Modern parenting – you can rest assured there will always be something to complain about. One of the complaints I’ve heard over and over again that really confuses the heck out of me, is that our playgrounds are too safe. Huh? I’m sorry, this is the dumbest argument I’ve ever heard. I prefer my trip to the park sans paranoia and blood, thanks.
It’s a topic that was covered extensively in the “Overprotected Child” piece in the Atlantic earlier this year. I bought it, hook, line and sinker. There were many different points to the story, but one that stuck with me is that our playgrounds are too safe, and our kids can’t be as imaginative as we all were as children because of it. “Yeah,” I thought. “They really are too safe.” Are they though? And is the move from asphalt to rubber or metal slides to plastic ones really zapping the inspirations out of the playgrounds of today?
I’m going to go with, No. It’s not.
The topic is coming up again in a fight some New Yorkers are having over renovating a playground on the Upper West Side. Some parents want to see it get a safe-modern makeover. Other parents think it’s a concrete relic that should be protected. In this case, I think the parents who like it should go there, the ones who don’t should go somewhere else, and the city should save itself the million dollars it’s going to cost to renovate it. We all know that won’t happen, because people are litigious and the city will ultimately decide that the million dollar price tag will probably save them money in the future. But back to why I generally think new playgrounds aren’t depriving our children of anything.
If I really think about it, I would have loved today’s playgrounds when I was a kid. Getting giant splinters extracted out of my hands every few months from climbing the wooden jungle gym at my school was not a cherished moment from childhood. On one particularly horrific occasion, a splinter of wood about 3 inches long went completely through the loose skin between my thumb and pointer finger. I’ll never forget the school nurse taking me to the principal’s office to get it out. It was gross.
Yes, skinned knees are a rite of passage of childhood, but don’t worry – I doubt they’ll be making the sidewalks rubber any time soon. You can still take your child running on those and even shove him into the ground if you think it’s so important for kids to get hurt to foster imagination (kidding – don’t shove your kid). The argument that kids are bored at the playground eludes me; my kid has never been bored at a playground. The one we visit regularly has tall slides, a climbing wall, a climbing rope, a giant jungle-gym and it even has spanish and sign language lessons carved into it. It’s awesome. It’s way better than any park I went to as a kid. No, I do not miss feeling of scorching skin you get when sliding down a metal slide that’s been in the sun all day.
If my child is overprotected, it’s because of my nervous, first-time mothering. I was definitely guilty of hovering too much and it’s something I’ve improved immensely with my second child. But to argue that kids are not having as much fun because they aren’t getting hurt as much just doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.