Safe kids, fat kids

Safety can be dangerous for kids, writes Philip Howard in the Wall Street Journal. Making playgrounds safe means taking out “merry-go-rounds, high slides, jungle gyms, seesaws or pretty much anything that’s fun,” he writes. That leaves children at risk of growing up without learning to deal with risk, he writes.

Allowing children to test their limits in unstructured play, according to the American Association of Pediatrics, “develop[s] their imagination, dexterity, and physical, cognitive, and emotional strength.” Scrapes and bruises are how children learn their limits, and the need to take personal responsibility.

Free play also burns off calories.

According to the Center for Disease Control, (child obesity) would basically cure itself if children engaged in the informal outdoor activities that used to be normal. But how do we lure children off the sofa? One key attraction is risk.

Risk is fun, at least the moderate risks that were common in prior generations. An informal survey of children by the University of Toronto’s Institute of Child Studies found that “merry-go-rounds . . . anecdotally the most hated piece of playground equipment in hospital emergency rooms — topped the list of most desired bits of playground equipment.” Those of us of a certain age can remember sprinting to get the contraption really moving. That was fun. And a lot of exercise.

When I was in kindergarten, the big kids would push us aside when we tried to play on the merry-go-round. I figured I’d be big enough by first grade. But the summer before I started, some kid broke his collar bone on it, and the school decided it was unsafe and took it out. I never got my chance. Not fair.

About Joanne


  1. We didn’t have a merry-go-round (played with those other places, of course), but we had the teeter-totters, and what felt like a giant slide. My brother fell from the top of the slide, and broke his arm. My sister fractured her wrist playing on a skateboard.

    I had multiple stubbed toes and skinned knees – the first from learning to ride a bike, the other from clumsiness. 🙂

    I miss those days.

  2. Margo/Mom says:

    Bill Cosby had a great routine years ago about why kids in his neighborhood stayed away from playgrounds–they knew that adults put all that play equipment there to KILL KIDS! Very funny.

  3. When my (very active) boy was about 3 or 4, he happened to have bruises all over his legs just at the time of a scheduled doctor appointment. I was worried that she would suspect abuse. Fortunately she was a sensible doctor and all went well. I don’t know if she said, or I read somewhere later, that a doctor should wonder about a boy who doesn’t have any bruises since that would indicate he’s not active enough.

  4. More adults will die young from not being active kids than kids will die from accidents.

  5. My husband and I used to joke that pretty soon all playgrounds would be replaced by “soft mounds of sterile earth” where children are encouraged to walk rather than run. We’ve actually been to a city playground where supervisors yelled at kids to stop running. It was a bit of a shock.

  6. …bailing out of swing sets to see who could launch the farthest, coasting bicycles down anything with an incline (no brakes allowed), climbable trees, playing around railroad tracks…

  7. I was certainly outraged when my son’s school “nerfed” their playground, but then again, I’m not ever going to be the official that will have to tell a parent that her child is dead so that the other children will find exercise more inviting.

    It’s easy for me to complain because I don’t have to deal with the consequences (unless I’m very, very unlucky).