Being Safe is Boring

This is what happens when a nation raises its kids in a bubble where no risk is deemed acceptable.

Why Safe Kids Are Becoming Fat Kids – Philip K. Howard, online.wsj.com, 08-13-2008

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The harmful effects of our national safety obsession ripple outward into society. One in six children in America is obese, and many of them will face a lifetime of chronic illness. According to the Center for Disease Control, this problem 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.

America unfortunately is going in the opposite direction. There is nothing left in playgrounds that would attract the interest of a child over the age of four. Exercise in schools is carefully programmed, when it exists at all. Some schools have banned tag. Broward County, Fla., banned running at recess. (How else can we guard against a child falling down?) Little Leagues forbid sliding into base. Some towns ban sledding. High diving boards are history, and it’s only a matter of time before all diving boards disappear.

Safety is meaningful only in the context of other benefits and risks. Safety always involves trade-offs — of opportunities, of scarce resources and, especially in the case of children’s play, of learning to manage risk. The question is whether the trade-off makes sense.

Parents:  make the kids get outside and play with other kids.  Risk, adventure, and exploration are good for them, even if somebody occasionally gets hurt.  They’ll live.

And sitting around fiddling with video game controllers isn’t good for them.  And if your school district is one that gets rid of recess, or gym, push them to reinstate it.

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