December 4 2012

Clashing Alarmist Claims

Julie Gunlock

It's amusing to listen to the worrywarts worry about how their own worrying has led to more things to worry about.

Got all that?

After years of complaining that school equipment is too dangerous, safety alarmists got their way as within the past decade thousands of tall wooden structures were torn down and replaced with much safer (read boring) playground equipment. Now, some child-development experts worry that these so-called "safe" playgrounds are contributing to childhood obesity, as well as other child development problems. According to a Wall Street Journal op-ed on the subject:

Some child-development experts and parents say decades of dumbed-down playgrounds, fueled by fears of litigation, concerns about injury and worrywart helicopter parents, have led to cookie-cutter equipment that offers little thrill. The result, they say, is that children are less compelled to play outside, potentially stunting emotional and physical development and exacerbating a nationwide epidemic of childhood obesity.

Some psychologists suggest that not exposing children to risk can result in increases in anxiety and other phobias. Children who never climb trees, for example, are more likely to develop a fear of heights, according to a study in Norway. And encouraging free play, in an age of structured activities and computer games, is believed to be important in helping children develop physical and cognitive competencies, creativity and self-worth.

The playground alarmists certainly have accomplished something. Due to a few broken bones and probably a concussion or two (ostensibly the reason most of these old and much more challenging playgrounds were demolished), the worrywarts have managed to turn our brave and healthy kids into a bunch of anxiety ridden, risk averse, sunshine-phobic, emotionally and physically stunted, fat kids.  Thanks hand-wringers.

But there's reason to be hopeful. These latest claims are sure to lead to a call for the construction of more challenging play equipment and everyone will rejoice...until, of course, someone breaks a bone.

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