Here’s something I see more often these days — a lament for dangerous playgrounds. Frequently the argument has an undercurrent of hostility; I recall one by a father of two that basically boiled down to, these kids today could all use a few more broken arms, but I’m sorry, I can’t find it now. Most of the people advocating it seem well-intentioned enough, although I note they tend to live in the land of the anonymous “some” who are ruining childhood, but not for attribution.
That many of the Some may be made of straw and live in the Land of Oddly Articulate Taxi Drivers occurs to me, yes.
Here’s how the argument goes: Children’s playgrounds are being, or have already been, ruined. By lawyers, by — finger quotes — experts, but mostly by Some, who want to take all the risk out of childhood, and hence, all the fun.
There’s some truth to this, at least to the bare fact of ruination, although I wonder how much it has to do with risk and how much with money. But I’ve seen some pretty wan playgrounds in my time. The one at a nearby elementary school in Fort Wayne had a single piece of equipment on it — something that looked like a folded slice of Swiss cheese, with a total height of maybe five feet. I gather you climbed on it. Not that I ever saw a child do so.
But something else happened along the way, and playgrounds started getting fun again. When I was a kid, I played at the elementary at the end of my block. There were four or five different playgrounds, sized for the range of grades, and if I remember correctly, they were basic — swings and monkey bars and slides and see-saws, anchored to asphalt. If you fell, you fell hard, although that was rare. But it happened. My major dread of the playground was being dumped from the high position on the see-saw; I had a friend who specialized in it, with a truly perverse timing that suggests she had a bright future in torture of all sorts.
By the time Kate was born, the playground had changed. The “playscape” had come on the scene — sprawling constructions that mimicked kid-size castles, with spiral slides, swinging footbridges, climbing walls and all manner of things you could swing on, jump from and otherwise exhaust your energy and imagination.
A few of our favorites: Planet Westerville, near my sister’s house in suburban Columbus; Kids Crossing and Foster Park’s playground in Fort Wayne; and a Kids Crossing clone here in Grosse Pointe Woods’ Lake Front Park.
One thing all these playscapes had in common was some sort of soft footing underneath, usually wood chips, although I’ve also seen sand and shredded rubber. I honestly never gave these a thought, other than to be grateful for them. It seemed like, oh, progress, the way a padded dashboard is progress, and seat belts, and bike helmets.
I’m now informed I was all wrong. Modern playgrounds destroy children’s natural risk-taking impulses:
When seesaws and tall slides and other perils were disappearing from New York’s playgrounds, Henry Stern drew a line in the sandbox. As the city’s parks commissioner in the 1990s, he issued an edict concerning the 10-foot-high jungle gym near his childhood home in northern Manhattan.
“I grew up on the monkey bars in Fort Tryon Park, and I never forgot how good it felt to get to the top of them,” Mr. Stern said. “I didn’t want to see that playground bowdlerized. I said that as long as I was parks commissioner, those monkey bars were going to stay.”
His philosophy seemed reactionary at the time, but today it’s shared by some researchers who question the value of safety-first playgrounds. Even if children do suffer fewer physical injuries — and the evidence for that is debatable — the critics say that these playgrounds may stunt emotional development, leaving children with anxieties and fears that are ultimately worse than a broken bone.
Excuse me, but New York Times? What a crock of shit. I can go a long way with this movement — yes, kids must take risks to grow; no, playgrounds shouldn’t be made entirely risk-free — but when you need to tuck “stunted emotional development” in there, hiding behind that big “may,” I’m going somewhere else to play.
The story goes on with the usual reporting; a Norwegian psychologist consults her clipboard and identifies “six categories of risky play” and then we get to the inevitable sources for these types of it-seems-one-way-but-it’s-really-not stories — an evolutionary psychologist. The more bullshit I find in the world, the more I can trace back to evolutionary psychology, the talk radio of soft-science scholarship.
“Risky play mirrors effective cognitive behavioral therapy of anxiety,” they write in the journal Evolutionary Psychology, concluding that this “anti-phobic effect” helps explain the evolution of children’s fondness for thrill-seeking. While a youthful zest for exploring heights might not seem adaptive — why would natural selection favor children who risk death before they have a chance to reproduce? — the dangers seemed to be outweighed by the benefits of conquering fear and developing a sense of mastery.
“Paradoxically,” the psychologists write, “we posit that our fear of children being harmed by mostly harmless injuries may result in more fearful children and increased levels of psychopathology.”
I always wanted to use “posit” as a verb. So here goes: I posit that all this hand-wringing over too-safe playgrounds is perpetrated by a handful of people who really don’t like children all that much. As I said before, it’s important that kids take risks and try new things, but this barely disguised yearning for them to fall from the top of the monkey bars and break bones is deeply hostile. To them I say: OK, your kid goes first. And if you don’t have any, shut up.
Somewhat related, an old treat found while Googling: Sweet Juniper’s Jim on the unique nature of Detroit playground culture.
Let’s hop to the bloggage, so I can get dressed for weights class:
I do not use special soap on my crotch. There, I said it! Nevertheless, Vagisil would like to sell me some, using some lamely “provocative” viral videos they want everyone to post on their Facebooks and be outraged by. I look at these and think, More good voice work for actors. Huzzah.
I used to be lonely, in my discussions with fellow Elmore Leonard fans, when the topic of film adaptations would come up. “Of course, ‘Get Shorty’ was the best adaptation of a Leonard novel,” someone would say, to nods all around. No! No! I screamed inwardly. “Get Shorty” was a huge improvement over all that came before, and a breakthrough, but no way it’s the best, because that title belongs to “Out of Sight,” and this guy agrees with me, so er’body just shut up.
So, two videos:
You wanted to tussle; we tussled. My favorite scene from “Out of Sight”:
And a video I worked on with my summer interns. I’m not much of a video producer, and it’s hard for me to teach this stuff, because I barely have a handle on the technology, and what I see in my head is so different from what appears on the monitor. Still: The assignment was to do a slice-of-life video aboard a Mackinac racer. We were invited out for a Thursday night of fun-type racing. Took two small cameras, the Flip and the GoPro, mostly handled by the interns. And virtually all the audio turned out like that in the first 10 seconds — spoiled by a persistent roar of wind. (Cheap mics are the bane of cheap cameras.) I fixed it by going back a few nights later with my good USB mic, going belowdecks, and reconducting the interview in acoustically cleaner conditions. My critique of the video is: Too many cut-off heads, too few detail closeups to cut away to, not enough of a narrative arc — it plays like a sketchbook. On the other hand, given the raw materials, I don’t think it turned out too-too badly. Tell me what you think, and have a great weekend. Stay cool.