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"What Happens in America Is Defined by Tort Lawyers"



JungleGymRelic2011-11-09.jpg "CHILDHOOD RELIC; Jungle gyms, like this one in Riverside Park in Manhattan, have disappeared from most American playgrounds in recent decades." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. D3) "There is no clear evidence that playground safety measures have lowered the average risk on playgrounds," said David Ball, a professor of risk management at Middlesex University in London. He noted that the risk of some injuries, like long fractures of the arm, actually increased after the introduction of softer surfaces on playgrounds in Britain and Australia.

"This sounds counterintuitive, but it shouldn't, because it is a common phenomenon," Dr. Ball said. "If children and parents believe they are in an environment which is safer than it actually is, they will take more risks. An argument against softer surfacing is that children think it is safe, but because they don't understand its properties, they overrate its performance."

Reducing the height of playground equipment may help toddlers, but it can produce unintended consequences among bigger children. "Older children are discouraged from taking healthy exercise on playgrounds because they have been designed with the safety of the very young in mind," Dr. Ball said. "Therefore, they may play in more dangerous places, or not at all."

Fear of litigation led New York City officials to remove seesaws, merry-go-rounds and the ropes that young Tarzans used to swing from one platform to another. Letting children swing on tires became taboo because of fears that the heavy swings could bang into a child.

"What happens in America is defined by tort lawyers, and unfortunately that limits some of the adventure playgrounds," said Adrian Benepe, the current parks commissioner.



For the full story, see:

JOHN TIERNEY. "FINDINGS; Grasping Risk in Life's Classroom." The New York Times (Tues., July 19, 2011): D1 & D3.

(Note: the online version of the article is dated July 18, 2011, and has the title "FINDINGS; Can a Playground Be Too Safe?.")





Comments

I was down at the park in Aksarben in Omaha for the Wine Festival and took a shortcut across the playground and realized to my dismay that the entire surface is this weird, soft nerf-like material. Making it impossible for children to get hurt makes it impossible to learn things like limits, risk-assessment, and how to handle adversity as an adult. I know I sound like a cane-waving "Get off my lawn!" old man in a bathrobe, but I'm not that old. I remember getting into an accident on my bike while trying to jump on a ramp, or riding my skateboard and how quickly it showed me the limits of my capabilities and the risks of pushing those limits. That's an important lesson.

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