Kids need “risky” play

I’m always glad to see an article promoting "risky" play (if you can call climbing trees risky) because I think we overprotect our children. We put them in carseats, helmets, only certain cribs, only toys that pass safety ratings, only direct supervised play, only …

(Warning, rant coming ahead.)

I don’t know why we’ve become so safety conscious (I think it’s more than just kids) but I think there are four main pressures promoting "safety" for kids:

  1. Social. It’s not socially acceptable to let you kids play with "dangerous" things. You might be a bad parent. I was on a fieldtrip last Friday morning and one of the other moms was taking about how her sister-in-law was letting her kid run around with a straw. She was going to tell her sister-in-law it was a bad idea when the kid poked himself in the eye. So, obviously, running around with a straw was a bad idea. (Even though the eye was fine.) Worse yet, several other people chimed in with stories about toothbrushes going through the roof of a mouth, flutes puncturing lips, etc. So I decided to tell them about the time Caleb was running around with a plastic drum stick and fell hard enough to break it. And I made sure to tell them, "He was fine." I let him continue running around with the other drum stick. (I could imagine bad things happening with almost every toy in his room. My imagination is good enough to come up with bad scenarios for each of them. Should I take them all away?)
  2. Laws. My daycare provider has to buy all new cribs next year because the current ones have slats on the sides and the ends. In 2010 cribs are only allowed to have slats on the sides because the end ones are dangerous. And she has to buy new playground equipment because tricycles, any moving equipment, will be dangerous then too. Tricycles. Next thing you know we’ll be told they can’t play on trikes at home. (They’re already supposed to wear helmets!)
  3. Doctors. My doctor told me Caleb was not allowed to sleep with a blanket until he was 12 months old because he might suffocate. I listened to him but this was hard. We live in Colorado and we turn the heat way down at night. Frank and I actually argued a couple of times about how low the heat could go and Caleb would still be ok! I’d really like to know how many 6-12 month olds have had serious trouble with a blankie. My doctor also warns me about seatbelts, foods that are dangerous, climbing, …
  4. Money. There are a lot of companies making big money from safe car seats, safe toys, monitors, … they’re going to help promote all those laws, social norms and medical advise.

Keeping kids too safe worries me because I feel like there’s so much social pressure to keep our kids safe that pretty soon we’ll have laws mandating all sorts of extreme safety measures. And then it will no longer be a choice. We’ll no longer be able to apply common sense.

24 Replies to “Kids need “risky” play”

  1. Surely there’s little benefit to letting a baby take risks before it even has the ability to understand them or learn from them. “Blankies” are one of the likely causes of sudden infant death syndrome (cot death), which is quite clear cut to me. It’s entirely possible that other advice and laws has an equally serious foundation, based on studies rather than anecodotal evidence.
    Of course, the US is more legal-damages-friendly than here, so maybe they are indeed overcautious, for economical reasons.
    My children will be climbing trees, of course.

  2. Agreed that blankies can cause SIDS. But the rate of SIDS is actually quite low and drops much lower at 6 months of age, yet I was told no blankie until 12 months. (I asked many times. ๐Ÿ™‚
    My kids too climb trees. Even the 23 month old. Luckily for his mom’s heart, he doesn’t get very far up yet. (I did actually call a halt to that once – the neighbor girl was lifting him up into the tree. I decided you have to be able to climb up yourself.)

  3. how i miss climbing in trees taller then 2 story houses, or riding a bike without a helmet, lets not forget all the “bad things” i learned in Boy Scouts, i’d never get away with carving wood with just a pocket knife these days!
    Thank you for seeing things in the same light as me about stupid nonsensical people and over protecting their weak anemic sickly children.
    @Murray, you know anything about kids? they aborb everything since they day they are born, how you think they learn to walk or talk.. surely its NOT by listening to us.. or watching us..
    @SID, well, keep up on “research” because latest research says its because the position of the baby (laying on its side, stomach, back) more then ‘a blankie’ because suffocation isnt SID, its suffocation.

  4. Each and every restriction has a logical and reasonable purpose. It’s the sum of the restrictions that is the issue. How many children were actually killed or seriously harmed before car seats? But how do you reasonable argue against them? “Do you _want_ your child to be killed in an accident?” Thus begins the slippery slope that will result in a legally-mandated cotton-candy colored soft-walled child-proofed world.

  5. As a parent, it’s extremely hard not to follow all the safety advice – you want the best for your kid.
    I didn’t let Caleb ride with my dad without a carseat and they were only going a mile or two, He missed out on a whole farm experience … and I think the odds of something actually happening to him because he wasn’t in his carseat were very small. (Chances were much greater that my dad would have gotten a ticket for not having a toddler in a carseat!)

  6. Don, kids don’t purely learn to walk or talk. These basics skills are mostly built in. You’d have to make a real effort to stop them from developing these skills. I have a 7 monh old, by the way. But even if you believe they do it from first principles somehow, you surely can’t be suggesting that babies would learn not to die from SIDS if they just had enough stimulus?
    Some risks are real, and some consequences are major. Others aren’t so much. But the latter shouldn’t make you dismiss the former.

  7. I have two small children of my own, but I had not heard the blanket-warning before. Likely because it’s regional to the United States. All it takes is one researcher publishing a single study suggesting that something, anything, could conceivably be found to be hazardous in order for that object to be regulated. It doesn’t matter if the level of danger is ridiculously low, or if the study is later refuted.
    The scary part is that none of these “safety” regulations can ever be undone. No politician can ever allow him/herself to be perceived as making the world “unsafe”.

  8. I’m a parent myself and although I had not heard of blankets being dangerous I can definitely attest to the paranoia of the safety culture here in the U.S.
    Another disadvantage to that which I’ve noticed is that my wife will fret over quite normal activities. For instance I came home from my first underway as a father and our son had a “brain bucket” type headgear in case he ever fell even though he could not climb and our house was fully carpeted. I had assumed at first that it was motherly instinct but the overzealous safety culture amplifies this a lot.
    I agree with Murray that you should not neglect actual safety hazards though. I wouldn’t have let my kid on the truck sans car seat either (the reason being that you cannot control what the other drivers on the road are doing, so it’s not good enough that the one driving your son is doing so safely).

  9. Interesting post. I’m tempted to call it “safety theater” a la “security theater.” Obviously, safety is important, but so is learning the consequences of making mistakes and getting hurt so you don’t make bigger mistakes and get more hurt in the future.
    I think you’d be interested in this TED Talk that explains the craziness of car seats and how they don’t actually make kids safer beyond a certain age–but of course it’s difficult to bring this up without appearing “soft on safety.”

  10. Have you tried sleeping sack for you infant in cold weather? Works great for us, and no risk of SIDS since the sack moves with the child, they can’t suffocate.

  11. First, I agree, thinking back (not that many years) on all the things I did, which I wouldn’t be allowed to do.
    Second, as an adult, I still do “risky” stuff:
    I am in an amateur softball league. First game, I got hit in the face, smashed my glasses and got 5 stitches.
    Since I had a lot of fun until then, I bought a catcher’s helmet, and showed up for the next game.
    People were amazed I came back.
    It just feels like some people are so afraid that kids might get hurt, that they make sure they don’t have fun.
    And if you never get hurt, and never risk, how can you judge risks later in life? Or have fun later in life?

  12. We’re all going to end up being slaves if we don’t as ‘the people’ do something about these simple issues..

  13. I need to follow up and say that straws might be more dangerous than I thought! (But my kids are still playing with them.)
    My two year old was jumping on the bed with a juice pack when the straw went up his nose. Blood everywhere! Other than all the blood and a quiet but persistent “ow”, he’s ok.
    We’re still letting him play with juice packs and straws.

  14. I just ran across this post. We live abroad, so I’m not up to date on U.S. laws. There’s a chance we’d move back before our next baby.
    We have a crib with slats on the ends, but I couldn’t find any details about the 2010 law regulating that. Could you please give me pointers?

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