support for this continue. Let’s hope it happens.

  10. Here in nyc too..- used to love to have my kids stand still and trace their shadow on the pavement, then run off and later come back and try to fit their shadow back in the chalk outlines. .or play tic tac toe or draw a museums worth of stuff with other kids. Although we have never gotten a ticket, we have been told chalk drawing was not allowed on pavement inside playground areas (by park employees – 2 different parks, 3 employees).

  11. We used to draw on the sidewalk with rocks. I that still allowed?

    My kids are most definitely a tripping hazard. As much as I advise them to watch where they are going, they often don’t. I hope the legislature doesn’t step in to fix this threat to our national security.

  12. This is another example of one person spoiling things for everybody.

    I’ve been thinking about this recently. That annoying kid drawing pictures on the sidewalk might be giving you a heart transplant 30 years from now. How can we cut education funding and take away every place our kids have to play, make them all couch potatoes who have to have their shoes tied for them and expect them to have it together enough to take care of us when we’re old? What are these kids supposed to DO instead of sidewalk chalk?

  13. I had my students advertise the arts and letters magazine they wrote, edited, printed, and sold themselves. Some of them creatively used sidewalk chalk on the car park and front steps; though it was scheduled to rain the next day (they had taken this into consideration), the principal called me on the carpet to have me ‘erase’ it. Apparently he couldn’t wait the few hours to have nature take care of it. I think people just have control issues and can’t stand it when things don’t look like the pictures they have inside their tiny heads.

  14. Our driveway and garage are covered in chalk art in summer, in fact santa found everywhere had sold out of sidewalk chalk at christmas (early summer here). Wellington (New Zealand) has several big outdoor chalk art events that are open to everyone 4 or 5 times over summer, just think what a tripping hazard the several hundred chalk artists make🙂

    Must admit, a fav cafe of the kids when they were younger had a wall painted with blackboard paint was lovely, kept the kids entertained nicely.

  15. And on another topic, here is a link to an article in a big online news source here in New Zealand. Big “what if” thinking here.

    http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/4805461/Worrying-product-snoops-on-childrens-phone-calls

  16. But, Lenore, children *are* in danger at all times on a sidewalk! They should be safely ensconced in their parents’ car. Or if at all possible in their own home behind deadbolted doors watching TV.

  17. Chalk doesn’t kill people.

    Children with chalk kill people.

    Or could, theoretically, by some hideous stretch of the imagination.

  18. A previous comment mentioned “control issues”–this may be a key. Some people in “authority” think they’ve just been appointed “God” and anything that displeases them and their sense of “order” must be eliminated. It seems like the rigid, the small-minded and the mean-spirited have too much power in the world of today. We might add over-zealous worrywarts to the mix.

  19. This is my neighbourhood. I’m pretty sure the outcry here in Melbourne has forced the Council to back down. I’ve not been there before but now I’ll be sure to visit the cafe and let my 4 year old scribble away to his heart’s content!

  20. “Oh noez what if I’m striding down the sidewalk paying attention to my VERY VERY IMPORTANT TEXT MESSAGE and I trip over somebody smaller and more breakable than me.” Protip: If eyeballs focused on something other than where body is walking, walking should stop until eyeballs free to do job.

    You know where I place a lot of the blame? Back in the ’80s a song with this refrain got a lot of airplay on my local folk-heavy radio station:

    In 29 years we’ll have one million lawyers!
    One million lawyers!
    One million lawyers!
    In 29 years we’ll have one million lawyers!
    How much can the poor nation stand?

  21. Forgot to add: And it appears to be internationally contagious.

  22. […] because someone might trip over a child, fall into traffic and die horribly. As Lenore Skenazy says, Can we PLEASE stop catastrophizing this way in every situation? If the kids are an accident […]

  23. Obviously the answer is to keep everyone below the age of 12 off the street, as they’re a trip hazard.

  24. No, of course you can’t draw on the sidewalk with rocks. Rocks are a choking hazard.

  25. […] trip over a child, fall &#1110nt&#959 traffic &#1072n&#1281 die horribly. A&#1109 Lenore Skenazy &#1109&#1072&#1091&#1109, C&#1072n w&#1077 PLEASE &#1109t&#959&#1088 catastrophizing th&#1110&#1109 way &#1110n each […]

  26. […] because someone might trip over a child, fall into traffic and die horribly. As Lenore Skenazy says, Can we PLEASE stop catastrophizing this way in every situation? If the kids are an accident […]

  27. The google street view of our house has my son’s name chalked on it in MASSIVE letters, he is dead proud! My daughter often goes to sit on the pavement outside the house to draw with chalk. It’s nice to see the neighbours stop to look. and smile : )

  28. The thing is, by granting the permit, if someone were to trip over a child or a child got run over, the council would probably be sued. Plus the article says the permit would “need to comply with the Commonwealth Disability Discrimination Act, relevant Australian standards and Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission principles.”

    So that’s significant expense up front vetting the permit and possibly installing facilities for disabled / minority children, plus the possibility of even more significant expense later on when some greedy moron decides it’s the council’s fault they / their child was stupid and files a lawsuit.

    This does not make me at all happy, but I understand why the council did it. I just wish more people would read sites like this and realise that risk is real and unavoidable (though certainly manageable), and that sometimes you need to take responsibility for your own actions.

  29. @ Jen “They should be safely ensconced in their parents’ car.”

    Oh no no no no no no no no no no, not THE CAR!!!!

    LOL with irony, for we are rapidly running out of legal places for kids to be kids. I like Skyfire’s thinking…maybe the cafe could section off an area for chalk drawing and put up a sign saying “Children at play. Be nice…they’ll be doing your hip replacement some day.”

  30. “Sally White, who owns the Mt Pleasant Rd cafe with husband PJ, said it was bureaucracy gone mad. “It’s a little bit sad. This is not graffiti,,” she said. “A council inspector visited us and said there had been a complaint and we had to stop.”

    Who? Who complained? God, I hate these articles where everyone in the world is quoted as saying there have been complaints…EXCEPT THE PERSON WHO COMPLAINED. I want to see that name. But I won’t because that person (if he or she actually exists or is just a handy deus ex machina for the council) hasn’t the nerve to stand behind and coherently defend their grievance. Yet everyone scrambles to ridiculous lengths to accommodate them. I don’t get it…

  31. There you have it. Children are a safe and healthy risk just by being there. They’ve finally admitted it.

    Swain, I love your idea for a sign.

  32. Much ado about sidewalk chalk. Who knew? In the photo they show, it looks like the kids are at a strip-mall kind of place, where cars would only be pulling up to park. The likelihood of the “tripping over children and falling into traffic” scenario happening was anyway nil, but, if it’s a strip-mall, it’s even more ridiculous (if that’s possible).

    @SKL – Right! We drew hop-scotch, etc. with rocks! Chalk was fancy pansy stuff back then, I guess.

    @Catspaw – about that device in the link you sent — V. disturbing.

  33. Dammit all, next ‘They’ will decide life isn’t safe for kids.

    * facepalm *

  34. “The hullabaloo centres on a council law that deems it an offence to “destroy, damage, foul, interfere or deface anything located in or on the municipal place or road”.”

    I wish the council would realize that all of these things imply permanent and malicious destruction. Since when is something you can wash off with a hose permanent? And how can toddlers playing with chalk be malicious?
    I mentioned to my husband the other day that I was going to bring home some chalk for our son to play with in our complex and he asked if it was allowed. I basically said the same thing, it’s chalk and it washes off in the rain.
    I did like the one idea about the blackboard inside. That’s probably gonna be how they have to go.

  35. “Why use THAT as an excuse to curtail childhood? — L.”

    Because he’s a pompous political puffguts who can’t stand to admit that he made a mistake. The people who started the petition to support the drawings should start one to recall him from public office – he clearly shouldn’t be left in charge of a garbage tip, much less a town.

  36. […] Just buy your kids a full suit of armor and be done with it! Bookmark It […]

  37. Who knows? Maybe the Mayor is just holding a grudge against that gleeful toddler who rushed to hug his legs… only his head was inconveniently short. Fathers know what I’m talking about, right?😉

  38. Everyone commenting on this column is missing the point. What if the children draw rude or vulgar pictures on the sidewalk? If that happens, then other children (and sensitive teens and adults) will run the risk of being upset by offensive materials. And (Lord help us!) what if the children write controversial or crude messages on the sidewalk, leaving them there in plain sight for everyone to see? It’s simply too risky. Take the chalk away and punish the children. Punish the cafe owner, too. In fact, punish everyone… just to be on the safe side.

  39. Maybe they can just do some chalk body out lines of the children who used to be able to freely draw at the cafe. Make it a litlle chalk graveyard of bodies for the ruined childhoods of our future leaders.
    “Here lies the creativity of Curly Sue, she once drew, but now only her Nintendo DS will do.”

  40. Ha! Perfect. “CSI Australia: Chalk Scribbling Investigation.”

  41. People who try to outlaw childhood are obviously afraid of everything in life, including life itself. Then why are they almost universally opposed to abortion and euthanasia? Those two procedures solve the pesky “life” problem beautifully, and even preserve the ozone layer and conserve water and fuel for future generations (should some mysteriously spring into being). Forgive me for being cynical, but this is the only type of reaction I have to stories like this anymore.🙂

  42. Goodness gracious sakes alive! When will the powers that be wake up and realize LIFE IS TERMINAL! From the moment you are born, you are in the process of dying. Some people just take longer to get there than others. Living is a fatal condition, but if you regulate and legislate every single aspect of life, it’s not only fatal, but miserable and fatal!

    I’ve had an up close and personal run in with my own mortality via an IED hitting my convoy several years ago. It forced me to ask myself a few questions and evaluate my life. “Am I ready to die?” HELL NO! “But if I die tomorrow?” If I die tomorrow, I will cock up my toes knowing that I HAVE LIVED LIFE! Man, have I lived. I’ve dove with the Great Whites off South Africa. I have loved and been loved by the finest man I’ve ever met. And, I have laughed with and at five of the sweetest, most amazing children that any mother has ever had the privilege of rearing.

    So, if I trip over a kid drawing on the sidewalk and break my neck in the near future, don’t weep and wail for me. Envy me! Because I ran toward life, instead of away from it!

  43. Thank you, @ Andrew. I’m not happy about stories like this but liability is a real issue for both businesses and municipalities. It’s pretty hard to make bylaws that cover the really dangerous or offensive stuff without curtailing someone’s freedom. Sad but true.

    At risk of raising ire myself I’m disturbed by the tendency here to hyperbole. Name-calling doesn’t help change things, it just makes people stop listening. My son’s childhood is not ruined because he can’t draw on the sidewalk between a cafe and a parking lot. Isn’t it my job to seek out opportunities for him to play freely and creatively? And teach him that there are appropriate times and places for everything? Isn’t that how society works?

    Too bad the kids lost this opportunity, though, it sounds like a fun place.

  44. What a malarkey. Just another ill educated, fearful official who doesn’t want to upset his constituents. So basically he’s saying, yes I was quick to judge, but I can’t take it back. So I have to cover my ass. So I’ll say it’s not really a problem, we’ll just have to issue a permit. Just in case someone decides to file a lawsuit because they weren’t watching were they were going and tripped over someone or something.

    Adults. Pppff. A lot of times they act more immature than kids. lol

  45. On the upside, today I had to go to the dentist and thus got out of work right around the time the school lets out, and drove on the streets rather than on the highway. I was delighted to pass gaggles of kids aged 9-12 walking home all by themselves, with just crossing guards. And a bunch of boys was bouncing a basketball as they walked (on the path away from the road, not during the crossing!) . No one thought that “OMG, what if they drop the ball, it rolls into traffic, they rush after it and die! Let’s take the ball away!” As they were heading into the park, I know there is a playground there, so there will be a few kids coming home late from school today, stopping to play hoops on a beautiful spring afternoon. Just how it’s supposed to be.🙂

  46. I am so glad this managed to be picked up in your blog. Being Australian, I was totally flabbergasted. Come on! Seriously!!!

    Australians have a tendency to over react. Pretty soon out children will be wrapped in cotton wool, playing the new iPad 2 and not ever moving…..what a wonderful generation of kids we’re breeding.

  47. “No, of course you can’t draw on the sidewalk with rocks. Rocks are a choking hazard.”

    LOL

  48. At our old apartment complex, all the parents got letters from management one day telling us that sidewalk chalk was no longer permitted due to a lot of complaints. Apparently other felt obligated to step around the drawings or *gasp* get chalk on the bottom of their shoes! This outrage couldn’t be allowed to continue.

  49. wow.
    I guess that’s it for hopscotch, too.
    Not to mention the damage to exterior brick caused by girlish ball-tossing and endlessly rhymed nonsense…
    Couldn’t we perhaps outlaw skipping ropes? The endless whapping and scraping might damage the tarmac….and lord, a stray strand might accidentally strangle a skipper.

    Sidewalk chalk….in my memory, created a curious connection with the stuff the teacher scraped across a blackboard – it was a rite of expression that completed that circle.
    And then there were always those rare curious individuals who actually possessed real talent – whose drawings were not just gracing the pavement, but incredible works of art in their own right.

    These are the things let go of, denied, all in the name of some species of social cohesion? Vested interests? Somebody’s idea of appropriate forbiddance………………………………………………

  50. Ack! I got in an argument with my neighbour last summer over sidewalk chalk. We live on a cul-de-sac (no traffic unless you live there) and the kids were drawing on the road, in front of her house. Not on her property, just on the road. She came out and told them to wash it off. Unbelievable. I called my township (I’m in Canada). There is no by-law regarding sidewalk chalk.

  51. Trina, doesn’t common courtesy demand that you teach your children not to draw in the public space in front of another person’s house without their permission? Sure, it’s silly, but it’s in front of HER house. Let them draw where it doesn’t bother the residents – say, in front of YOUR house, or a friend’s house.

  52. This story reminded me of a British Comedy called, “Yes Minister” (as in member of cabinet in Parliament). One sketch had the minister of health in argument with the cleaners union over the cleaning of a newly built hospital and preventing it being used. The argument culminated with the cleaners declaring that it would all be much easier if there were no patients messing it up. Life is for everything and everyone and the mess isn’t the point, the way we draw each other into community is the point. What shall we give up, what shall we not? Are we doing that for the community or just for ourselves? If we have a religious or humanist bone in our body, I think we know which we are striving, we just don’t give ourselves the responsibility to make it happen.

  53. Actually, right now, I am giving myself the responsibility.

  54. […] Per some in Australia, it may be too dangerous an activity: “‘The mayor said they would like to issue us a permit but can’t because it raises health and safety issues, in case somebody fell over a child on the footpath or into the street,’ [a cafe owner] said.” [Free-Range Kids] […]

  55. […] Per some in Australia, it might be too dangerous an activity: “‘The mayor pronounced they would like to emanate us a assent though can’t since it raises health and reserve issues, in box somebody fell over a child on a pavement or into a street,’ [a cafeteria owner] said.” [Free-Range Kids] […]

  56. ] We used to draw on the sidewalk with rocks. I that still allowed?

    I remember that! And we used wood chips/mulch. Ah, these spoiled kids today. Sidewalk chalk.

    If it’s outside the café, and the café owner doesn’t have a problem with it, what’s the problem? If the café owner had a problem with it – deemed it bad for business – I’d probably be on his/her side – public walkway and all – but s/he’s fine with it, so why should anyone else care? That’s the most likely person to be affected.

  57. This just happened to us! We were shopping and had to wait for my daughter’s hair appointment. We had just bought sidewalk chalk at a neighboring store, and it seemed like a good way to pass the time. We were having fun and staying out of people’s way when 2 security guards approached from opposite directions and ordered to stop immediately. I was so surprised! My daughter, age 3, was really scared that the “police” said she did something bad and kept asking, “are we bad people?”

    Worse, when I told this story to the local mothers club, a bunch of the moms wrote replies that I was being a bad mom by teaching my daughter how to ‘vandalize’ property! She’s three! It’s chalk! Honestly, it made me want to take my American flag down if I can’t live in a place that tolerates preschoolers drawing with chalk on the sidewalk.

  58. My apartment complex recently sent out a letter to all residents as a reminder that graffiti is prohibited. I started out thinking maybe someone had spray painted something on a wall, but as I read on the letter was more clear and stated that sidewalk chalk is considered graffiti and any child caught using sidewalk chalk could result in their parent getting a fine.

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