Won’t Someone Think of the Childrens

The indispensable John Tierney has a great article up at the NYT asking an important question — are we making playgrounds too safe? Across the nation, swings, slides, merry-go-rounds and even teeter-totters are vanishing. But…

“Children need to encounter risks and overcome fears on the playground,” said Ellen Sandseter, a professor of psychology at Queen Maud University in Norway. “I think monkey bars and tall slides are great. As playgrounds become more and more boring, these are some of the few features that still can give children thrilling experiences with heights and high speed.”

We have a nice playground near my house. Sal 11000 Beta was terrified of the high slide at first; now loves it. She’s regularly crossing the monkey bars and loves the swings. And I’ve watched her overall confidence grow along with her physical confidence. I’ve also noticed, however, that she’s frequently the only kid there.

Sometimes, of course, their mastery fails, and falls are the common form of playground injury. But these rarely cause permanent damage, either physically or emotionally. While some psychologists — and many parents — have worried that a child who suffered a bad fall would develop a fear of heights, studies have shown the opposite pattern: A child who’s hurt in a fall before the age of 9 is less likely as a teenager to have a fear of heights.

By gradually exposing themselves to more and more dangers on the playground, children are using the same habituation techniques developed by therapists to help adults conquer phobias, according to Dr. Sandseter and a fellow psychologist, Leif Kennair, of the Norwegian University for Science and Technology.

I talk a lot on this blog about how people can’t succeed without the freedom to fail. The same applies to kids — in school, in life and on the playground. You can’t learn to climb without the occasional fall; you can’t run without the occasional stumble; you can’t make friends without the occasional rejection. Dealing with failure, difficulty and even pain is one of the most important skills to learn. And, thanks to silly lawsuits and a paranoid culture, we’re insulating our kids from that, raising a generation of fat terrified kids.

Seriously, check out this article, which describes parents fretting about their children riding buses, going into the woods without walking talkies and swimming without a lifeguard. They’re responding by, among other things, forbidding kids from holding their breath under-water.

So no breath holding, no swimming without a lifeguard, no unsupervised play and don’t even think about getting on a bus alone until you’re old enough to drive. At which time you will no longer need the bus in the first place.

Or consider this story about the hyper-regulation of Colorado preschools, where a child’s life is regulated down to the race of the dolls they play with. TV time is restricted, teachers are forbidden from eating fast food near kids and whole milk is banned. (Although whether this is more child paranoia than ridiculous job-justifying over-regulation is debatable).

This is insanity. We can not protect kids from life, either with our personal behavior or with our regulations. As Penn says, the world is not made of nerf. You’re going to get cut; but not too deep if you’re careful. Childhood is a time to enjoy life, to be free to explore and yes, to fall and get hurt. It’s not a time to be put into a prison built of lawsuits, regulations and parental hysteria.

Back in the real world, I blogged earlier this week about Leiby Kletzky, the hassidic boy murdered the first time he tried to walk home on his own. You can read the statement from his parents here. Even after the unthinkable, they still have more perspective than 90% of the people out there.

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  1. Seattle Outcast

    Kids today are complete pussies – aside from the girly game of soccer they don’t actually do anything outside. I look at the kids of my coworkers and almost none of them know how to shoot, use a knife, fish, hunt, etc. The spend all their fucking time on their game platform, smart phone, or computer.

    Unless there’s a parent around to chaperone all the precious snowflakes, they don’t do shit. They don’t appear to really even know what the outdoors are like – unless they’re in the company some REI equipped dipshit that’s going to take them “hiking” on some overly tame trail with steps and a couple of bathrooms along the way.

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  2. balthazar

    Absolutely agree SO, I have 3 kids and 2 of them dont even know what a park is, even though theres one 100ft from the house. Forcing them to go outside is like trying to take yer dog to the vet.

    Honestly I think theres too much “easy entertainment” that is indoors and they dont have to get all sweaty and dirty todo it.

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  3. Seattle Outcast

    You know what you don’t see any more with kids? Injuries – not even little scrapes and bruises. Sure, it’s a good thing that parents don’t have to rush their kid to the ER with a broken leg or arm, but these days they don’t even know what a blister is, and they are worse off for it.

    Probably the best thing a parent could do for their teenagers is ship them off to work on a ranch or farm for a couple of summers – see what life is like without all the time to hang out in front of a 70″ TV playing video games 40 hours per week. Not only will they finally get some fucking real exercise, they’ll learn where food comes from and have an appreciation for the work ethic.

    Of course, this would upset all the migrant labor to find out that a bunch of pasty white kids are stealing their jobs…..

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    I think that a lot of parents, me included are afraid of being accused of child abuse.
    Last week, I really wanted to leave my kids in the jeep, when we went into the grocery, becase they were behaving like heathens, store. My parents did that without a further thought, nowadays, that child abuse.

    most none of them know how to shoot, use a knife, fish, hunt, etc

    my 6 year old has already stared on the shooting and fishing.

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  5. Hal_10000 *

    We’re in good shape, fortunately. Our daycare lets the kids run around and fall. And our pediatrician told us he *wants* to see bruises on her legs because that means she’s active. Abuse bruises show up in very different places (inside of arms and legs) than activity bruises (shins, elbows)

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  6. Seattle Outcast

    Well, if you want to get into a discussion about how every single CPS employee in the country needs a bullet in the back of the head, we can get that started….

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  7. Hal_10000 *

    Here in Pennsylvania, we’ve know had two newborns seized from their parents because of a positive drug test. In both case, poppy seeds caused a false positive for heroin.

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