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by
Glenn Reynolds

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July 20, 2011 - 3:10 pm

John Tierney asks that very question:

When seesaws and tall slides and other perils were disappearing from New York’s playgrounds, Henry Stern drew a line in the sandbox. As the city’s parks commissioner in the 1990s, he issued an edict concerning the 10-foot-high jungle gym near his childhood home in northern Manhattan.

“I grew up on the monkey bars in Fort Tryon Park, and I never forgot how good it felt to get to the top of them,” Mr. Stern said. “I didn’t want to see that playground bowdlerized. I said that as long as I was parks commissioner, those monkey bars were going to stay.”

His philosophy seemed reactionary at the time, but today it’s shared by some researchers who question the value of safety-first playgrounds. Even if children do suffer fewer physical injuries — and the evidence for that is debatable — the critics say that these playgrounds may stunt emotional development, leaving children with anxieties and fears that are ultimately worse than a broken bone. . . . By gradually exposing themselves to more and more dangers on the playground, children are using the same habituation techniques developed by therapists to help adults conquer phobias, according to Dr. Sandseter and a fellow psychologist, Leif Kennair, of the Norwegian University for Science and Technology.

When the playground movement was starting up, around a century ago, its motto was “Better a broken arm than a broken spirit.” Since then, that approach seems to have fallen out of favor. But perhaps — with the rise of surprise bestsellers like The Dangerous Book for Boys and research of the sort Tierney describes — we’re beginning to see a societal turnaround. We can hope, anyway.

WHO IS GLENN REYNOLDS? I’m a law professor at the University of Tennessee. I write various law review articles, opeds, and other stuff. I’m a Contributing Editor at Popular Mechanics. I’m a columnist at The Washington Examiner. My most recent book is An Army of Davids : How Markets and Technology Empower Ordinary People to Beat Big Media, Big Government, and Other Goliaths. My next most recent book is The Appearance of Impropriety: How the Ethics Wars Have Undermined American Government, Business and Society, (The Free Press, 1997) coauthored with Peter W. Morgan. For something completely different, see Environmental Regulation of Nanotechnology: Some Preliminary Observations, from the April, 2001 Environmental Law Reporter. Some of my other law review writings can be found in PDF form here. I’ve also written for The Atlantic Monthly, URB, The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, The New York Times, and numerous other publications. I’m interested in everything, but my chief interest is in the intersection between advanced technologies and individual liberty. The vast majority of my writing touches on this in one way or another.
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