The too-safe playground

Playgrounds can be too safe, writes John Tierney in the New York Times.

Even if children do suffer fewer physical injuries — and the evidence for that is debatable — the critics say that these playgrounds may stunt emotional development, leaving children with anxieties and fears that are ultimately worse than a broken bone.

“Children need to encounter risks and overcome fears on the playground,” said Ellen Sandseter, a professor of psychology at Queen Maud University in Norway. “I think monkey bars and tall slides are great. As playgrounds become more and more boring, these are some of the few features that still can give children thrilling experiences with heights and high speed.”

Children sometimes get hurt, but the pain doesn’t last, studies show: “A child who’s hurt in a fall before the age of 9 is less likely as a teenager to have a fear of height.”

The old tall jungle gyms and slides disappeared from most American playgrounds across the country in recent decades because of parental concerns, federal guidelines, new safety standards set by manufacturers and — the most frequently cited factor — fear of lawsuits.

Shorter equipment with enclosed platforms was introduced, and the old pavement was replaced with rubber, wood chips or other materials designed for softer landings. These innovations undoubtedly prevented some injuries, but some experts question their overall value.

If the playground is designed for toddlers, older children may find more dangerous pursuits.

About Joanne

Comments

  1. This trend is not new. When my younger kids (now mid 20s) were young, one of the local parks built a huge new playground complex; one area for toddlers, one for 5-8 year olds and one for 8-12 year olds. By the time my kids were 5-8, they had aged out of the biggest-kid area; it just wasn’t particularly challenging or fun, even though there were a couple of places they couldn’t manage because they were too short to reach. Admittedly, all of my kids were highly athletic, but they weren’t the only kids to want something more challenging, so they took to the woods and streams. All of my kids played in the neighborhood on their own, with other kids but no parents; very good training for getting along and settling things themselves. I just returned from visiting grandkids and I saw no kids at the local playground without an adult, even the ones who were clearly MS-age.

  2. banjo pickin girl says:

    I remember my Mom taking me on a Saturday to the ES playground so I could climb up on the biggest slide I was afraid of. I think I was six. That was a very valuable experience.

    I also seem to see a lack of understanding of basic physics, such as the Newtonian laws of motion, that kids on playgrounds with merrygorounds and slides and swings learned through experience, such as the best time to jump off a swing.

    I have met adults who never played on swings or merrygorounds who think that when a truck with a load of lumber in the back stops short the load will fall off the back of the truck rather than continuing in the same direction of travel. That kind of thing is learned on the playground at an early age.

  3. Richard Aubrey says:

    Making yourself do something scary and doing it reasonably well is a growth experience. Playgrounds of the older type provided graduated possibilities for such accomplishments.

  4. “I have met adults who never played on swings or merrygorounds who think that when a truck with a load of lumber in the back stops short the load will fall off the back of the truck rather than continuing in the same direction of travel. That kind of thing is learned on the playground at an early age.”

    My brain is going to explode.

    Where are you meeting adults (plural), ascertaining what kind of playground experience they have, and then asking them what would happen to a load of unsecured lumber in a fast-stropping truck?

    It sounds like the premise for a story-building exercise at a writers’ camp.

  5. J. D. Salinger says:

    Where are you meeting adults (plural), ascertaining what kind of playground experience they have, and then asking them what would happen to a load of unsecured lumber in a fast-stropping truck?

    Drop dead you know it all schmuck.

  6. “Drop dead you know it all schmuck.”

    I know you don’t mean this. You’re just frustrated because you can’t order your deli meats in thirds or sevenths of a pound. I forgive you.

  7. Richard Aubrey says:

    I expect banjo means folksmay know Newton’s laws intellectually, but not have a muscle memory of finding oneself opposing them–grim–or cooperating with and accelerating them–like flying. There are times when the latter is–really, really–handy.
    After all, a guy skilled in vectors can’t necessarily throw a football like Elway. And Elway probably can’t do vectors.

  8. This brings to mind the old Jeff Foxworthy line, “If you have ever cleaned out your truck by backing up really fast and then slamming on the brakes, you might be a redneck…”

    Who says the lumber won’t fall off the back?

  9. Roger Sweeny says:

    John Elway was an economics major at Stanford. He may actually know something about vectors.

  10. Richard Aubrey says:

    Roger. I was thinking more of ballistics.
    When my sister lived in Colorado some years back, she said highway underpasses and overpasses were referred to as “Elways”. My guess is that his improvement was a matter of brain to arm, not a matter of penciling curves modified by air resistance.