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by Abigail Van Buren

Unsupervised Kids in Streets Drive Neighbors to Distraction

DEAR ABBY: My husband and I live in a community outside New Orleans. It is a new residential area with homes that all have nicely fenced back yards. However, when we return from work in the evenings, we encounter toddlers on the streets with their tricycles and abandoned toys -- and the parents are not within three houses of their youngsters. It's an obstacle course.

Frankly, we are sick to death of taking responsibility for the safety of their children. As we pass, the parents give us dirty looks and yell things like, "Watch the kid, will ya!" as we swerve to avoid children who are not old enough to be playing in the street.

We make every effort to drive under the speed limit and are always very careful. However, at least once a week we find ourselves slamming on our brakes to avoid an unsupervised child. When tragedies happen, these parents are quick to place the blame elsewhere.

When I was a child, we were allowed to play only in a fenced yard with a padlock on the gate so we couldn't escape. Or we played in designated play areas with our parents keeping a close eye on us. We were not allowed to ride bicycles on the street until we had been taught road safety and demonstrated the skills and knowledge needed to cycle on public streets without harm.

Thank you for letting me get this off my chest. It felt good to vent. I hope my letter will open the eyes of some parents to reality. -- PAMELA IN SLIDELL, LA.

DEAR PAMELA: So do I. Perhaps this is the time for a public service announcement. Supervision of small children -- who by definition are impulsive and quick -- is a full-time job. It requires one's full attention, particularly if the child is playing in a driveway or on a sidewalk near a street with traffic. Carrying on adult conversations, reading a magazine, running into the house "for just a moment" are distractions that can lead to tragedy in the blink of an eye. Hard work? You bet! But the joys are boundless.