Over-Protective Parents at Playgrounds Hurt Our Kids Says Dr. Bob Deutsch, Author of ‘The 5 Essentials’

Don’t sell yourself short, says Bob Deutsch, Ph.D., sociologist and author of the new book The Five Essentials: Using Your Inborn Senses to Create a Fulfilling Life. He finds that we’re too scared to try new things, and we miss out on life big time. He thinks we’re doing the same thing to our kids at playgrounds. Over-protectiveness actually hurts them more than it helps.

Check out his essay below:

“Our species is now under threat. Not from aliens and not from zombies, but from those who oversee our schools’ playgrounds.

A couple of playground injuries have prompted one Long Island, N.Y. school to ban balls and require teacher supervision for games like tag. Haven’t these “protectors” of kids ever heard of evolution, creativity, and even Mark Twain, whose chosen name connotes living at the cusp of safety and risk?

One would imagine the line between keeping our children safe and exposing them to increased levels of risk to be a clear and un-crossable one. On the other hand, not learning to conquer these relatively small risks can make a kid phobic.

Studies have shown that children who are hurt in a fall before the age of 9 are less likely to develop a fear of heights. In a July 2011 piece for the New York Times, journalist John Tierney visited a playground in Fort Tryon Park in Manhattan that had one of the few ten-foot-high jungle gyms left in the city. While he was there, he asked a 10-year-old girl and her mother what they thought of the apparatus. “I was scared at first,” the girl said, “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.”

“It’s kind of dangerous, I know,” said the mother, “but if you just think about danger you’re never going to get ahead in life.”

There is another benefit: Reasonable danger gives all of us a sense of parameters. When we explore one thing and its opposite, we also discover what lies in between. This is a form of practice.

A big part of a kid’s “job” is to test out skills, roles, limits and those of other kids. This kind of rehearsal is critical to development. Sure, these kids will get some bumps and bruises, but just as a child whose mother keeps him or her too clean will tend to have many more illnesses once free from the hot-house environment, so too a kid who is not allowed to throw a ball or play tag in his school’s playground.

This really is too much.  Or more to the point it lessens the circumference – spatial and metaphorical – that a child can more around in to explore and discover.

Can you imagine our distant forbearers, when thinking about migrating North and East out of Africa, saying “That’s a bit dangerous, we shouldn’t try it.”  If that was the case we wouldn’t be here today, and if we somehow survived it would be without such essential human capacities as curiosity and openness.

It’s just daffy, that decision those Long Island school administrators made. Come to think of it, will they next not allow the viewing of the kind of Daffy Duck cartoons that shows this crazy duck’s head spinning and then recoiling when accidentally running into a boulder or tree trunk?”

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