Blog: Have We Taken the Fun out of Play for Kids?

Too many rules, regulations and overly protective parents have taken much of the fun out of play.

Is child play becoming too safe?

A recent interesting Wall Street Journal article has been picked up around the internet: "Experts Warn Playgrounds Have Become Too Safe." The report cited some child-development experts and parents concern much fun is missing from play and playgrounds. Over-protective helicopter parents along with fear of liability for injuries has limited the excitement of play and playgrounds.

A recent study indicated more than half of Los Angeles Unified School District students were overweight. One in three students were at risk of future medical problems negatively impacting their effective involvement in the workforce.

Instead of running around a playground these students sit, watching TV or engaged in computer games. 

It would be wise for parents, educators, community leaders and others to carefully review the impact of rules and regulations governing students play. Adult concerns must be moderated to keep the fun in the physical activity playground games provide.  Eliminating 'tag' games on playgrounds in my opinion reduces the opportunity for kids to safely run, play hard, chase and tag. 

Bill Habermehl retired as superintendent for the Orange County Department of Education earlier this year.

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Shawn Habermehl November 29, 2012 at 03:22 PM
I couldn't agree more with these comments. The children at our elementary school are not allowed to run at recess on the black top and the very popular game of "tag" is no longer allowed. Many parents in my community are so afraid of possible child abduction that kids are not allowed to get on bikes and ride around with friends. I live in a neighborhood full of kids and rarely do you see them all outside playing due to constant video gaming. What happens is that parents that want their children to be active and outside find themselves sometimes overscheduling their kids in organized sports to keep them active. That also has it's downfalls. It's sad what has happened to our society and I blame much of it to computer and video games and lazy parenting.
Penny Arévalo (Editor) November 29, 2012 at 03:47 PM
It's interesting that Capistrano Unified School District Superintendent Joseph Farley said a similar thing last night at a community forum. He said he worried kids were getting more of their play from behind a screen.
randy November 29, 2012 at 04:40 PM
Get rid of the technology for kids. Let them run, bike, well edcuated and able to read. Potential savings will be great for taxpayers in long run. Reducing future healthcare costs when kids are too healthy early of lives and beef up public safety against the lazy criminals gaming the unregulated Internet.
Charles November 29, 2012 at 04:40 PM
I wonder how much the adjustments in playground rules (prohibition of playing "tag" for example) really contribute to the increase in obesity for kids. Are we talking 1%, 5%, 25%, 50%? If it is what I suspect, less than 5%, then maybe the reduction in liabilities (if that is significant) is a benefit worth the price. They are doing other active things - it isn't mutually exclusive as the author implies "Instead of running around a playground these students sit, watching TV or engaged in computer games."
navigio November 29, 2012 at 08:00 PM
The primary cause is insurance costs. Lawsuits have led to insurance requirements that reduce behavior to the lowest-liability common denominator. This impacts much more in public policy than just phys ed. 'Personal responsibility' and risk have simply become too expensive for our market-driven economy.
Shripathi Kamath November 30, 2012 at 03:44 AM
"Experts Warn Playgrounds Have Become Too Safe." Other experts warn "Healthcare Has Become Too Costly And Not Everyone Can Afford a Broken Bone And Accompanying Days Off Work to Care For Kid." 'Adult concerns must be moderated to keep the fun in the physical activity playground games provide.' OK fine, let's sprinkle some crushed glass and see which toddler gobbles down a handful. Let's blame technological advances, but for which we would not even hear of obese people, whose generation somehow live longer than their ancestors, so much that Congress wants to increase the retirement age. And, we actually get to hear about their existence. Wow!
randy November 30, 2012 at 06:29 AM
Maybe. Those who bred baby boomers are much alive in 80's and 90's enjoying their life. Many baby boomers are facing with growth of obesity, diabetes, manmade cancer, etc. Evolution? Baby boomers bred older and youngerb groups of Americans into addiction to media, motion pictures, video games, Internet, genetically modified seeds for farmers, etc. Those addicts breed too safe playgrounds, bigger courthouses, more judges, whistleblowers, watchdogs, extremism, plutocracy from harvesting, illegal and legal drugs and prescriptions, much more. The future?
Marie Walker Riddle November 30, 2012 at 11:44 PM
I love it when my son goes out to play in the front or backyard. We need to train our kids early on to enjoy outside activities. They need to burn off the energy and it is healthy for them. I agree that we are letting our children play too many video games and watch questionable TV shows.
Chris McLaughlin December 06, 2012 at 06:06 PM
It's not just the physical effects, but the mental, social, and emotional as well. These over-protective helicopter parents that try to dictate their kids playtime too much are not just preventing them from running around and staying fit, but also to think up what to do, who to play with, make friends, decide who they don't want to play with, who's nice, who's mean, who's cool, who's annoying, etc. Parents don't need to tell their kids exactly what to play and exhaust themselves (the parents) hovering over their kids with virtual bubble-wrap trying to protect them from every bump and bruise they'll ever experience. Just take them to the playground and let them go wild. You've crossed a line when they break a bone or need stitches, but boy do they learn some good lessons about danger and pushing the envelope and that actions have consequences. There's been a real sea-change the last thirty years (since I was a kid) in accepted norms of parenting and how good parents should let them play. We're headed towards an entire generation of lazy, fat, mentally soft, anti-social kids who never learned to play outside. Sad...
Mike Proctor December 06, 2012 at 07:35 PM
Chris, I could not agree with you more.
randy December 06, 2012 at 07:53 PM
Second! Try to put some new ban from creating friviolous lawsuits. Insurance will have to pay regardless risk management says. Frog the risk or loss management for creating kids more inhumane and immature. They learn the red lines by trial and error. Let them play with joy or tears.
randy December 06, 2012 at 07:58 PM
Penny, did he say anything about replacing new playgrounds needed at schools? I was wondering if it is part of his district board meeting agenda. Timeless for being kids, they deserve the playground life.
Penny Arévalo (Editor) December 06, 2012 at 08:00 PM
Not really. He said the challenge now is updating and maintaining the facilities we have now, a lot of which has been neglected throughout the state's financial crisis.
Billy stempson December 07, 2012 at 07:43 AM
Natural play is an essential part of the development of young people. We have limited their opportunity to develop asses risks and know their own boundaries. Children and youth need to have opportunities to learn what they are capable of, both mentally and physically. Our playgrounds and parks are not enough. Young people need to get out into nature, go hiking, go to camp! There are more studies than those referenced here that point to improved test scores and social skills when young people spend time in natural environments! Send your kids to camp, scouts, or anything that gets them outdoors. Don't wait for someone else to do it for you!
Chris McLaughlin December 08, 2012 at 12:59 AM
Thanks Mike! You got any ideas for improvement?? It seems like a real loss of a sense of safety in the community is what keeps most parents (Moms more than Dads) from letting their kids play outside, and I think it's really unfounded. I think our community is extremely safe, and yet many go around like there's violent criminals and dangerous areas everywhere you turn. Not to sound too old, but back in my day we were free to roam within at least a 2-mile radius with just our bikes, with no helmets or cell phones, from after breakfast to sunset/mid-evening, especially in the Summer, and we all survived. What happened to happy, healthy childhood in this country??
Shripathi Kamath December 08, 2012 at 01:12 AM
"but back in my day we were" Every generation bemoans the lost youth. Why does one look at "back in the day" as the gold standard? You do not have the same "freedoms" because the world has changed. Life has gotten better for many. More people live longer. Did you have gyms back in the day? As ubiquitous as they are now? Why not adapt? Your kid cannot play in a park like you used to. She needs exercise. Take her to the gym. Work out with her. An hour at the gym will get you fit(ter), and her too. Far healthier than playing three hours in the mud that you obviously no longer have the time for. And if you cannot spare an hour three times a week to work out with your kid, "back in your dad's days" he would have time to play catch with you. A lot more often. Just like the world changed for playing catch, it also changed with more efficient ways to get that exercise. Time on the other hand ticks just as fast. So rather than bemoan that parks are no longer parks of generations past, find a gym. Yes, I understand that gyms are boring. Your kid can be fitter than you were playing three hours in the sun and can enjoy her video games, too. When she is a parent she could post here complaining "back in my day, my dad and I used to go and work out...but my son is just into this martial arts ever since they made it totally safe"


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