Money shapes how urban children play

A group of people that are standing in the grass

Sherly Julia Halim and Alycia Catelyn

A game arcade in a popular leisure center in Tangerang (left) and a child play in an open field, around 15 minutes away.

On weekends, QBIG Shopping Avenue in BSD City, Tangerang, located on the outskirts of Jakarta, is crowded. Suburban parents take their children out to play in QBIG’s park that has a game arcade, trampolines, as well as cycling and roller skating area.

“The mall is a one-stop place. There is a play area and a place to eat. So in one place, children can play and also eat with their family,” said Hanna (42), one of the parents who likes to take her children to malls.

A park like Symphonia Lake Garden (SLG) has also become local residents’ favorite area to take a walk and play outside. Around the lake with a fountain inside the park, children can feed ducks and run around safely.

However, not everyone can access such places. QBIG is a privately run area, while the Symphonia Lake Garden limits its access to dwellers of its residential area. Security guards are on stand by and will ask non-residents to leave the premise. 

In Tangerang, a popular middle-class residential area just outside the capital city, privately run leisure parks and playgrounds are mushrooming, but it costs parents money to take their children to play inside. In BSD Xtreme Park, for example, each person must pay for Rp 15,000 or US$1 to get inside the compound and between Rp 30,000 to Rp 80,000 per person to access different areas, such as bike park, skate park, paintball, or gokart area. Visitors need to pay more to rent the equipment. 

Another popular playground, Scientia Square Park, requires each visitor to pay for Rp 45,000 on weekdays and double that on weekends, to play inside. The facilities offer child-proofed swings and slides, climbing walls, rice fields, and petting zoo for different experiences. 

Most children come with their parents and family members.

A group of people on a street
A girl plays roller skate along with her coach at the QBIG Shopping Avenue in BSD City, Tangerang. (UMN/Sherly Julia Halim)

“The way children play today is different. Long ago, they used to mingle with other children. But, sometimes parents also don’t let their children go out [unsupervised],” said Lisa (58), a local resident. In Indonesia, views of children playing outside their homes unsupervised are quite common. The popular adage “the village is raising the kids” seemed only natural for most Indonesians. But it is changing in urban, middle-class areas.

Lisa said she never took her eyes off of his grandson when he plays outside. She said she’s worried that something bad will happen if she lets her 5-year-old grandson play alone. 

“I will definitely follow, watch, and wait for him while he plays,” said Lisa.

A different view can be seen in lower-income areas. While glitzy malls and buildings are frequented by the city’s wealthiest residents, children from urban kampung areas prefer to play in an open field. 

An open field across a university campus is popular among children who live in nearby kampung areas. Even though it’s just an open field with grass only, children who live nearby the area are free to play. Adults or typically not present.

A group of people playing frisbee in a field
Children play soccer in an open field in Tangerang. (UMN/Gabriella Keziafanya)

An 8-year-old resident said they gather in the open field to play hide and seek, fly kites, and soccer. There’s nothing in the open field, except a broken goal net, used cardboards, muddy puddles, but the children managed to make the most out of it.

Verty Sari Pusparini, a child psychologist, said that unsupervised play is crucial for the growth of the children.

Children must be supervised not only to protect them from physical injury, but from harm that can occur from topics discussed by children or by inappropriate behaviour. While some say unsupervised play is helpful because children get to use their imagination freely. Nothing boosts self confidence than being able to overcome a challenge on their own. Children will learn to solve problems or settle arguments among themselves. 

“Supervised children will build a strong bond with their parents, but if parents continually monitor their children, they will lose freedom,” Verty said.