Challenging Conventional Wisdom (Instincts)

So, here is an interesting story from the New York Times, Can a Playground Be Too Safe? As a parent of three children under the age of eight, my wife and I have explored almost every park in the DC metropolitan area. We are certainly not the “Zagat’s” of playground reviews but we have seen enough to make the comment to each other, “these parks are are soooo much safer than the parks we had as kids.” Providing a safe environment for our children is our number one job. Isn’t it?

That said, the old rusty steel bars that were part of the climbing structure down at Schultze Field were wisely replaced with a nicer, more colorful structure that now has a layer of woods chips that probably extends to the “lower mantle”. I am all for safety and would never promote anything that wasn’t safe, but isn’t the above article fascinating?

A show of hands here: how many parents have been with their kids to the playground and hovered over them as they climbed the structure so they did not fall? (Me). How many parents have rushed over to their child, in a manner that would suggest the child needs an airlift to the local hospital for a band aid, when they did fall? (Me). Falling is part of life (God knows I have the bumps and scares to prove it), but aren’t we as parents supposed to prevent them from falling, or at least “cushion” the blow?

While I do tend to believe mulch and the rubberized surfaces have prevented some more serious injuries, the above article contends that there is “no clear evidence that playground safety measures have lowered the average risk on playgrounds”. The article also states that “a bad fall may mean a child is less likely to have a fear of heights later in life.” Wow, these are deep thoughts for a guy (ME) who just wanted to take his kids to the park because they were driving him crazy inside the house.

This, however, leads me to my point, we need to make it safe for kids to fall (albeit, not from 10 feet high off the ground). Our instincts, as parents, will always be to provide safety for our children. But, doing it in a way that helps children overcome fears and learn from their falls is more positively life changing than ME laying below them like an inflatable mattress.

Nayelis Serrano, a 10 year old, said it best: “I was scared at first,” she explained. “But my mother said if you don’t try, you’ll never know if you could do it. So I took a chance and kept going. At the top I felt very proud.” Way to go Nayelis (and Nayelis’ mom). Remember when you overcame a fear or a fall? To quote Confucious, “Our greatest glory is not in never falling but in rising every time we fall”. My dad’s version of this quote would be, “you had to learn the hard way, didn’t you”. Cheers to “learning”.