I got thinking about this topic after reading a great condensed article in Reader's Digest titled: The Revolution Will Not Be Supervised. (A longer version of the article is posted here for those who'd like the full read.) The article gives an overview of the safety movement for children's playgrounds that began in the 1970's and how in general it has not really made children much safer. This was a surprise to me at first, but if you read the article, some of the reasons make perfect sense. One example - modern playgrounds are nearly always blanketed with shock absorbent material like rubber designed to protect children from falls. Yet, despite this, there's evidence that injuries on these surfaces have not decreased, and for some types of injuries, they may have actually increased. The reason is simple. When children know there's a safe surface below them, they are actually less cautious. This leads to more falls that lead to bone breaking injuries.
Ellen Sandseter, a researcher and professor of early-childhood education at Queen Maud University College claims that safety regulations have transformed modern playgrounds into "sterile, boring places" with no imagination. It's true that today one playground looks like pretty much any other. And sadly, if you drive around the town where I live at least, you'll hardly see more than a handful of kids playing on our playgrounds. If you do, they are never alone. There are usually parents sliding down slides with their kids in their laps or hovering below their child with their arms outstretched ready to catch them if they fall off something.
Sandseter has concluded that children "have a sensory need to taste danger and excitement." When we, as adults, strip our children of reasonable opportunities to take risks, then we are taking away an necessary part of their brain development. An interesting research fact from the article - children who injured themselves from a fall between the ages of 5 and 9 were actually less likely to be afraid of heights at age 18. In other words, kids who aren't given opportunities to explore heights at a young age are actually more like to develop phobias of high places.
Okay, fair warning here's my "old man, pining about the good old days" moment...
I am amazed how much child's play has changed in just one generation. When I was a kid, I climbed tall trees. I built forts out of scrap wood and rusty nails. We built a tree house in an empty lot that was our "secret hideout." We would climb up on the roof of our friend's house. One time we even jumped from the roof on top of the bounce house his mom had rented for his birthday. I threw rocks at things. My friends and I played "Star Wars" with sticks we'd find. My friends and I would use our pocket knives to carve "spears" and see how far we could throw them. We cut an old broom stick into "nun chucks" and played Bruce Lee. We played tackle football. My younger brother and I played "WWF wrestling", usually until one or both of us was crying. We went swimming with our friends, unsupervised by adults. My friends and I built ramps and jumped them with our dirt bikes. I crashed and fell sometimes. I never broke any bones, but I had bruises on my body and scabs on my knees and elbows for most of my childhood. You did not call them "boo-boo's" You showed it off to your friends as a badge of how "tough" you were. I played outside until it got dark and my mom and dad had no idea where I was most of the time.
So what has happened in the last 30 years?
The article mentioned above describes a fascinating counter-culture
From the article:
"Other than some walls lit up with graffiti, there are no bright colors or anything else that belongs to the usual playground landscape: no shiny metal slide, no yellow seesaw with a central ballast to make sure no one falls off, no rubber bucket swing for babies. There is, however, a frayed rope swing that carries you over the creek and deposits you on the other side, if you can make it that far (otherwise, it deposits you in the creek). On this day, the kids seem excited by a walker that was donated by one of the elderly neighbors and is repurposed, at different moments, as a scooter, a jail cell, and a gymnastics bar."
|The author of the article's son playing |
around "The Land's" firepit (Hanna Rosin)
|Camp Pransky. This little pop-up has|
seen a lot of the country
My family likes to camp a lot. We have taken our little pop-up camper from as far east as Maine, as far west as Yellowstone in and as far south as Savanah, GA. These trips have given our family some of our most cherished experiences together.
|Whitewater rafting in the Adirondacks.|
|One of my friend Greg's signature |
"teepee" campfire starts
Similarly, my son was always keenly interested when my friend Greg would split the firewood into smaller pieces to use as starter wood. One day, Greg decided to teach him the proper technique to do it safely without embedding the hatchet in your foot. Now, this is one of his favorite camping activities and he's gotten quite good at it.
One of my favorite camping memories occurred at Emerald Lake State Park in Vermont. We had done a lot of hiking and site seeing in the area when Lilly, my friend's ever-quotable daughter, started acting bored and tired of it all and replied snidely, "You can see all this on the internet!" The adult rolled our eyes at this and made a mental note to remember this comment for the scrapbook.
|Rogan and Lucas cruising on kayaks on Emerald Lake|
At one point we each decided to say something clever while we were swinging. My friend's son, Lucas shouted, "Live Free, or Die!", New Hampshire's state motto which he had taken on as his personal credo. But, Greg topped us all by turning his daughter's quote around on her as seen in the video below.
I think its important for all kids to take reasonable risks. After all, we can't wrap them in bubble wrap and protect them for their whole lives. Life is messy, and it involves skinned knees and bruises from time to time. In fact, I couldn't imagine childhood without these things.
If you are interested in more on this topic. Check out this great article, Three Huge Mistakes We Make Leading Kids...And How to Correct Them. I also would recommend this terrific Ted Talk by Gever Tulley that makes some of my same points.
5 Dangerous Things You Should Let Your Children Do