The Perils of Play

IMG_3790Lawyers and insurance companies are ruling the world and they are taking us in the wrong direction. Simply put, there is more to life than avoiding death. We have been sucked in anyway to avoiding risk at all costs. This is especially acute in today’s parents who have coddled this generation of children so much; they are likely to never leave home.

Many of the children have never walked to school, or been unsupervised for any length of time. Their lives are spent in the home or during a scheduled activity or play date. No parent would risk abduction and let their child play outside alone! Lets not forget the perils of having sunshine on unprotected skin or the risk of a fall.

But we have taken it so far the saying, “Better safe than sorry” is no longer a truism. Take the playground issue for instance. After a particularly damning report about the perils of the city’s playgrounds; that actually was written with a view to how things “should” be built in the future, not a comment on the current dangers on the playground, the city of Toronto ripped out all of it’s play equipment from public properties and schools.

We have all heard this argument. “Now that there is a report saying that the playground is potentially dangerous we are exposed legally.” Again, with the lawyers and the insurance companies. If a child was hurt and the parents decided to go for a windfall of cash, the city would be liable. There was no way to take the risk. Rip out the playgrounds.

The post-game analysis done by the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ),
showed a great improvement in safety citing 550 less injuries on playgrounds. Now, an injury is described as any time a form is filled out and “includes injuries attended to by teachers or school staff, as well as those in which the child went home or to a health facility”. Funny thing that the CMAJ article made no mention of how this lack of activity affected the children, their ability to concentrate, their weights or their happiness, to name a few undiscussed variables. The study focused entirely on the reduced risk of injury.

Now with funding the way that it always is — tight, the city did not have a plan to replace all of the equipment with the recommended “safer” equipment. The wealthier neighbourhoods did fundraising and refurbished the playgrounds but after 9 years many of the playgrounds remain barren. So now we also have an economic split. The poorer children are more likely to have no way to be engaged and active during the school day and become higher risk for being named a troublemaker.

In other cities, the rules have become so strict that normal games like tag are not allowed because it requires “touching”. Throwing things can be hazardous. Boisterous play can result in someone getting hurt. In other words, we are asking our children not to play because it is dangerous.

So an entire cohort of children is not being allowed normal physical activity. This same group of children is the fattest, most out of shape generation of children North America has ever seen. The way that we are dealing with this lack of exercise is to take away play. Interesting.

Children that cannot make the adjustment to this lack of exercise can become troublemakers because they will have difficulty concentrating or paying attention. These children may be diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and medicated. For that matter, in 2011 one in ten children were diagnosed with ADHD in the US. If children cannot sit still, they are given a pharmacopeia of drugs to help them calm down. So let me summarize, many of our children are driven to school and then they are not allowed to play all day and we medicate them to keep them from being too restless. There is no way to over state this.

A particularly nonconformist principal in New Zealand decided to get rid of all of the rules on his playground at school and yes, there were a few injuries, but many of the other “bad behaviours” decreased. In fact, the students focused better in class. Bullying, tattling and vandalism all decreased and fewer children were getting hurt. Perhaps, just perhaps, kids need to be able to play to stimulate themselves and well, be normal children.

Now the question becomes, how do we deal with the lawyers and the insurance companies that are salivating at the thought of a child breaking her arm on the playground? Until we address that issue, we are putting all of our children at real risk, not just the normal childhood risk of a scraped knee or a bruise.


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