A dose of Dan: Playground safety gone wrong

By From page A5 | December 04, 2013

While the huddled masses of our country are preoccupied with political madness ranging from the government shutdown to Obamacare, parents of elementary and middle school children nationwide need to tune into a surging concern involving the safety of our local playgrounds.

Children safety experts from the U.S. to Canada have weighed in over the past several months with rounds of reports indicating that it is not entirely safe for children to play at playgrounds — be it at school or at parks.

According to these experts, it can be so unsafe to play sports with balls or run around playing tag on playgrounds that these activities need to be banned at schools. Earlier this month, a middle school in Long Island, N.Y., did just that. Weber Middle School banned playing with footballs, baseballs, soccer balls, lacrosse balls or any other equipment that might harm a child or school friends.

The school also decided that “rough” games of tag or cartwheels (not sure when cartwheels became “rough” playing) could be played only with coach supervision. And students were also allowed to play with softer Nerf balls. All of these actions were taken due to an apparent uptick of playground injuries at the school.

Other schools have reportedly followed suit. An elementary school in New Hampshire banned tag. A school district in New Jersey is requiring the use of helmets during soccer. Even the El Dorado Hills elementary school in our neighborhood has occasionally banned dodge ball and wall ball during recess after children were hurt playing the sports. This is according to student reports, so I’m mostly sure the reports are true.

And as parents of two boys who are ages 12 and 10, my wife and I certainly don’t take safety lightly. But we also find ourselves telling the boys to head outside and “go be boys” more often than not at this point in their lives.

After all, aren’t we sending our kids the wrong message if we’re telling them to step away from the video games, be active and exercise — then we take away all the games that allow them to be active?

We understand schools and recreation districts have obligations to ensure safety, and lawsuits are abundant in our litigious society. But do we really want to live in a world where children can’t shoot hoops or do cartwheels at recess? Why don’t we just encase our kids in bubble wrap and send them to school in helmets. No bikes, no skateboards, no sports, no flips on the playground equipment. Have fun growing up in that world.

The older I get, the more I understand what my grandparents and parents meant when they told me stories about growing up and why they always said they were glad they were raised in their era. I’m sure glad I grew up when we could play tackle football at recess. I tore up the knees of many pairs of pants — at least my generation helped Sears make some money off their Toughskin jeans that sported reinforced knees.

The decisions may come back to bite us and the jury is obviously still out on how our boys will turn out, but my wife and I have already decided we don’t want the boys to grow up without the bumps and bruises that shape character.

I just bought the boys their own boxing gloves and headgear, and we’re setting up the old family heavy bag to teach them a combination or two. The boys have BB guns they use for target practice on cans and cardboard targets. We ride bikes (with helmets on—it’s a law now) and occasionally we crash. It’s all part of growing up and living life off your couch and away from your TV.

Interestingly enough, the only broken bone the boys have experienced came when our 10-year-old slipped crawling on a rock by the walkway in our front yard and broke his wrist a few years ago. He wasn’t playing sports, riding a bike or jumping through a ring of fire. He was standing on a rock in the front yard.

Sometimes life just happens. Let’s not always let others make the decisions for us on what is acceptable behavior. That’s not the world most of us adults were raised in, and I suspect we’re doing our children a disservice if we force them to be raised in that world.

Dan Francisco is managing partner in an El Dorado Hills-based business management firm specializing in sales, marketing and engineering.

Dan Francisco


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