These are two great dangers to children:
1. Over-protective parents
Hanna Rosin reports in The Atlantic that in1978 Theodora Sweeney, a safety consultant from John Carroll University, along with fellow consultant, Joe Frost, took up the cause of playground reform to protect children from “potentially dangerous playground equipment”.
A federal study at about the same time indicated that tens of thousands of children were heading to emergency rooms because of playground accidents. As a result, in 1981 the U.S. Product Safety Commission published the “Handbook for Playground Public Safety” which provided guidelines (not regulations) for playground equipment.
Lawsuits for negligence against cities and schools because of these perceived dangers grew at an exponential rate.
Accordingly, playground equipment such as swings, steep slides, merry-go-rounds and the like were removed not only from U.S. playgrounds, but in many countries in Europe. Rubber matting replaced asphalt. Adult supervision became the norm.
The result? According to the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, the rate of emergency room visits related to playground equipment (including home equipment) in 1980 was one visit per 1452 Americans. In 2012 the rate was one visit per 1,156 Americans. This is not the impressive statistic one would expect.
Even rubber matting has made little difference. David Ball, a professor of risk management at Middlesex University, analyzed U.K. injury statistics and found that as in the U.S., “The advent of all these special surfaces for playgrounds has contributed very little, if anything at all, to the safety of children.”
Child abduction cases are extremely rare. David Finkelhor, the director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center, reports that cases do not appear to have increased since at least the mid 1980s, and that crimes against children have declined, as has general crime since the 1990s.
However, abductions of children by family members have increased, and these are what we most often hear reported in the news.
We have removed from our playgrounds many of the risks which are a normal and essential part of development and learning. Many children today just assume that they are being watched, and this limits their tendency to explore and discover.
Instead, many children (and the adults they become) seek risks in less protected environments. The advent of extreme sports may well be one consequence. "Fail Army" videos on YouTube provide evidence of the quest for risk and the lack of empathy of today's generation.
Peter Gray, Boston College psychologist, in his essay, “The Play Deficit”, attributes depression, narcissism, and a decline in empathy, as well as a spike in college-age kids taking psychiatric medication, to the loss of the old childhood culture.
American children’s scores in creativity (Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking) have declined over the past decade as well.
Parents are key to this whole issue. They must allow their children the freedom to explore without a parent or adult constantly “hovering” and monitoring. There is an achievable middle ground which should be explored.
Tripping over a tree stump in a park or falling off equipment should not be material for a lawsuit.
As Hanna Rosin writes, “We can no more create the perfect environment for our children than we an create perfect children.”
Children must be allowed to face and learn to cope with the dangers which are a normal part of living. No well-meaning or money-seeking parent or attorney should block their path to this adventure.