Playgrounds Getting TOO Safe?

Hi Readers — A bunch of you sent me links to this wonderful NY Times story by John Tierney yesterday, about how maybe we have been making playgrounds SO safe that they actually stunt our kids’ development. (Or at least make it too boring for anyone over 7 to want to go play.)

It’s a point I agree with so much that I wrote a piece about the same thing, last year. Here’s a link to that one, too.  Basically, both articles point out that in our desire to eliminate ALL risks, we create new ones, like the risk of kids not getting a feel for what’s safe or not, and not feeling confident about facing the world in general. And not getting exercise!

And here’s an earlier Wall Street Journal article that inspired me, “Why Safe Kids are Becoming Fat Kids.”  (Actually, it’s just a bit of the article because the Journal only gives a chunk, unless you subscribe.) The piece is by Philip K. Howard, who happens to be author of one my favorite, mindblowing books, Life Without Lawyers.

Anyway, here’s to fun on the monkey bars, and maybe some new ideas about playgrounds, too. — L

Wheeeee! This is so developmentally rich!

Outrage of the Week: “We LOVE Seeing Children Outside (But Not Under Age 16)”

Hi Readers — It’s summer! Time for kids to run around and ride their bikes and play like puppies till the moon shoos them home.

Unless, that is, they’re living in the Eagle Place Townhomes in Lafayette, Colorado. There, no children are allowed to play outside, unsupervised, until age 16.

That’s right. No kids. Outside. Without an adult. Period.

That’s the new, written rule at the 60-home development and can you guess the reason given? Of course you can! You can recite it in your sleep! Quoth the property manager: “We just want them to be safe.”

 This article, in Boulder’s paper, the Daily Camera, details the “ghost town” the development has become. Said one dad, “It feels like prison.” Another said he has received letters from the management company saying his 5 and 8 year old kids can’t ride their scooters OR play on the grass between units OR play on the property’s playground without an adult present. Before this new rule, up to 30 kids would get together and play.

 Playing on a playground? Imagine that.

Eagle Place management even forbid a 15-year-old from reading a book on his porch swing. Talk about proactive danger management. His 12-year-old sister babysits in the complex. Now she is forbidden to take her young wards outside to play.

The impetus for all this seems to be twofold: One, management says that children are vandalizing the property. And two, recently a child got his foot stuck in an air conditioning unit and his parents couldn’t be reached. Instead, 911 was called. For this reason, management wrote in a letter to the residents, “Each time we find a child unattended they will be instructed to go home until an adult can accompany them outside.”

(The letter also said, “Children bring such joy to our lives and we all love seeing them outside playing in their carefree world.” Then comes the “but.”)

As bizarre as all this sounds, it is not the first time I’ve heard of such draconian laws. Other parents at other developments are dealing with them, too – and I’m not talking about retiree developments that specifically want nothing to do with kids. I’m talking plain old, all-American neighborhoods.

What’s terrifying is that this is what “all-American” may become: Neighborhoods so safe – at least from law suits – that the kids are locked inside or shuttled from supervised activity to supervised activity.

Of course, that sounds a lot like what America is becoming even without bylaws like the ones at Eagle Place. So much for our soaring spirit of adventure. The Eagle has, indeed, landed. It’s inside, playing videogames and  eating a Fruit Roll-Up. – Lenore

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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