Hey Kids! Get Away From That Playground!!

The headline on this USA Today story sums it up: Playgrounds: They’re safer but still can be dangerous.

As opposed to — what? Anything can be dangerous.  Nothing can be 100% safe. Yesterday a man walking through Central Park got hit by a falling branch and now he’s in a coma. Should we cordon off Central Park? Chop down  all the trees before another innocent victim gets hurt?

What’s just nauseating about this article, detailing the potential risk of every square inch of playground equipment,  is its complete lack of perspective. It points out, for instance, that thousands of kids get hurt on playgrounds every year, as if this were unconscionable. What about the  flip side? What happens when kids DON’T play outside? When they DON’T swing on a swing? What happens when they turn to jelly in front of their computers (like I’m doing now!)?

DEATH BY JOY?

And it’s not like there’s  been a sudden rash of children perishing on playgrounds. The fact is, we are worrying these days about what Spiked Online’s Nancy McDermott calls, “microsized risks.” Sure, there could be MORE wood chips under a swing to make it safer. There could always be more padding and safeguards and warnings and foam rubber. But stop for a minute and think: How unsafe is any swing to being with?  Swings are already pretty safe!

Sure, there might be some rotten chemicals in the paint or the wood chips or the mats on the playground, but how many kids are making a three course meal of these?

Sure, it might be better if we all lived wherever that sparkling glacier water comes from that they sell in fancy bottles. But since we don’t, do we really have to worry to the point where “experts” are warning kids not to snack at the playground, because the air there might not be 100% pure,  thanks to chemicals in the rubber pellets that were put  on the ground  to keep children safe from something else (falling). God forbid that tainted air gets on their organic grapes and kills them in 127 years? They should wait to eat at home where somehow the air is far more pure than outside?

WHAT WOULD MAKE THE SAFETY EXPERTS HAPPY?

What kind of world are we waiting for before we declare it safe to live in and enjoy? A world where the playgrounds are 100%  safe? (No running, skipping or frolicking, please.) Where the ground is 100% soft (no concrete, please!), but not made of wood chips (which have arsenic), or rubber chips (which may contain trace elements of toxins, even though we seem to ride around on rubber tires every day and you don’t hear a lot about THAT). Where the ground is not covered by those twin dangers actually cited by the article:  “dirt or grass”?

Playgrounds shouldn’t be built on GRASS??? That is what the article quotes a “safety commission” as concluding!

One of the experts quoted further says, “If you show me a playground, I can show you a playground that isn’t being maintained.”

In other words: NO PLAYGROUND is safe enough, ever. One wood chip outta place and your kid is playing at his peril.

THE BIG PICTURE

This is pretty much  our view of everything where kids are concerned now. No route to school is safe enough. No bus stop is safe enough. No toy or bottle or crib is safe enough. And no playground is safe enough, even if the kid is there with mom, dad and the National Guard. And they brought along a big swatch of shag carpeting to play on.

“Microsize risks” look giant to us because we are shrunken with fear. Until we see them for what they are, we will fear  everything:  trees, air, grass and dirt.

Not to mention swings. — Lenore

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69 Responses

  1. Oh, man! The “seriousness” of this article is almost funny…..don’t they have anything else better to report about?! C’mon! Like always, you have written how I feel.

  2. Lenore, I’m so glad for what you do here. Because if I saw this article I’d probably more or less ignore it, but really listening to what it’s saying – and that it actually receives credence and is published – is quite telling to some of the cultural forces we raise our children in / around.

  3. Newsflash: There may be danger in…LIVING.

  4. I saw this post and it immediately made me think of the the metal slides of doom I grew up with. I think parents today forget that we used to fling ourselves, rear ends on fire, down these on a hot summer day and (somehow) manages to survive

  5. *managed to survive (teach me to type at two a.m.)

    That link for the slide links to the Nostalgic Win site (http://onceuponawin.com/2008/12/17/epic-win-metal-slides/) since I appear to have linked it wrong. Sorry!

  6. Oh, Lenore, this is just too much! I mean, the outrageous stories you’ve shared with us so far have always tickled my funny bone, but this is simply riotous!! I am a 20-year-old who was raised free-range and, although I like to think of myself as independent and capable of intelligent risk assessment, I must have missed out on all the Ph.D.-level courses in plastic bubble-ry. Can’t wait to have my own kids and see how many child safety “rules” I can break!

  7. Of course kids get hurt on the playground. That’s where they play, climb, and run and when kids do this they will fall. I don’t understand why this is a bad thing. I broke my arm on a playground and as soon as I got out of the hospital I couldn’t wait to get back to the playground and play more.

  8. I’ve got a great scoop for USA Today.

    News Flash–Kids: Sometimes they get hurt. Studies show that usually they get over it pretty quickly.

  9. If it isn’t safe to eat food that’s been exposed to the air, how can it possibly be a good idea to breathe the air? Let’s see, my son could eat the grape coated in the air, and it can go through his digestive system, get broken down by stomach acid, etc. Or, he could breathe the air (and it takes extra air to whine about being hungry), and the chemicals can go straight to his blood stream via his lungs.

    Also, loose fill needs to be at least 9 inches deep? I envision toddlers wading through lead-coated playground fill. As long as they don’t lick their knees, they’ll be fine!

  10. Ha, this reminds me of that old SImpson’s episode where the schoolchildren get gray uniforms and all the life and youthful enthusiasm leaves them.

    Rod touches Lisa. “You’re ‘it’.” (monotone)
    Lisa walks over and touches Milhouse. “Now you are the one who is it.” (also monotone)
    Milhouse sighs. “Understood.”

    I’ll bet this is how these types like their children. Completely devoid of anything childlike whatsoever!

  11. this reminds me of a brouhaha in our neighborhood last summer about alleged lead paint on the building that is at the center of our playground. Yes, lead paint is a real risk, but the city remediated the site according to strict EPA guidelines and then some; and it tested fine. Still parents freaked. my reaction? Well, if you’re letting your children LICK the farmhouse, it could still be a problem. Good grief. It’s like we WANT to make ourselves sick with worry.

    as far as regular playground equipment, the only one that worries me is the swings and that’s only because my 18month old is oblivious and one of these days will walk into a swinging swing. if only they would ban swings, we could eliminate the middleman, as it were, and one of his brothers could just directly clobber him on his head.

  12. The very best playground in our town is the one that all the worried parents wring their hands about. Why? Because it is one of those big wooden structures that goes on seemingly forever with tunnels, things to climb, slides, poles, tires, and heaven knows what else. It is a little run down and needs some repairs here and there. But it is the only playground in town that holds any interest for kids older than 5. The rest are all small, boring, colored metal and plastic with no places to hide and imagine things.

    But this playground is terrible because:
    -You can’t see your kids the entire time unless you follow them into the structure (because you know that unless you watch them ALL the time they will disappear)
    -They can get splinters from the wood (horrors! You know how many kids DIE every year from splinters!!)
    -It is too sunny (Oh no! God forbid the sun hits them!)

    It is of course my kids’ favorite playground. And unfortunately, they often have it all to themselves.

  13. As a child I slipped on ice and broke my wrist. Ban winter I say, that snow stuff can kill you. It’s also good for throwing ; )

  14. We live within easy walking distance of four playgrounds. When given his choice, my 3 year old always picks the same one. Why? Because it has a metal slide. He says the plastic slides are “too sticky to go fast” (I’ve tried them, they are).

    Oh how I miss the enormous concrete hill slides of my youth, the ones that were over 100 feet long and were pretty fast as is, but the speed you could achieve by riding on a piece of cardboard was fantastic!

    I can’t believe it, but Adventure Playground in Berkeley is still open and going strong. Even as a kid, I thought that place was a lawsuit waiting to happen, but it’s still around in our ever-more litigious society. It’s basically a big pile of building materials, tools and paint that kids can just go crazy with. Oh, and a super-long zipline that dumps you in a pile of old tires. I wish I could start more Adventure Playgrounds all over the country!

  15. Adventure Playground? My brother and I grew up in So. Cal. (Huntington Beach), and we vaguely remember going to something like that – we remember the building materials and rope swings and other stuff. He and I have wondered if we made the memory up because it seemed like something that wouldn’t exist today! I will say this: we both remember it being the Most Fun Playground Ever.

  16. Well, personally, I like that rubber stuff they put under the playgrounds, lol. I have a very accident prone 6yo and we were at this very pretty park in Milwaukee last week where she immediately fell backwards off the swing and landed on her head. Luckily the ground was made of that rubber stuff and she got up and came crying to me. When I found out what happened I just told her to be more careful next time, lol.

    I don’t usually take the kids to our local playground (we live in Chicago) even though it is right around the corner from us. I don’t think it’s safe and feel like I have to hover just in case. Most of the swings are broken, the climbing chain is broken, the bridge is a freaking death trap for small children. There is a 6+ foot drop where the fireman’s pole is which is on the platform for the highest slide (which my 3yo loves). But the big kids get on there and pay no attention to the little kids and I’m sure she’ll get pushed off one day. We tend to find other better designed parks out in the suburbs where I don’t feel like I have to hover around them to keep them safe.

    I just follow my 3yo around the structure in case she needs help (I’m usually taking pictures and most of the time I get one of the other kids to help her). She likes big slides and some of these parks have some pretty intense obstacles to get across that even my 6 and 7 year olds struggle with.

  17. “-It is too sunny (Oh no! God forbid the sun hits them!)”

    And since trees kill, we are really stuck in a bind here!

    I’m curious about something — is this safety-crazedness worse in large metropolitan areas? I live in a small city on the Great Lakes, and while our newspaper will occasionally run “filler” articles on safety stuff like this (though not as extreme as the one Lenore linked to), there just isn’t this kind of public hysteria about things. I mean, people buy into the extreme stranger-safety and all that sort of thing, but they don’t get hysterical about playgrounds and lockdown daycare centers like supermaxes, and such. There’s still a park in a neighboring township that has one of those long metal slides that make me a bit queasy when my kids climb it, and I’ve never heard a peep of complaint about it. Is this a big-city mentality, or what?

  18. We recently updated the playground at my church. What a nightmare!

    We put in wood mulch under the swings, but people complained about the arsenic. So we put in arsenic free mulch, but people complained about the bugs. So we actually found an “enviromentally friendly, non toxic” mulch and put it in. At double the price.

    Then there was the painting of equipment.

    Oh, and the swings had to have seat belts.

    And the fences, they needed rubberized tops.

    And on and on and on.

    Now wanna know where the kids play? In the big field next to the playground, because the playground isn’t fun anymore.

    Show me a playground that’s 100% safe, and I’ll show you a playground kids won’t play on.

  19. Thank you so much for this site Lenore. I live in a tiny mountain community in New Mexico with a small elementary school. Just a few years ago it a wonderful welcoming place to send kids where the Principal stood out front every morning and personally watched over things and met with parents informally. Parents were welcome to come in and to volunteer their time. But year after year the changes have come. First parents were required to come in the front door and pass through the office to the rest of the school; everything else was locked, even when we were dropping our kids off. Then we had to have badges when visiting. Next, the playground was renovated, and guess what? The swings disappeared! They started locking all the doors right after school was out. Twice I came to pick up my kids from an after school activity and I was unable to get into the building. I felt helpless. And now I find out that they are installing a new security system that involves replacing doors and security cameras. This at a time when the school is struggling to find quality teachers. And we have no crime to speak of! It’s just plain crazy. But thanks to you I don’t feel alone in my concerns anymore. I’m going to the next school board meeting to make myself heard!

  20. Runwolf – Seatbelts for swings? Seriously?!? Was anyone surprised when the kids opted for field over the new “improved” playground?

    “Show me a playground that’s 100% safe, and I’ll show you a playground kids won’t play on.” Yup, that about says it all right there.

    BMS – I’m with you there. The best playground I remember was one of those wooden ones that felt like exploring some secret base – crawling/swinging/climbing through/over/under those obstacles was crazy fun. Not to mention, there were some great places to hide from the older kids who could be a bit of a pain.

    Sure I got a few splinters here and there, and occasionally twisted my ankle or bruised my knees after jumping off the swing when it was at it’s highest point, or got a bit of a light burn from going down the metal on a hot, sunny day, but so what? That’s part of the appeal of a playground – it’s an adventure, and what’s an adventure without a little risk of danger? Not to mention all those little injuries were the best possible teachers about things like paying more attention to my surroundings, how to become better coordinated, and how pants are a better choice at the playground than shorts (prevented metal burn & you went down the slide quicker).

    I feel sorry for all those kids who have to miss out on fun like that because as it turns out, fun is dangerous and as kids have to be protected from every possible danger, no matter how remote, they must therefore also be protected from having fun.

    And what the hell is wrong with grass on a playground anyway? If you’re going to argue that it’s harder to maintain in an aesthetically-pleasing manner than that rubber turf or wood chips, that’s one thing. I can buy that argument. But arguing against grass and dirt because it’s not safe?? Whatever happened to going out there and “getting your hands dirty”? I’d think there was something wrong if a kid went out to play and didn’t come back with dirty under the fingernails and the occasional grass stain.

    Dealing with insanity like this is just another reason why I’m pretty sure parenthood isn’t in my future.

  21. I am totally on board with the comments here, but I don’t have a problem with common-sense safety measures at playgrounds. Soft surfaces under swings? Just sounds sensible. There’s no special virtue in concrete.

    To me, playground injuries are pretty common and some of them, at least, are easily preventable. So why wouldn’t we want to prevent them?

    I know that many people look back fondly at the playgrounds of their childhoods, with their sharp angles, unforgiving concrete, and other assorted hazards. but I say if it’s a simple matter to make some everyday things a little safer, go for it.

  22. I’m reading John Holt’s “How Children Fail” in which he relates the tale of visiting an adventure playground in Holland Park in London. When he asked the people in charge of the playground if they had many children injured there, they basically said “not since we banned adults from the playground.” The anxiety and stress of the parents running around trying to prevent their children from being injured, was causing more injuries on the playground than letting the kids play unattended. Once the parents were abdicated to a waiting area where they couldn’t see their kids, the number of injuries plummeted. And, this was written decades ago! You’d think we’d have figured it out by now, that leaving kids to their own devices more often let’s them figure out their own limits, which MAKES THEM SAFER, not just right now, but throughout their entire lives. An individual who does not know their own limits is a danger to themselves and others.

  23. Ben – I think what Lenore’s trying to point out is that there’s a difference between common-sense safety measures and over-the-top “the children must be protected from everything no matter how small!” paranoia.

    Common-sense dictates that concrete is a bad surface for a playground since injuries can happen and the hard surface will only amplify those injuries (ie what could have been a simple bruise on a softer surface becomes a broken bone on concrete). It also dictates maintaining existing playground structures so that they remain free of obvious hazards like broken or rusted swing chains, sharp metal edges, and so forth.

    I have a fondness for those wood structure playgrounds, but I can see how they can be harder to maintain because if they were made of cheaper materials, the wood rotted pretty quickly – but that’s not to say it’s impossible to have a safe wood-structured playground, it just requires a higher grade of treated wood (which again is just common-sense). And I have seen some great plastic-structured playgrounds that are brightly colored with cool-looking obstacles.

    However, common-sense does not dictate creating the most sterile and unengaging environment possible, by nattering over trivial details such as risk of splinters from wood chips or possible toxins in rubber surfaces getting into the air and contaminating the contents of your kids’ lunchboxes.

    Lenore had it dead in the black – the only way to create a 100% safe playground is to not let any kid play in one, ever. And where’s the fun in that?

  24. Ben – I have no problem with basic safety measures. I like soft surfaces under the swings, and playground surfaces that aren’t concrete. My kids have a tendency to run full speed and fall flat out, so I do prefer they fall on wood chips than concrete.

    That said, I don’t think that’s what people here are really reacting to. There are basic safety measures, and there is looking for every possible way in which a child could hurt themselves and trying to control for it. Can’t be done, and if it could, it shouldn’t be! My three and a half year old tried a couple of months ago to ride his little bike down the three concrete steps in front of our house. My husband just wasn’t able to get to him fast enough once he saw what he was going to do. My son fell and sustained a pretty nasty cut on his forehead, which I freaked out a little bit over then cleaned up and took care of. Since then, he tells ME that he has to be careful down the steps when taking his bike outside. Would I rather he hadn’t gotten hurt? Sure, I’m his mom and I hate to see him get hurt or be upset. But I’m glad that by sustaining a minor injury he was able to learn that he has to be careful in certain situations to avoid getting hurt – in other words, that HE is the one responsible for his own safety.

    When we try to create a world in which there are no hazards, no ways in which kids can get hurt, I don’t think we are doing them any favors. Yes, protect them from busy streets and pad the ground under the swings, but don’t make their whole world into one giant padded structure! All we’ll get from that is a bunch of kids turning into neurotic adults who are unable to figure out how to keep themselves safe in the world.

  25. Also – I HATE those new plastic slides they have. The kids literally have to push themselves to keep moving down the slide. How is that fun???

  26. Olivia – I’m totally with you on the plastic vs. metal slide thing. And is it just me or are the slides these days barely half the height that slides in playgrounds used to be? I seem to remember that there were different heights of slides – the “little kid” slide that was wider (so a parent could slide down with the kid on their lap if necessary), less steep and not as high, and the “big kid” slide that was a narrower and at a steeper angle. The curly slides back then also seemed to be taller…

  27. All the playgrounds of my youth had sand or packed dirt. You figure out pretty quick to not do a faceplant in to that.

    One park had this delightful “witches hat” structure of a massive frame of a cone on a pole, and you stood on it to make it swing around.

    Of course, it’d be utterly deadly if you got caught in the center as the hat bounced around but we saw and KNEW that, and so far as I know, no one was ever hurt.

    They removed it years ago, because the new parents who used to play on it now decided their kids couldnt.

    Those same parents used to go down in the evening, and nights, drunk and play on it too. More injuries there than from kids on in daylight.

  28. the “little kid” slide that was wider (so a parent could slide down with the kid on their lap if necessary), less steep and not as high, and the “big kid” slide that was a narrower and at a steeper angle. The curly slides back then also seemed to be taller…

    Of course, you were shorter then too 🙂

    I’m curious about something — is this safety-crazedness worse in large metropolitan areas? I live in a small city on the Great Lakes, and while our newspaper will occasionally run “filler” articles on safety stuff like this (though not as extreme as the one Lenore linked to), there just isn’t this kind of public hysteria about things. I mean, people buy into the extreme stranger-safety and all that sort of thing, but they don’t get hysterical about playgrounds and lockdown daycare centers like supermaxes, and such. There’s still a park in a neighboring township that has one of those long metal slides that make me a bit queasy when my kids climb it, and I’ve never heard a peep of complaint about it. Is this a big-city mentality, or what?

    I think it varies. We’ve got some playgrounds in NYC that are brand-new and have what I fondly refer to as NO SAFETY FEATURES WHATSOEVER. My favorite, Teardrop Park, has no padding but sand… and the best way to get to the (20 foot) slide is to scale the sharp rocks surrounding it!

  29. Uly – I’m still short – just made 5’1″. I had one growth spurt where for a single, glorious year, I was actually of average height with my peers. Then the next year it was back to being the halfpint. lol. And I swear that slides these days still look shorter than I remember.

    On the other hand, I can still fit into those swings at the park easily. Few ways are more enjoyable to de-stress after a bad day than playing on the swings, no matter how old you are. (just wait – someday some adult’s going to come up to me and tell me that I’m making the swings less safe for kids by “stressing” the swing chain).

  30. You know, I remember those metal slides in the summer time… and how it only took once for you to remember that going down them in the full heat of the sun was baaaad, m’kay?

    My kids refer to the park near our house as the “baby” park… you guessed it… all plastic and tiny.

    I think by keeping our kids from experiencing life, we’re setting ourselves up for a major portion of the population dependent upon medications to be “happy.”

    Sad times ahead, I see.

  31. Greg: The reason that your local school is spending like crazy on “security” measures when they have a hard time finding teachers is that the funding for “life safety” comes from a different budget than the funding for teachers, school supplies, and the like. The usual way things work is that if a district, department, whatever doesn’t spend all of a particular budget, that budget gets cut in the next budget period, which is an unacceptable loss of face to administrators; they base their sense of self-worth on the size of their budgets.

    Life-safety funding is more palatable to legislators than teacher-salary funding because it’s not associated with teacher’s unions, which are a popular punching bag for legislators.

  32. I’m so glad we lived to years outside of Pittsburgh, PA. While there we discovered Brady Run Park. At every picnic spot there was a small playground that would take me back to my youth…those old rickety metal slides, baby swings with just a chain to hold them in, wooden see-saws without those rubber stoppers under them (my then 6yo dd and 5yo son learned a lesson about getting on and off those things pretty quick). The kids had a blast.

    Our local park still had the old style monkey bars and one small barely standing metal slide along with swings and a plastic play structure. And one park we found in the city still had a merry go round. Oh boy did my kids have fun while I cringed and looked away terrified they would go flying off as the big kids spun them faster and faster.

    Most of these parks just had grass under them. A couple had the rubber stuff. Our local park had pea gravel. There was another park that had a huge wooden structure that looked like a castle or a pirate ship (depending on where you stood) with slides and tunnels, ladders and stairs, a stage with seating and all sorts of other contraptions for the kids to hide in, climb on and pretend with. My kids loved going to that park.

    I personally HATE plastic slides because of the freaking static electricity. The ones at our park here in Chicago are so far off the ground at the bottom I have to help my 3yo get down and we both get shocked every single time. After a few trips she’s had enough and won’t go on them any more and there isn’t anything else to do at the park. Most of the toddler swings are broken and the only other thing for her to do on the play structure is cross the bridge which doesn’t really bounce or anything and the chain ladder which was broken last time and the curly cue thing but she’s too small to do it (same for the monkey bars). I hate our park. It’s freaking boring. The next closest park is so dangerous I won’t let my kids go there. They have a bridge that is about 4 1/2-5 feet off the ground and one side is half broken so it slopes to the ground with just some chains holding it to the bars above.
    The bridge on the “toddler” structure is gone (I think it was a tunnel originally) so there is no way to get to the slide without an adult to lift you up there. There is like one swing, there are broken beer bottles every where and it has been that way for years. No one cares.

  33. Falling off playground equipment is an inevitability of playing at a playground. Let’s get over it.

    My 16 month old son tripped over his own feet while walking at a playground last week and scraped his face on the wood chips. I’m not sure if we should ban wood chips or have his feet removed to protect him.

    Actually, I’m sure I’m the bad guy here for not being close enough to him as he explored to prevent his face from hitting the wood chips in the first place. Perhaps I should get a cat carrier and just keep him in there whenever he’s not in his crib.

  34. When I was a kid living in California our playground equipment consisted of some rickety structures made of metal bars and then stuck into concrete. On a warm California day the equipment heated up to about eleventy billion degrees but dammit, we played on it anyway. Now I’m not saying that stuff was better back then because thinking back, a lot of people did get hurt on that playground. I’m just saying that when I compare what we had back then (a mere 20 years ago) to what we have now my mind is boggled that some people still think modern playgrounds are unsafe. I am an admittedly protective parent (although today at the farmer’s market I let my daughter eat a pint of unwashed raspberries) but even I think it’s ridiculous to warn people about “dirt and grass”.

  35. […] Hey Kids! Get Away From That Playground!! The headline on this USA Today story sums it up: Playgrounds: They’re safer but still can be dangerous. As […] […]

  36. The other day I was at the playground with my 3 yr old daughter and a friend who was with her 3 yr old. We were pushing the kids on the swings, when my impulsive little monkey decided she was done swinging and wanted to run 25 ft over to the slide/jungle gym (where I had an unobstructed view of her.)

    I stayed by the swings just long enough to let my friend finish her thought before I chased my daughter over to the jungle gym (because in MY day, it was considered rude to walk away from a friend who is engaged in mid-conversation with you.)

    As I was walking over to my daughter, who had already climbed up on the jungle gym, she started yelling, “Mommy! Mommy! Come here!” and an older woman picked up my daughter and put her on to the ground. I was IN SHOCK that she felt she could do that, especially when I was right within eyesight and ON MY WAY to go to my child. When the woman caught my icy stare, she said, “I didn’t want her freaking out. She was scared.”

    I was just stunned… I didn’t know what to say.

    The next time we visited the park, I had my daughter on a leash (yes, literally) and I felt really uncomfortable with that too. Mothers absolutely cannot win. But I’ve noticed that fathers are not held up to these ridiculous ideals. A father is just a hero for taking his kids to the park… no one actually expects him to do anything right once he’s there.

    It’s horribly oppressive.

  37. @A Mother & More – I’ve been the “victim” of that kind of stuff many times myself. I usually say, “Thanks for your concern, but she’s fine” kindly (but in a final tone). Very rarely I have directly corrected another adult in this type of casual encounter. Because honestly… am I going to change their views (that all children should be “seen and not heard”, or stay within three feet of their parents, or whatever kind of thoughts people sometimes have). I have done this so many times with my children, especially my son who has always been adventurous but I’ve always known what he could handle.

    Why put your child on a leash? I mean, you know the child is safe and that you take good care of her? The rare mommy arrest notwithstanding, you are within your rights to parent the way you see fit and ignore – or correct, or be gracious to – the buffoons, the jerks, or the well-intentioned but backwards-thinking types. If you truly believe a leash is the right choice for YOU, okay. But if you don’t – don’t do it just because of that woman or comments from people like her!

    “A father is just a hero for taking his kids to the park…”

    I can relate to this! But that sort of double standard has a sting both ways – lots of dads are sick of being treated like inept buffoons or worse, perverts, when they visit the park. Just ask my husband; he has 1 year of stay-at-home dad experience and the stories he could tell!

  38. Great points, Kelly!

    I should clarify the reason for the leash. It’s one that looks like a monkey and my daughter loves it… she put it on herself as a 3 yr old’s fashion statement. ;o)

    The error in my judgement was probably that I held on to the leash, when I should have taken it off her once we got there… not sure why I led her around on it… what a fool I must have looked like! (except to that woman who “saved” my daughter a few days earlier)

    Re: Dads = heros, you make another great point. Dads are equally capable as parents. Otherwise, we would be more accurate to just call them “sperm donors.”

  39. You know what I thought about, reading this article, that I haven’t thought about in years?

    When I was a kid I went to a Girl Scout camp in Connecticut every summer, and in front of the lodge there was a big field that sloped down in a hill, and at the bottom of the hill was a huge rock. I mean HUGE. It seemed like it was 20 feet high when I was nine years old. And at the base of the rock was an enormous pile of foam rubber padding in big chunks, and suspended from the a tree limb over that foam rubber padding was a rope swing.

    I remember being terrified the first time I took a turn on that swing, and after that it was my favourite thing to do when we all played in the yard before meals. There was always a long lineup of girls waiting on the rock to take their turn on the swing, and after we dropped into the foam rubber pile, we’d climb back up and wait our turn & go again. And again, and again, and again. And yeah, you had the occasional twisted ankle & I’m pretty sure someone broke an arm from falling funny once, but that’s because kids were allowed to get hurt doing kid things back then – all of 25 years ago – & no one considered it a national tragedy.

    I don’t imagine any camp would have anything like that these days. Too much liability; too many parents – many of them people my age, who remember doing the same sorts of things when they were kids – who think that sort of activity is too dangerous for their kids.

    It makes me sad that my daughter will never be able to experience something like that at summer camp.

  40. I don’t know, my kids once got splinters from the wood chips…maybe sand? No, no that hurts their eyes if someone throws it, and some kids is always throwing sand. Grass, nah, mine like to eat it sometimes, so it’d have to be certified organic and then I’d have to have some sort of guarantee that no dogs have peed in it.

    Think, think…I saw a commercial once where the kids were wrapped up in bubble wrap and were wearing helmets! YES! That’s it, safe at last. No wait, that may get to hot and they might suffer from heat stroke. Oh darn!

  41. You know what I miss from parks besides all the cool equipment we had that they have now seemed to ban from every park? The summer recreation programs! This is where the park had older teenagers stationed at the parks all day during the summer. They would have crafts/games/music for you and you could just show up and leave when you wanted. I always thought I was so cool for spending my days with these glamorous older girls. I wish there was something like that for my kids to go to. We have one park here that does it but you have to pay $165 and every minute is structured, no free time or thinking just stay with your group please. No fun.

  42. #####

    As for dangerous playgrounds, they are all safer than the stuff I played on as a child, I just played in snake infested west texas rocks and hills with rattle snakes over 6ft. found regulary. People that have lived sheltered lives feel it very important to push their fears on the rest of the country as law making every one else except themselves accountable.

    I really enjoy the new crazy playgrounds but I balance it out with a heavy dose of finding woods and off the concrete path “danger” for adventure when ever I can. And the more nature the kids get now the better all the current research is showing so 🙂 screw the playground ! go find some trails.

    #####
    DADS STUFF-

    “A father is just a hero for taking his kids to the park… no one actually expects him to do anything right once he’s there.”

    Yes,sad that view exists any more and it should and will change.
    Any woman married to a man that is not pulling his weight with the kids needs to look and see if its his fault or hers, does she allow ,expect and demand his help and involvement or does she “expect nothing will go right unless she does it” when it comes to kids and push him away.

    In many ways its worse for dads because some people first wonder.. what is that guy doing with that kid or one up it.. why is my child playing with that other child playing with that “GUY”. I better remove my child from the area.

    I am the current gov. of the Austin Group of stay home dads (we have over 160 of them in our group but there are many more) We get to hear crap about it from every direction * read a “parents” mag or website and you some how only find one parent..the mom being talked about and to. where is the other parent in the media? woo an article on fathers day, there we go, met the “parents” quota.

    And we all still have it easy.. talk to the singe parents or the gay and lesbian couples with kids that have it way worse as far as “public reaction ” compared moms and dads that have the ability and luck to be there at home for there kids.

  43. ebohlman: I’m well ware of the technicalities behind the budgets. It’s still insane, no matter what the reason. We’ve been simply accepting these things for too long, in my opinion.

  44. Ha, this post reminded me of a PTA meeting I was at last year. My kids’ school was in the process of being renovated, and they were housed in a temporary building. At PTA meetings we discussed what facilities would be in the renovated space, including a new playground. One mom, from Hungary, got up and asked “Will the playground be, how shall I put this, challenging, or will it be like all the new playgrounds I see in the United States.” The principal (who in general is great. One of the few principals in the district who actually promotes outdoor play and recess.) said that since the new school would include Pre-K, this would limit our choices of playground equipment. The woman said that kids could get hurt just running around on grass, and, in fact, a neighborhood girl had recently fainted while playing tag because she was winded! No one had an answer to that. Fortunately/unfortunately, there isn’t yet enough money for a new playground, so the kids are playing on the old wooden one.

    Accidents do happen, but they can happen anywhere. I know of a boy who died while bumping heads with another on the monkey bars. He wasn’t doing anything especially dangerous. This definitely freaks me out sometimes, but I remember his father’s comment – that his son had a wonderful time on earth, and his parents thank God for every precious day they DID have with him. I think about that, and think that I should make sure my kids do have a childhood worth living – a life with no risks isn’t much of one at all.

    I do think that whoever invented that bouncy playground surface made from recycled material is a genius, though. Besides being safer for the kids, it is much easier on my aging knees. And those concrete playgrounds from my childhood definitely WERE accident zones. Ouch!

    @Uly, or anyone else in NYC, what is happening with the playground next to the Met? When we went in February, my kids were disappointed that the Egyptian-themed playground was torn down. What is going up in it’s place?

  45. I know this blog isn’t about me, but I think some of you are putting words in my mouth. I get the point of the post. I get the point and purpose of this blog, and I am a fan. I get the frustration with the over-reaction of (I suppose) well-meaning adults. I get that risk (and injury!) can’t be eliminated and that something is lost when we try to prevent any and all possible harm.

    All I was pointing out is that actual, foreseeable injuries are easily prevented by simple measures, and I have seen too many people wax sentimental about the blatantly dangerous playgrounds of their youth, as though all that concrete built character. I doubt many of us look with scorn on seat belts. Nor do I look down on soft surfaces beneath swings.

    Seeing grass and dirt as the enemy? Silly. Positioning swings above surfaces with a little give? Smart.

  46. The kids I babysit and I are doing a HUGE summer project this year. We have planned to go to all of the parks in our city, play on them, and rate them on a scale of 1-5. So far we’ve been to about half of the parks and we’ve already realised a few things. First of all the parks that try to be “safe” really aren’t much safer than the more fun but “dangerous” ones. And second, not everything always has to lead up to the slide! Some of our favourite parks so far have been the ones that you can play “don’t touch the ground tag” and also the ones that have neat inventive toys and obsitcles.

    Anyways, one thing is for sure, regardless of the safety or fun level of the parks, it really is a great thing to get out and find out what your town really does have to offer – we’re having one of the best summers ever!

  47. Good grief. One caveat: I am one of 5 kids, so never played alone.Growing up, we swam unsupervised in murky lakes, swung from rotting ropes into river pools, built a treehouse, played in a cemetery (including falling into a newly dug grave), rode rusty bikes, hiked through the woods, brought home snakes/frogs, walked to school… We sprained ankles, ruined clothes, faceplanted into gravel, fell out of trees, got bitten, had splinters, ended up with blisters from sunburn, caught our bare feet in wheel spokes, have facial scars… And we’re all alive. It’s a miracle that ANY of us are, according to the “Sky Is Falling” people!

  48. My 9-y-o daughter fell of the swing in our own back yard (yes, onto grass) and is spending the rest of summer break in a cast. But she can still sit on that swing, under my watchful eye…gasp. Kids get hurt on playgrounds all the time, but if they don’t get a chance to experiment with their own abilities, we’ll have a bunch of fragile, overweight, fearful–oh, wait.

  49. ne of the few principals in the district who actually promotes outdoor play and recess.) said that since the new school would include Pre-K, this would limit our choices of playground equipment.

    Why not just make two different playgrounds, one for the Kindy students and one for the real school students?

    No, I don’t know what they’re doing with the Met’s nearby playground 😦

    Why put your child on a leash? I mean, you know the child is safe and that you take good care of her?

    I don’t know about her, but my 3 year old niece ties herself up, pants, and asks me to “walk her”.

  50. Okay I’m waaaay out of the loop. I never knew the wood chips have arsenic in them. I was just at a park where the toddler of another mom was sticking the wood chips in Mom’s water bottle. Mom fished them out and kept drinking. She is pregnant. Probably not the best idea, eh??? How is this safer than dirt or sand or grass??? The recycled tire padding is so toxic I get dreadful headaches from it until it has outgassed enough (a several year process) so that has canceled out a few parks for our family.

    My top “favorite” thing lately has been to see these very simple playground structures (with the bright plastic everything) clearly labeled on multiple posts as being created for between the ages of 5 and 12. Ummmmmm???? Seriously?? The only ones who want to play on them are up to the age of 5 (maybe a little older) and the structures are usually crawling with young daycare kids and the handful of youngsters who arrived w/ parent/babysitter.

    Thankfully, we do have one extremely fun park in town. It has one of the older versions of the metal pole/plastic slide type of play sets (that the younger kids adore). There is a rather rickety old maze made up of painted plywood and metal frames. Some old fashioned swings exist, a shorter metal slide, a path with little wooden bridges that lead to said metal slide. There is a shorter metal climbing structure and two animals on springs (both items I remember from my childhood parks). They have a large inviting sandbox and a lovely tire swing and several pretty little garden areas with bright flowers.

    But hands down the two best features of the park exist a little further beyond this. One is the very large open field (perfect for juggling, kite flying, softball practice, volleyball, tag, light saber battles, etc). The other is a small thicket of climbable trees with a picnic table in the middle (the perfect fort area). Within this is another short metal slide that is accessed by climbing up rocks or a sloped hill or a round metal duct thing. This is the only park that my kids from 17 down to 3 all adore.

    I went there once with a playgroup made up of young families, most moms having kids no older than 5. My children did their normal scatter to the four winds thing. They look out for each other and I keep minimal watch on them (unless there are creepy people lurking about or I have a wandering toddler who is passed around from one sibling to another and back to mom so all of us have our babysitting time and our fun relaxing time). One of the moms from the playgroup returned in horror from the tree area to inform me that my 10yo was climbing a tree All By Himself. And????? Then she went on to inform me that a Police Officer Was Watching My Child. Okaaaaayyyyy???? Because??? Maybe he was just admiring my son’s fine form!

    The police officer went away, my son extracted himself from the tree just fine when he was good and ready (having never noticed anything amiss which made me wonder if the gal was overreacting to the police officer’s presence … maybe he wasn’t looking at my son at all!), and I’m sure the gals in the playgroup were left thinking I was so laid back I needed an oxygen infusion or something.

    Sigh. I have yet to return to the playgroup. But we go to the playground all the time on our own or with our other Free Range type friends and have a blast. A definite bonus is that everyone seems to be so enamored of those modern slick playgrounds that we are left in relative peace with our own little hideaway!

  51. Ok, I’ve got it!

    Indestructable plastic bubbles and padded rooms. Of course, to prevent injury, kids will have to be strapped into their individual bubbles (with some way of keeping them upright at all times, to prevent injury or motion sickness), and to keep them from getting overheated they need vents (but tiny vents, so no fingers or toes will get caught), and they’ll need padding and helmets just in case. And the bubbles themselves really should have rubber padding, in case the bubbled kids bump into each other in the padded playrooms. (We can’t just let them roll their bubbles around in public places, can we? They’ll get DIRTY!)

    Moms everywhere will be happy that their children are safe and don’t have to make decisions! PLUS, it’s a kidnapper deterrent — stealing a five-year-old in a bubble (at the Bubble Play Room, of course) is MUCH harder than grabbing an unprotected five-year-old from (gasp in horror!) the playground and throwing them into a van!

    …Oh, wait, that wouldn’t make much sense. Plus, it wouldn’t be much fun, for the kids OR the adults.

  52. It WOULD be nice if there were a way to deal with families who seek financial settlements when their kids do get hurt. Certainly a single-payer medical system would remove the medical costs. In the meantime, it is our duty to encourage our kiddies to play as hard as possible every chance they get.

  53. I agree with the majority. The plastic slides suck! Here in Phoenix they are the norm. Of course metal slides would be very bad here in the summer. Talk about frying an egg! One upside to plastic slides in a desert, you can build up one heck of a static charge. Zap your friends! See, safety stuff CAN be fun!

  54. “To me, playground injuries are pretty common and some of them, at least, are easily preventable. So why wouldn’t we want to prevent them?”

    Actually, I can think of one reason–so kids get hurt.

    Way back in my youth–this would have been around 1971 or so–I was playing on a jungle-gym. It was this inverted half-bowl shaped thing and I was at the top hanging upside-down with my knees over one of the bars. Underneath me was solid dirt. Well, after successfully hanging upside down, I started swinging. As you can guess, I swung too far, fell off, and landed flat on my chest.

    Oof!

    When I got up, I was having a hard time breathing (impacts to the chest will do that). I was really scared! But, gradually, it became easier to breathe and I was okay.

    But I actually learned a few things:

    1. Don’t hang upside down on a jungle-gym.
    2. Falling like that can hurt and be really scary.

    So I was a bit safer. I didn’t hang upside-down on jungle-gyms anymore. I was a bit more careful when climbing trees and such.

    A valuable lesson learned, without the assistance of Mom, Dad, teachers, counselors, or anyone else.

    I sometimes worry about this whole “we have to keep kids from getting hurt.” When I was a kid, I had a skateboard. It was this little narrow thing. I was pretty good with it–I could ride it and turn it without falling off. Not as many other kids were as skilled and they would fall off and hurt themselves.

    “Oh my god!” the parents cried. “These things are so dangerous! Somebody should do something!”

    The industry stopped making small skateboards. They made great big skateboards that were twice as long and twice as wide. Unless you were a complete spazz, you could easily stand on it and turn it.

    Of course, that also made the skateboard more springy. Now you could hop in the middle and make the skateboard jump. If you were skilled, you could make it jump over curbs and things. So kids started getting hurt trying to jump their skateboards over curbs. And they were getting hurt worse than they were before these “safer” skateboards came out.

    Ideally, you create a situation where the child won’t be physically disabled for the rest of his/her life. But a little pain can be a learning experience.

  55. Driving through another part of our metro area today, we came across a beautiful park. While it did have the new, modern play structures, it also had TWO TALL METAL slides and a jungle gym. Yes, there was big chip bark piece stuff under them all, but otherwise there was grass and two dirt ball fields and a playing fountain area for water play.

    We stopped when we saw it, felt daring, send the kids off and we all had a nice rest and fun time. 🙂

    And only one kid got hurt – boy fell, slipping on the concrete in the fountain area. He just stood up, brushed at it, shrugged AND CONTINUED TO PLAY.

    He seems to be *just fine*.

  56. @shewhopicksuptoys, I think it must be a mostly big-city mentality. I’m from a small town but have lived in a large city off and on for close to 20 years. I have advanced degrees but I’ve been a SAHM/WAHM for most of my adult life.

    One thing I’ve noticed is that people who grew up in suburbia who’ve moved to my city (which I happen to think is the most sensible, cleanest, safest, and most culturally interesting big city in the country) have this mentality more than people who either grew up in the country or in this city. I have a number of friends, for example, who think anywhere south of a certain street is unsafe and an undesireable neighborhood. When, in fact, there are only a scant handful of places in town that are unsafe, and only a smallish area that is truly undesireable. Nearly everywhere here is so safe, it’s ripe for plucking for urban renewal. So as it stands, many areas are safe and affordable, while needing a coat of paint. And that’s just fine by me–those homes are owned by people less likely to be taken in by fearmongering than their counterparts north of “the line”.

    Those “north of the Line” folks not only have “the (imaginary) Line”, they’re also the ones that think their kids are unsafe; have to watch them ride bikes in front of their own homes only; think that someone who looks at them and smiles in Trader Joe’s is going to abduct them. The ones that look at me funny when I let my son, 12, ride his bike 1/2 mile away to another neighborhood to play. Or when I allowed my 10-year-old to go to Manhattan with a chaperone for a ballet competition this spring. I keep telling them there is very little to fear out there. And I keep posting links to your blog on Facebook!

  57. The playground safety craze has pretty much sucked all the fun out of playgrounds in Australia. When I was a kid we used to have things like monkey bars, metal rocket ships, may poles, huge steep slides, merry go rounds and all sorts of fun things in playgrounds. there was also loads of variety.

    Now almost all the playgrounds have the same boring fibreglass play equipment (I think designed in Sweden), none of which is any fun for children over the age of about 5yo. It is all placed over a carpet of that tan bark stuff (or bouncy rubber matting) and usually surrounded by a child proof fence.

    Even the parks that still have the metal rocket ships have had to block off access to the upper storeys of them so no child can climb too high.

    I was quite heartened recently when I saw a girl trying to make the play equipment more fun by climbing on it wearing roller blades. More common are the older kids who just vandalise the play equipment out of boredom. Maybe if we made the stuff more interesting and age appropriate they might be less inclined to do this.

  58. Katie – thank you SO MUCH for that link! (the Adventure Playground in Huntington Beach). I am sending it to my brother. We both remembered it but thought it couldn’t be real. 🙂

  59. Just out of curiosity – any of you parents who take your kids to playgrounds notice if they still have those carousel-like spinning structures like in the old playgrounds? My friends and I used to LOVE those – we’d all grab a bar and run to spin that thing as fast as possible before jumping on, clinging for dear life and more often than not stumbling off with our vision still spinning (and yes, maybe once or twice someone got sick, but that taught them pretty quick that it was a bad idea to stuff one’s self with hot dogs and chips before getting on the carousel if they had dizzy issues). Also, the last time I saw an actual teeter-totter was in a park up in Quebec City a couple of years ago. Can’t say that I’ve noticed either at any of the parks that I’ve passed by here in Chicago and that makes me a bit sad.

  60. MFA: I haven’t seen them in the city of Chicago or the near suburbs, but I have seen them (and taken a spin on them) in some of the outer parts of the metro area, such as Beecher, Morris and Cabery (at least they were still there 3-7 years ago).

  61. Interesting contrast to Germany, where I am visiting (I live in Oakland, CA): I have been to about a dozen playgrounds with my 2 1/2 year old daughter, and found much equipment I never see in the US, on most of them: teeter-toters, zip cords, metal slides that start from wooden structures about 3 stories high, a running wheel (like for hamsters – just big enough for kids.) The surface usually is grass or sand – no padded rubber, no wood chips.

    I also saw numerous kids ages 5 and above riding their bikes alone, playing on playgrounds with whole groups of kids – no adult in sight. A friend I visited who lives in a big city in the center of Germany casually mentioned that her 6 year old kids walk a mile to school alone – from the 4th day they went to 1st grade! And chats with other people with kids here showed that that is still the normal thing to do! Wow – it really makes it real how supervised kids have become in the US!!!

    I doubt Germany is any safer than the US – I just heard on the radio about a kidnapping/rape/murder of a 9-year old. Just seems that people here aren’t as worried about ‘microrisks’…

  62. You know what? You fall off the monkey bars onto a soft(er) surface, and you can still get hurt! I’d rather my kid gets a big bruise than a busted face.

    Even precautions that I still insist are common-sense cannot eliminate the risk of injury, which I don’t think is a tragedy.

  63. Heike: In most of Europe, you’d have to be fantastically wealthy to drive kids around the way people in the US do. My understanding is that in most of Western Europe one liter of gasoline costs about as much as one gallon (about 4 times more gasoline) costs here. Driving kids everywhere is a luxury based on subsidized and undertaxed energy (IMHO it’s a form of conspicuous consumption).

  64. Playground accidents can surely occur, and are quite common. Small things here and there are often overlooked as well, but if the fault lies with the equipment provided or the design, then this is a serious matter and requires taking up at the right level, even by filing playground accident claims

  65. I’ve got a great scoop for USA Today.

    News Flash–Kids: Sometimes they get hurt. Studies show that usually they get over it pretty quickly.

  66. @MFA Grad: You’re right about the slides and swingsets. @Uly: In most cases I’d say you’re right, but the slides and swingsets really were taller… I’ve seen one such slide myself (read the rest of my post), and proof of the size can be found in [hard-to-find] pictures.

    I am currently a 17-year-old boy in Tulsa, OK. Understandably, most of my playground experiences were with the new plastic stuff. Back when I was 4 years old I often went to Whiteside Park, which had a mix of fiberglass and painted wood. I remember a boy named Joe who used to be there many times… he could swing really high on the swings which were still the old chain kind (albeit with a plastic bottom). AFAIK they still have the same equipment today, including the plastic 10-12′ straight and steep slide (not too many slides are straight anymore). Another park, Darlington, had and still has all-metal equipment (though it’s a really small structure). However, LaFortune is the one I want to write about here. As late as 10 years ago they had old wooden equipment (with metal slides and bars). I remember some very high monkey bars (maybe 8 feet?), a swinging bridge (had to be pretty small… maybe 10′ long tops), and 3 slides, each bigger than the other (top one was maybe 10 feet). Back in 2000 or 2001 or so they changed to new plastic equipment. At the time I was very excited since they had changed from a relatively small structure to two large ones. In 2004 I had the opportunity to visit a playground untouched by litigation-fearful government. My great uncle was about to pass away, and the family took a 1-day trip to Aurora, MO, to see him one last time. Apparently not wanting me to see him in his poor condition, my mom found a playground and told my dad to play with me there (I was 10 at the time). That is an experience I will never forget… there were an old-style metal seesaw, a metal merry-go-round, and a very steep metal slide that had to be at least 15-20 feet tall. Being accustomed to plastic all my life, I was at first afraid of the big slide. From what I recall I eventually got on it and loved it… as well as the other stuff there. From what I see on Youtube some places still have this old-school equipment… but they are mostly in other countries (Germany pops up a lot). After reading this article I realize what has truly become of society today. This is not simply a problem with playgrounds, it extends to all aspects of daily life. The American legal system is becoming too constricting to organizations, often doling out six-figure amounts for accidents that deserve more reasonable payments in the lower four figures (case in point: Liebeck v. McDonald’s Restaurants 1994, aka the Coffee Case). Though consumers may think they are getting a better product from the additional regulations, they are the ones who are really paying for them. Thus the governments force unintended mandatory “insurance policies” upon the people… businesses have to pay more and skimp on the product to meet regulations, and the consumer ends up paying for a few people’s troubles in the form of increased prices or inferior products. Change needs to occur in the law schools before it can occur on the playground.

    Also, just something I’m curious about. After reading many comments on blogs, I get the feeling that kids back then were more resilient than kids today. Kids back then could fall four feet without it hurting much, and eight feet without getting more than a scraped knee, maybe a sprained wrist at the worst. Kids in the old days used to jump from 10-foot barn roofs for fun, and one particular comment on another blog described kids purposely jumping down 20-30 feet to slightly inclined ground and getting little more than a sprained ankle. I don’t know how they did it… there wasn’t a secretly required Parkour class in elementary schools back then, was there?

  67. Plastic vs. Metal: “Metal gets too hot!”

    So does plastic:

    http://www.wusa9.com/money/story.aspx?storyid=74921&catid=37

    The remedy is to include shade trees. But wait! Kids might try to climb the trees! We can’t have that! Hmm… then just take all the equipment down… oh wait, many school districts have done just that. Very sad times we live in, where fear of lawsuits has affected society so much, even while childhood obesity grows at an alarming rate. Oh, and remember, “Remove Child Before Folding” your stroller… the company is afraid someone will sue.

  68. nope, i think they are too safe, no skipping, running, WTF playground is that?
    playgrounds are made to overcome childrens fear, not go down 1 foot off the ground slides. It used to be so fun teenagers would play on them. Now my five year old sons not even amused.

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