11 April 2011

Safe childhoods

While visiting my mother today, I took younger out to the nearby park.  She played a little in the playground, and then asked me where the other one was.  I had to explain to her that this was the one and only playground, and that the old play sets had been taken down and replaced.

"But why?" she said.  "It was good!"

"I expect the safety standards changed," I said.  "And the old playground was not within the new standards."

"But what about fun standards?" she said.  "If it's not fun, then it's no good."

She had a very good point. the new playground may have been safer, but it was no fun.  I doubt anyone had gotten hurt on the old playground, but it was still removed.  Why would the bureaucrat do that? Unusually for me, I don't blame the politicians and desk jockeys for this.

You see, there are people out there in the government who, it seems, spend their whole day coming up with hypothetical dangers from which to protect children.  Once they come up with one, they enact laws, like banning paper airplanes or conkers from schools.  I repeat, they are not protecting children from real dangers, as the number of conkers related injuries hovers around zero, and the sum total of paper airplane injuries amounts to the odd paper cut.   A real injury from either would amount to a freak accident.  So, as I said, they are enacting rules in the name of hypothetical dangers, not real ones.  But, in protecting children from hypothetical dangers, they are protecting themselves from a real one: lawsuits.

For some odd reason, parents these days seem to believe that their children deserve to lead safe, protected childhoods.  If anything should happen to their children, the parents look for someone to blame, someone who must pay. 

At the risk of sounding like an old geezer, things sure have changed from my day.  When a girl broke her arm on the playground gym set one recess, it was her fault for doing something stupid on the set in the first place.  Sure, there was a teacher on patrol, but there was no expectation that she could be everywhere at once.  When I was a kid, I crashed my bike regularly.  I got no sympathy from my father.  I remember him pulling gravel out of my knees once, grumbling under his breath that this was what I got for not knowing how to ride a bike, every now and then saying to me:  "Hold still, you're getting blood on me!"

What has happened?  The parents who now try and protect their kids from every possible danger are the same ones who, as kids, sought out every possible danger.  Why are they now trying to prevent their kids from having a childhood like theirs?

I don't have a definitive answer.  I suspect there are a series of different pieces that add up to this.  People today have a massive sense of entitlement that simply was not there as recently as forty years ago.  They also have fewer children.  If anything were to happen to their one and only child, they would lose everything,  whereas when families were larger, if something were to happen to one, while a terrible tragedy, there was still several other kids in the house.  Add to this overprotective mix the growing tendency in North America to call in lawyers and sue at the drop of the hat, and you have a situation where the schools and municipalities are forced to employ people for the sole purpose of being as paranoid as possible, calculating ways to keep children safe, no matter how boring.  They may be more successful than they dreamed.  No one will play on the playgrounds  if they are too boring, and the injuries will be an absolute zero, and there will be no lawsuits.  Success.

In the end, you get what you deserve, even if it isn't what you wanted.

1 comment:

Patience said...

Most of the Toronto Catholic schools; including the ones I went to; were basic cement playgrounds. Boys brought balls and playing cards and girls brought skipping ropes, elastics for "jumpsy" and also played complex walking in circles;singing games. No one seemed unhappy with this arrangement. By the time my oldest started school (1990); this all seemed to have vanished and there began to be demands for playground equipment (which when I was a kids seemed to be found in parks)
My youngest dd did break her arm on a "zip line" in the school yard because 3 kids jumped on her as she was swinging. Kids will do that; and school playgrounds don't have the same level of supervision as parks with parents. The zip line was removed. (new principal and it turned out dd was at the end of a long list of casualties) I'm not into overprotecting but kids can also have fun with less if they aren't distracted by all the electronic gizmos.