Look, I'm all for kids being safe and all that jazz, but isn't this going a bit too far?
Some playground equipment and games are coming under fire from people who think they put children at risk of hurting their bodies and minds...jungle gyms, merry-go rounds, and monkey bars.
In school districts across the country, grade-school students are forbidden to play contact sports during recess. In Cheyenne, Wyo., and Spokane, Wash., the ban even includes the first playground game most children learn first: tag. And even on the playgrounds themselves, changes have been afoot that make any new parent wonder if his or her kids are skipping around in an alien landscape.
Gone are the gravel-carpeted, spidery, rusting metal constructs that the kids of the 1960s and 1970s hung, spun and jumped from. They've been replaced by rubber mats, foam-covered equipment, simplified forms and Day-Glo colors.
"If children are the most precious commodity we have, then we don't understand why people don't make the play areas safe for children to grow up on," said Donna Thompson of the National Program for Playground Safety, based in Cedar Falls, Iowa. "Getting hurt on a playground is not a rite of passage to be an adult."
Sorry Donna, but that's exactly what it is. Where do you think kids learn that they are not delicate, hot-house flowers, that they don't have to be the best at everything, and that their self-esteem does not need to be stroked every waking moment? Where is Donna's common-sense parenting which allows her kids to learn some of life's lessons the hard way? Donna's children will grow up to be sensitive, delicate, and timid adults who cannot deal maturely with the slightest adversity because they will never have had to do so as kids. Donna will always have been there to pave their way, to make their world free of the slightest risk. I find busy-body, book parents like Donna to be wholly insufferable!
Play that involves touching can also easily degenerate into aggressive physicality, some say, and those games that involve using other children as targets almost invite bullying.
The furor over dodgeball a couple years ago may have been good for a couple yucks from the likes of Ben Stiller and Vince Vaughn, but it's no laughing matter for the schools that still ban it, or for the National Association for Sport and Physical Education based in Reston, Va. Spokeswoman Paula Keyes Kun pointed out that the group's position opposing dodgeball in physical education programs hasn't changed.
"Dodgeball does provide a means of practicing some important physical skills like running, dodging, throwing, and catching. However, there are many activities that allow practice of these skills without using human targets or eliminating students from play," the NASPE official dodgeball position paper states.
"The students who are eliminated first in dodgeball are typically the ones who most need to be active and practice their skills. Many times these students are also the ones with the least amount of confidence in their physical abilities. Being targeted because they are the 'weaker' players, and being hit by a hard-thrown ball, does not help kids to develop confidence.
"Some kids may like it, like the most skilled and most confident. But many do not! Certainly not the student who gets hit hard in the stomach, head, or groin. And it is not appropriate to teach our children that you win by hurting others," it continues.
But others say the devotion to safety may be come at the price of losing some of childhood's magic.
"The newer playgrounds all look the same. It's boring, for kids and parents," said Mindy, a 33-year-old communications consultant and mother of two in Cincinnati, Ohio who asked that her last name not be used. "I've also noticed new signs at playgrounds that state the 'recommended age' for each playground. I guess cities need to protect themselves, but where have common sense and good judgment gone? It's an unfortunate reflection of a sue-happy society where parents are more concerned with the 'what-ifs' when they should be concentrating more on supervising their children."
Skinned knees, bumped heads, and twisted ankles are part of growing up and realizing that you are capable of handling difficulties in your life. On the rough-and-tumble playground kids learn that competition is a healthy, strengthening part of life, that they can suffer a stumble in life and survive, and most importantly, that their self-esteem does not have to be a function of their performances? These concepts are introduced on the playground but they translate into mature, personal, psycho-social management skills in adulthood. Sure there are a few safety risks associated with old-school playground games and paraphernalia, but I would rather assume the rather small risk of an accident in return for having my kid grow up psychologically well-rounded, confident, and able to deal with life's disappointments and setbacks.