A Canadian school’s recent move to ban all hard balls — including soccer, football, and tennis balls –from school grounds to prevent injury sounds ridiculous. But it’s really just another small step in the hyper regulation of life that afflicts America as well as, apparently, our northern neighbor.
I was lectured for sending my five-year-old to kindergarten at a public school in Virginia on a hot fall day in sandals. Why? A piece of glass or rock could get caught under the open toe and result in a cut or injury to her foot, I was told. I’m confident that the folks making these policies are not themselves crazy. They’ve been made crazy by a litigation system that makes commonplace occurrences actionable and financial liabilities that no conscientious institution can afford to ignore.
Much has been written about how our legal system strangles our economy and makes just about everything more expensive. Yet the impact on civil society is more severe. What does it mean for a generation of children to never experience getting hit by a ball or getting cut by a stray rock in the shoe? These are unpleasant experiences to be sure, but they are a part of life and learning how to get over a minor injury and persevere.
Our litigation system’s profound effects may seem invisible until you leave its confines. One of the first things I noticed after moving to Europe with small children was just how much cooler — and more dangerous — the playgrounds are here. There are enormous structures kids can climb, and there are no railings at the top to protect them from falling. As a parent, this can be jarring. It means I have to make sure that my two-year-old doesn’t follow his six-year-old sister up something that would pose a threat. But the kids have a great time, and they learn to be careful while playing.
We recently attended an event at the German school our children attend in Brussels to celebrate St. Martin’s Day. Children make lanterns out of paper mache–like materials that are then hung on long poles. On the night of the festival, candles — yes, real candles — are placed inside those lanterns while the kids, some as young as two and three, parade around, eventually gathering around a bonfire, singing songs. It was beautiful — and like nothing you would ever see in the U.S.
It makes sense, of course, to protect your children from risks when you can. But something is lost with the hyper-regulation of life, particularly of children’s lives. Just as learning to lose a sports game — far from a traumatic experience to be avoided — is a critical part of growing up and learning the old winning-isn’t-everything lesson, sometimes kids need to fall down so they can learn to get up again. Preventing that process isn’t in anyone’s best interest.