T Nation

Raising A Nation of Wimps


#1

I'm just shaking my head in wonder about this article I read on the Newsday web site. In a nutshell, Broward County, Florida, is taking several steps to cut down on playground injuries at elementary schools and the lawsuits brought on by those injuries. That includes banning running.

Any thoughts? Anybody in Florida having to deal with this?

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Article Link: http://www.newsday.com/news/nationworld/nation/sfl-cplaygroundjul18,0,1037575.story?coll=ny-leadnationalnews-headlines)
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In the pursuit of safety, teeter-totters and swings are disappearing from playgrounds

By Chris Kahn
Education Writer

July 18, 2005

Andrea Levin is grateful that Broward County schools care about her daughter's safety. But this year when they posted a sign that demanded "no running" on the playground, it seemed like overkill.

"I realize we want to keep kids from cracking their heads open," said Levin, whose daughter is a Gator Run Elementary fifth grader in Weston. "But there has to be a place where they can get out and run."

Broward's "Rules of the Playground" signs, bought from an equipment catalogue and displayed at all 137 elementary schools in the district, are just one of several steps taken to cut down on injuries and the lawsuits they inspire.

"It's too tight around the equipment to be running," said Safety Director Jerry Graziose, the Broward County official who ordered the signs. "Our job was to try to control it."

How about swings or those hand-pulled merry-go-rounds?

"Nope. They've got moving parts. Moving parts on equipment is the number one cause of injury on the playgrounds."

Teeter-totters?

"Nope. That's moving too."

Sandboxes?

"Well, I have to be careful about animals" turning them into litter boxes.

Cement crawl tubes?

"Vagrants. The longer they are, the higher possibility that a vagrant could stay in them. We have shorter ones now that are made out of plastic or fiberglass."

Broward playgrounds aren't the only ones to avoid equipment that most adults remember. Swings, merry-go-rounds, teeter-totters and other old standards are vanishing from schools and parks around the country, according to the National Program for Playground Safety.

"Kids aren't using them the way they're supposed to," said the agency's director, Donna Thompson, who led a national effort to get rid of animal swings two years ago. "I'm pleased that a lot of these are disappearing."

In Miami-Dade County, public schools don't use a lot of traditional equipment, including swings and sandboxes. In Palm Beach County, some schools have swings, but they're no longer included on newer campuses because there's not enough space.

In their place, a lot of playgrounds now are inhabited with clusters of bright, multi-use contraptions with names like "Ed Center" and "Platform Climber Composite Structure." They're lower to the ground than their predecessors, coated with plastic and engineered for safety.

"We could do a lot more if we didn't have to watch our back every single second," said Graziose, who has led a playground safety committee for 17 years. "We sometimes get a letter from the attorney before we even get an accident report from the school."

Since 1999, Broward County schools paid out about $561,000 to settle 189 claims for playground accidents, about 5 percent of the amount the district spent on all injury claims in that time. To keep those numbers low, Graziose said, he needs to keep thinking of ways to make playgrounds safe.

Broward County School Board member Robin Bartleman understands the pressure Graziose is under, even though the playground at Everglades Elementary in Weston makes her 6-year-old daughter's face droop into a formidable pout.

"To say `no running' on the playground seems crazy," said Bartleman, who agreed to be interviewed on a recent outing at Everglades. "But your feelings change when you're in a closed-door meeting with lawyers."

She scanned the tall metal sign while her daughters, Emma and Sarah, wandered with two other young girls through a sparse play area that's reserved for the youngest grades in school.

It warns 5- and 6-year-olds to "not use equipment in this playground without adult supervision" and "do not use equipment unless designed for your age group."

A third of the way down the sign, a stick-figure is pictured running with a red slash through the middle, followed by: "No running, pushing or shoving."

"I don't know if that would mean much to a 6-year-old," Bartleman said of the signs. "How does a child know what's appropriate for their age group?"

The girls tried out the horizontal ladder and balance beam for a few minutes before settling on a game of stacking plate-size dirt chunks into a neat pile.

"Making sand," explained Kristin Gonzalez, 6, as she crushed one in her hands and sprinkled the bits over the pile.

Bartleman, the only board member with children in elementary school, created a subcommittee this year to suggest ways to redesign school playgrounds. Safety is important, she said, but there's got to be a way to make Broward's playgrounds more interesting than dirt.

"I would have never thought about this until my daughter came up to me one day and said `Momma, I hate going to that playground,'" she said.

American playgrounds have evolved ever since they started to appear in the mid-19th century. The first ones followed German models. They were called outdoor "gymnasia" and filled with overhead rings, pommel horses and other gymnastic equipment.

Manufacturers later added steel seesaws, slides and swings. They built sandboxes at the turn of the 20th century. After World War II, the European style "adventure" playgrounds became popular in some corners of the country, encouraging children to play with tools, build things and cook over a fire.

The newest playgrounds are usually filled with equipment engineered in accordance with U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission guidelines. They might expose schools and parks to fewer lawsuits, but they're not as challenging as the previous generations of playgrounds, said Joe Frost, an emeritus professor at the University of Texas who runs its Play and Playgrounds Research Project.

"Play is one of children's chief vehicles for development," Frost said. "Right now it looks like we're developing a nation of wimps."

Bartleman's committee is expected to address the board in August. She said it'll bring plans for a new playground designed not just to keep kids safe, but to dazzle them as well.

Chris Kahn can be reached at cmkahn@sun-sentinel.com or 954-356-4550

Copyright 2005 Newsday Inc.


#2

instead of removing jungle gyms perhaps there should be per capita limitations on attorneys.


#3

Very, very, very sad


#4

Yes, we are raising a generation of wimps.


#5

Stupid.

When I was a kid we had acres of schoolyard w/ swings and the like. Monkey bars, slides a mile high (not really), cement tunnels; basically everything getting removed! What a crock.

it leads to unhealthy kids and child obesity.


#6

Yep, wimps. Sad...


#7

I agree, I am an ex-Drill Sergeant for the Army and many changes have been made that makes physical tasks easier. Like adjusting the hieght to wieght limits and decreasing the standards for the physical fitness tests which are a 2-mile run, push-ups and sit-ups. Too sad in this time of war we are sending the young out of shape kids to their doom. I will just stop now before I bitch about this all night!


#8

Yup, the military is going in that direction too. Just about 4 years ago, kids coming right out of boot camp were talking about how they weren't allowed to wear their boots during the final tests (were they were required when I went through only 6 years ago).
There was also less overall marching.

When my brother went through (two years before me) they had the "stress cards" that they could hole up when an RDC (or company commander, or drill sergent)was yelling at them too much, and they felt too stressed. The RDC would have to stop yelling and leave the kid alone for a certain period of time.

Needles to say, people were abusing these cards and they did away with them.

Okay, sorry about the hijack, but it kind of goes together with being protected from ourselves.

I'd rather take full responsibility of myself, and my kid's well being. Let them play. Getting scrapes and bruises, and occasionally a broken bone, is part of growing up.

Do I want to see my daughter with a broken bone? Hell no!

Am I realistic in thinking that there's a good chance that it'll happen some time in her life? Yes.

I will be the one responsible for keeping her safe.


#9

As a right of passage I broke my arm playing on the playground when I was 11 from ehat was normal child "rough-housing" (actually in Dade county just south of Broward!). My parents told that's what I get for being, "Stupid". Guess what...I tried my hardest not to be "stupid' from that point on.


#10

Instead of sheltering these kids from the realities of the world, why doesn't society as a whole emphasize teaching kids skills to cope with them, like say...self confidence, mental and physical toughness, discipline, honor and the like? I'll only be 26 in a few months, but I see such a paradigm shift in the mindsets people only a few years younger than me and not in a good way. It's almost scary to think these overweight softies will be running this country in a few decades. Something has to be done to change this and fast.


#11

The solution is simple... don't let kids play, ever.


#12

George Carlin's got a whole rant about this exact practice. I'm not even 20yrs old and games I used to play like Red Rover, Brittish Bulldog, and RedA**, have been baned. And we wonder why north amreican kids are getting so fat.


#13

This is only the start. My colleagues over here at Stanford have been studying the dramatic changes in body and brain chemistry in today's kids (3 to 12 year old). It's scary -- it's like they're a different species. All their endogenous chemicals -- like hormones, neurotransmitters -- and body compositions are showing at completely different levels than previous generations.

For example, average dopamine levels are amazingly low, which is a good sign that they will have severe learning disabilities. Why the lowered dopamine levels? Too much multitasking in kids that do not have their brains wired to multitask.

Their body composition is shifting to record levels of BF %, with tremendously lowered lean body mass -- muscle AND bone.

One the other hand, there's a distinct increase in histamine, adrenaline (aka epinephrine) and cortisol levels, and a surge in Type II Diabetes (aka Insulin insensitivity).

These combinations create a perfect storm for also lowered seratonin levels.

So, basically, we're growing wimpy, fat, soft, depressed, allergic, stressed, dumb kids.

The solution? Raise your kids away from the Internet, computers, videogames, and wimpy schools, and give them a balanced diet with unprocessed foods, and plenty of physical activities, Sun and fresh air.


#14

We know the solution for this. It's simple.

Kill the lawyers.


#15

"the continued pussification of america"

i was searching for a transcript; no luck though


#16

You, know I'm not blaming the school board, theyre just trying to stop losing so much money.

I AM blaming the parents who sue and press charges, I mean common! Gaurentee every single one of those parents is unhealthy... gaurenteed. I gaurentee you that my gaurentee is true.

My little brother broke his arm on the monkey bars (hurray for insanely dangerous canadian playgrounds) and my just dad laughed at him (jokingly).


#17

I remember elementary school. I had so much energy, I wanted to sprint EVERY chance I got. Running in the school was so much fun, but you would get in trouble.

Now kids are not allowed to run outside? WTF!!!!!!??


#18

It's just really stupid and sad. I'm wondering at this so-called 'epidemic' of injuries. Lawsuits? Gimme a break. I'm glad the elementary schools near me still have normal playgrounds, and kids can be kids.


#19

I remember in the 3rd graded I broke my wrist when the bike I was riding double on crashed. I couldn't participate in gym class for a couple weeks. But after that when the teacher wasn't looking I joined in. At the time we were doing GYMNASTICS! When the teacher saw me she questioned me but I showed her I could get involved without injury and she let me continue. When my parents found out they didn't sue, they told me to be careful and don't push it. But they didn't say "stop or you'll get hurt". I agree completely that we, as a nation, are going to have some real problems in the next few decades.

I heard somewhere recently that one school stopped using jump ropes in jump rope class so no student would be embarrassed if they messed up!


#20

Agreed. Or at least playground injury suits. My Daughters calss has no PE. Hell, I became a athelete because of recess and PE.

Can you believe it!!