Playgrounds too safe? So concludes a recent article that’s been making the usual rounds on the Internet. The main contention is that the kiddie sites are becoming homogenized and dumbed down. “We’re now at a point where every playground is pretty much the same. And they’re boring. They’re not challenging,” says playground expert Alex Gilliam who longs for the 3-story forts of his youth.

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The talking points in the article say it all, with the author leading off by observing that “the increased focus on safety may have had unintended consequences: a generation of kids who aren’t able to accurately assess risk or cope with fear.” But even more interesting are the comments posted in reaction to the piece.

Dr. Ellen Sandseter proposes that, “children need to encounter risks and overcome fears on the playground.” Reader, George, flips this statement by stating that it’s not playground injuries that are feared. “It is the American way of life that is at fault here,” he responds. “Everyone has to sue someone else if something happens.”


“Paradoxically, we posit that our fear of children being harmed by mostly harmless injuries may result in more fearful children and increased levels of psychopathology,” reasons Dr. Leif Kennair in a study cited in the article. Commenter Catherin Mary agrees. “Parents need to let their kids live life and get hurt,” she argues. “If you never get hurt you never know how to cope.”

And though Alex Gilliam, the professional quoted at the top of the article posits that, “The whole notion of protecting kids has kind of backfired.” An empathetic Jan E B can’t disagree entirely with the push for safer play. “I suffered a broken collarbone in third grade when a boy ran into me and hit that part of my shoulder with his head.” She remembers in her post. “So you can’t always blame playground equipment.”

But mostly it’s us parents who get the blame. We’re called wimpy, fraiddy-cat, sue-happy idiots. We’re “overprotective at every little cut.” And our kids will grow up to be “soft,” “clumsy,” “whiny little sissies.” Ouch.

As a parent I’ve never liked playgrounds for my kid. Something about the confined space makes me uneasy. I fear not for my son, but for everyone else around him. He jumps from the top of the tall slide rather than zip down it, encourages kids to play ‘chicken fight’ on the monkey bars, and dismounts the tire swing like a pilot shooting out of his cockpit after pressing the emergency ‘eject’ button.

It’s true that I get nervous watching him climb the two-story tall rope and steel geodesic dome at the Brooklyn Bridge Park Pier 6 playground, feeling a sense of relief when he makes it up and down safely. But at the same time, being the dad of a somewhat crazed risk-taker, who rarely gets hurt, a part of me sometimes wishes for more injuries … small ones. The type that teach lessons.