When I was on the Free Range Kids site yesterday (http://www.freerangekids.wordpress.com/), its author, Lenore Skenazy, posted a link from another parenting blog about playing outside. Here is the link to that piece from a blog called Moms Who Think: http://www.momswhothink.com/behavior/keep-kids-safe-when-playing-outside.html. I also posted the link on my Facebook page.
The person who wrote the piece on Moms Who Think started off with a good premise. Playing outdoors is good for kids. They need exercise and fresh air. But at the end of the first paragraph, the author brings up the idea that playing outside is fraught with danger. The second paragraph makes playing outside downright scary. Kids can fall down, hurt themselves, do dangerous things that can hurt another kid, become targets for predators, and even end up in the emergency room. In the third paragraph the author again mentions the "untoward dangers" of playing outdoors. The author goes on to say that adults should always be on hand to prevent any potential accidents or injuries and also to send the message to the other adults in the area that their child is safe and not vulnerable. Adults should also perform a thorough inspection of any play equipment and look for any potential dangers in the area. The tone of the article makes going outside to play as appealing as going to downtown Baghdad or a Siberian gulag in the winter.
I don't understand the American preoccupation with kids not being allowed to fall or get hurt. Of course I don't want to see a child become seriously injured. But bumps and bruises along the way are normal. My son's legs always seem to be bruised and I tell him that's the sign of being a real boy. The best way for a kid to figure out his limits is to fall. Most of the time when kids fall, they dust themselves off and continue playing. If a child is bleeding, he may come in to get a Band-Aid. Then he'll head right back outside to play some more. I had my share of childhood injuries: sprained ankle, bumps on the head, lots of bruises, skinned knees and elbows.
Because kids aren't rational beings, they will naturally do "dangerous" things. An activity with an element of danger automatically makes it fun. For preteen boys like my son, the crazier the acitivity, the better. My son and his friends like to jump on their skis. If there isn't a fun park in the ski area with jumps, the kids will make their own. The boys will also challenge each other when they are in an area with a jumping park. They'll do the same thing for making their own skateboard jumps. Sometimes they're successful and sometimes they fall. When they fall, they treat it as a lesson in figuring how to set up the jump correctly. I figure it's only a matter of time before my son ends up in the emergency room for a jumping injury. E.R. trips are supposed to be a part of childhood. I have also been injured doing "dangerous" things as a kid. When I was 10 or 11, my friend and I were throwing rocks at two neighbor boys. I got hit in the face just below my right eye and had to go to the emergency room for stitches.
The person who wrote the Moms Who Think article would also freak out about German playground equipment. She (I'm assuming the author is a woman, judging from the name of the blog) would have to wrap her children in bubble wrap before letting them venture onto a German playground. Instead of plastic playground equipment that's low to the ground over lots of rubber mats or bark chips, a lot of German playground equipment looks like it has seen better days. In one of the playgrounds where I used to live, the high wooden climbing structures had a lot of splinter potential and the slides were metal. There was no padding underneath the equipment except for sand, dirt, or grass. There were also merry-go-rounds and real seesaws, both of which are now a rarity on American playgrounds.
I would be considered a bad mother who is making her child vulnerable, and not safe, because my son has played outdoors with minimal or no supervision since he was very young. When he was preschool age, I'd take him to the local playground. He would play with his friends while I chatted with the other moms. As he got older, he played out in the front yard with no supervision. Now he plays, skis, and swims with friends without parental supervision.
Along with the American preoccupation with not letting kids hurt themselves, I don't understand the view that every adult is a potential predator. My son has grown up believing that most adults are good people and not kidnappers or child molesters. He knows that if he needs help when my husband and I aren't around to find the nearest adult. In the past he has had to ask an adult for help and has never been turned down. Through his experience he has learned for himself that adults are willing to help a child. He also knows how to avoid potentially bad situations: only accept rides from people that he knows, be with at least one buddy when going to the Burger King at the train station, and make a loud fuss if someone he doesn't know tries to grab him.
In the meantime, I'm going to continue to let my son play outdoors for fresh air and exercise. Despite the "dangers" of falling, getting hurt, doing crazy things, and the risk of a trip to the hospital, playing outside is a much healthier option than staying inside watching TV and eating junk food.