Nanny Statism Is Removing Actual Play From Playgrounds


I grew up in an age where we’d stay outside until the sun went down, and all the kids on the block knew each other. At recess, we’d play under the trees and in the grass and dirt. We’d pile two and three high on a swing and see just how high we could go before we felt nauseous. After school, while waiting for our parents, we’d chase each other until we couldn’t catch our breath. But as soon as we recovered, even for a second, one of us would yell, “Tag, you’re it!” Sadly, these innocent games aren’t allowed in many schoolyards and playgrounds today.

No, schools around the country are banning running during recess, and prohibiting games like tag, and yes, even banning swings. If you’re over the age of 20, you likely remember a time when you were actually allowed to just play, but those days are gone.

“Structured play” is the new norm, and playground consultants are being hired to ensure your kids “leverage the power of play” in an approved fashion. They’re dictating the games being played and making sure kids don’t utter terrible words like “You’re out!” for fear it may cause emotional distress. It is central planning for kids.

Where does this insanity stem from? How did we get to the point in America where kids aren’t allowed to run or play on swings, and schools need to hire people to teach kids how to play?

Maybe this 60-page handbook from the Consumer Product Safety Commission is a clue.

In the opening, it states:

In recent years, it is estimated that there were more than 200,000 injuries annually on public playgrounds across the country that required emergency room treatment. By following the recommended guidelines in this handbook, you and your community can create a safer playground environment for all children and contribute to the reduction of playground-related deaths and injuries.

Sounds great, right?  I agree keeping kids safe is important, everyone does, but to what end?

The handbook was published in 2010, and according to the last census done in the same year, there were 74.2 million children in the United States. Working off the statistic listed above of 200,000 injuries, it means that .002% of children got hurt seriously enough to seek treatment at an emergency room. Of course, there’s no telling if seeking treatment also includes very minor scrapes and bruises, but even if it does, .002% is a very small percentage.

How much safer can we possibly make childhood? Could we keep all children perfectly safe if we never let them leave their cribs or get off the couches? Maybe, but is that really what’s best for kids? As I read through this handbook, I wondered at what point are we just going to forego all the formalities and mandate that we wrap our kids in bubble wrap as soon as they leave the womb.

Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating, but not by much. Don’t believe me? Take a look at a few of these guidelines and ask yourself if we’ve gone a bit too far with these safety recommendations.

Avoid Nature

No grass. No dirt. No, really.

Grass and dirt are not considered protective surfacing because wear and environmental factors can reduce their shock absorbing effectiveness.

According to the CPSC, the very surfaces God gave us to play on and run in aren’t good enough. No, it’s far safer to recommend our kids play on recycled rubber tires filled with toxins and chemicals that never break down. And pea gravel? Yes, that’s great, because every mother knows how easy it is to keep that out of your three-year-old’s mouth. Thank goodness we’re keeping them away from the really terrible stuff like dirt!

No wood, no dirt



Avoid Playing or Running Around Anyone Else

The play area should be organized into different sections to prevent injuries caused by conflicting activities and children running between activities. Active, physical activities should be separate from more passive or quiet activities.

This really should be a non-issue since running has already been banned, but in case you have a rebel on your hands who insists on running and interacting with other children, you’ll be glad to know the central planners have mapped out the perfect space to avoid any conflicting interests. Good thing kids always do as expected.

Avoid Sunshine

Playgrounds should all be shaded because sunscreen apparently doesn’t exist.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, research indicates that one in five Americans will develop some form of skin cancer during their lifetime, and five or more sunburns double the risk of developing skin cancer. Utilizing existing shade (e.g., trees), designing play structures as a means for providing shading (e.g., elevated platforms with shaded space below), or creating more shade (e.g., manmade structures) are potential ways to design a playground to help protect children’s skin from the sun.

I’m pretty sure if the CPSC could ban the sun, they would. They list the scary statistic of skin cancer while also leaving out that parents can shield their children from the sun with sunscreen, hats, SPF clothing, etc. They also fail to mention the benefits of sunlight and vitamin D for children and how a lack of vitamin D can also lead to depression.

I could go on, but that would just make me depressed.

With all these rules and guidelines just for playing, is there any question why kids today don’t go outside and have lost their connection to others? It’s too stressful to be a dang kid anymore!

Growing up, not only did I play games like tag and dodgeball on the school playground, I also jumped off of swings and hung from monkey-bars without the nine inches of “unitary and loose-fill materials” recommended in the handbook. You probably did too, and we’re still here. Nanny statism has gone too far. There’s no way to protect every child from every possible injury and trying to do so is likely causing more harm to our kids than just letting them blow off steam with a game of tag.

I can’t say it much better than Jon Gabriel:

Maybe the best way to leverage the power of play is to let kids ride a seesaw for 15 minutes, free of clipboard-wielding busybodies lecturing them about positive body image and trans-inclusivity.

Is now the time to mention that my son broke his leg on a seesaw?