"One in six children in America is obese, and many of them will face a lifetime of chronic illness. According to the Center for Disease Control, this problem would basically cure itself if children engaged in the informal outdoor activities that used to be normal. But how do we lure children off the sofa? One key attraction is risk.But most playgrounds today have removed most of the fun stuff...and now their safety items cause problems.
Risk is fun, at least the moderate risks that were common in prior generations. An informal survey of children by the University of Toronto's Institute of Child Studies found that "merry-go-rounds . . . anecdotally the most hated piece of playground equipment in hospital emergency rooms -- topped the list of most desired bits of playground equipment." Those of us of a certain age can remember sprinting to get the contraption really moving. That was fun. And a lot of exercise."
But is the goal of total protection from risk a good thing?
"Just when we thought playgrounds were accident-proof -- no more merry-go-rounds, high slides, jungle gyms, seesaws or pretty much anything that's fun -- it turns out that safety itself can be dangerous. A recent heat wave in New York exposed a new playground risk: The ubiquitous rubber safety matting gets hot, not as hot as McDonald's coffee, but hot enough to scald tender feet.
"The outrage was immediate. "Playgrounds should be designed with canopies," one park- safety advocate declared. "How many burn cases will it take," Betsy Gotbaum, the city's public advocate asked, "before the city wakes up and acts?"
"Risk is important in child development. Allowing children to test their limits in unstructured play, according to the American Association of Pediatrics, "develop[s] their imagination, dexterity, and physical, cognitive, and emotional strength." Scrapes and bruises are how children learn their limits, and the need to take personal responsibility."What's your take? Are we becoming so soft that nothing on our playgrounds is more fun for kids than sitting on the couch watching TV or playing video games? Munching on chips?