OK, from the title you might think I am a cruel psychopath monster who doesn’t care about children and that could not be further from the truth. I am a parent myself with 3 children whom I love dearly. I have also worked with young kids for the last decade in various volunteer capacities so I have experience with not only my own children, but others in my care. I never want to see any child hurt and my heart breaks along with millions of other parents when there is a tragedy where a child is injured.
This post is going to deal with our societies’ increasing focus on safety and security to the point that even playing games is no longer considered an activity we can allow because “someone might get hurt”. I am not referring to serious injuries here or abuse, I am discussing this from the standpoint of normal injuries doing what any rational person would consider as normal childhood activities, not tragedies brought upon children from some other forces.
There was an article today from CBS New York about how a local Long Island Middle School was banning activities out of a concern for injuries. Citing a “rash of playground injuries” the article states:
“Some of these injuries can unintentionally become very serious, so we want to make sure our children have fun, but are also protected,” Maloney said.
Without helmets and pads, children are much more susceptible to getting hurt, experts said.
Long Island Jewish Medical Center emergency room director Dr. Salvatore Pardo said he has been seeing “head injuries, bumps, scrapes; worried about concussions.”
To protect the children from getting hurt, the school was banning footballs, baseballs, lacrosse balls or “anything that might hurt someone on school grounds”. That’s a pretty impressive list of what we used to call toys when I was a kid.
Safe but (Not) Fun
This is not a new trend at all; it has become increasingly more prevalent in our society. There are lots of other indications that we focus on safety above all else. You can’t ride a bike in a lot of places today without helmet and pads. I never wore either and I am alive and well with no permanent scars, well that matter really. Playgrounds were first covered with padded surfaces instead of gravel so the ground wasn’t as hard and these days “risky” elements like monkey bars are being removed. Now, you get a slide, some steps and a bridge to walk across if you are lucky. Remember the swings that you used to be able to get about 20 feet up in the air on? Not anymore.
Now we are eliminating footballs and soccer balls because someone might get hurt. I assume that some children were injured either running and fell or were hit with the balls and were injured that way. Regardless of the injury, I think it is wrong to take these types of activities away and we may be injuring our children more by trying to keep them safe than they would ever be injured by a stray ball or run in with the ground.
I don’t know the specifics of the injuries so anything I am saying is based upon the information in the article and my observations elsewhere, but I am assuming these are normal kids playing in a normal school environment. I take for granted that the children don’t have health issues and they aren’t running through jagged pieces of metal and debris. All of that being said, playing games is a valuable part of growing up and getting injured or the potential for injury is a critical aspect of learning that we are cheating our children out of. That may sound strange if you are asking yourself how a child getting hurt can help them. Let me explain what I mean.
What does getting hurt teach us?
Most parents coddle their children to varying degrees when they are babies and toddlers. You want to make sure they are free from any harm and that is perfectly normal. I would say you aren’t really a great parent if you don’t care if your child gets hurt at all. We take great pains to “baby-proof” the house and lock anything dangerous out of the way. We stay with them at all times as they explore and pull dangerous items out of their little paws before they can be quickly inserted into that drooling mouth of theirs. Sometimes that works better than others. My own daughter had a knack for finding the one thing we didn’t want her to have and one more than one occasion we caught her with some substance ready to pour it down her throat. She is still perfectly fine and alive I am pleased to say although the Murphy’s oil soap story will hang around our house forever.
As our children begin to walk, they will inevitably fall. This will almost always result in tears and the occasional bump on the head or scraped knee to which we as parents apply a generous amount of love, hugs and attention. At a certain point most parents go through a transition. In the beginning you run to any sounds of impact or crying ready to swoop down and pick your child up into your arms making sure they are OK and wipe away their tears. After this happens a hundred or so times, you learn and so does your child that every bang and scrape isn’t life threatening. For normal bumps and falls the swooping is replaced with a gentle pat on the head, quick check of the boo-boo and in my case on a lot of occasions a casual “you’re alright”. To which they run away and commence to playing again.
Children learn from injuries. They learn that not every injury is going to kill them and that each one doesn’t require a full court press from mom and dad. Injuries help us learn to be more coordinated and that actions have consequences. The story that comes to my mind is the electrical outlet. I can just imagine the comments I’ll get but most guys I know when faced with a child who wants to stick their fingers on a plug in the socket will say something like “they will only do that once” referring to the belief that once a kid has received a mild shock and the resulting pain, that lesson will be learned better than any lecture about the safety of electric plugs a protective parent can dish out.
It’s the same with bikes or skateboards. Getting on anything with wheels increases the likelihood that you will end up on your butt or your face at some point, but if you take away any risk, you don’t learn to get better. Falling actually teaches you how to maintain your balance better, brace for impact and to some degree just like the other injuries it makes you learn how to deal with a little pain. When kids are playing football you can learn how to protect yourself before an impact or how to fall without breaking an arm. Tag and baseball force you to focus on something if you want to prevent either being tagged or hit in the face with a ball.
By taking away the risks associated with life, removing any opportunity of learning how to prevent injury or how to deal with it afterward, you are robbing children of a valuable skill that can help their development and I think we are making children weaker and less able to deal with pain and adversity as they get older.
As parents our job is to prepare our children as best as we can for life so they can grow up strong, healthy and in the best position possible to go out on their own and make their own life. Life is full of pain and injury. To try and shelter our kids from anything bad that they might face in the future we are doing them a disservice I believe. Scrapes and bumps and yes, even some broken bones are normal. We heal and learn and go on with life. Children need us to let them get exposed to some of life’s bumps and scrapes now while they are in our care so that they can deal with them when they are on their own.