Monday, October 25, 2010

physical activity for kids– but someone could get hurt!

Hi! I'm back. It feels good, but also lots to catch up on, and my email seems to be swallowing things, so if you're the mom from Colorado who emailed a while back, I think I have a contact for you :)

So, part of having a healthy relationship with our bodies is moving them. Kids often do this more spontaneously than adults. I marvel at the energy level, the sheer joy many children have as they run, or dance. Even my relatively sedentary child (compared to some of the little guys I know!) has such a clear joyful abandon when she's moving.

So, on a recent day off school, I took M and a friend to the Como zoo (a local zoo that is donation-entry) to burn off some steam. It was a beautiful fall day and the zoo was almost empty. I wanted to give them the opportunity to run and play. (Just as with food, there is a Division of Responsibility with activity. I provide the opportunity for M to move her body in joyous and unpressured ways and she takes it or leaves it...)

Anyway, so they are running from one thing to the next. As I said, there are very few people there. I asked them not to run if there were others around, but otherwise was thrilled that they were having fun and getting exercise.

Then an employee shouts at them to "walk! No running!" There was literally no one around. I said kindly, "May I ask what your concern is?" She looked at me like I was crazy. "Well, they can get hurt! We had a kid split his lip here before!"

Really!? I didn't quite know what to say. "OK, well thanks, yes, kids do get hurt I suppose!" I wandered off and let them run at will. A child can split a lip falling from a walk as well. It seemed odd. I could understand if they were running into people, or if it was crowded. I wanted to say, "I am willing to accept that risk," or, "Are you kidding me? Of course some kids will get hurt. That is unavoidable." (Will we soon be signing liability waivers at public places?)

What does this mean? Will we outlaw running, climbing etc because of liability concerns? Already, the playgrounds of our youth with merry-go-rounds are gone. The high-dive at the swim-club is long gone and climbing structures barely get off the ground. (In contrast, in France, where they have 10% of the lawyers we have here, the playgrounds I have seen look like something out of Fear Factor...)

I felt bad encouraging my child to ignore an adult authority figure- but come on.

What do you think? Do you think our caution, our fear of injury is making it harder for kids to find enjoyable ways to be active? Have you had similar experiences?


  1. I've had similar experiences from the other side. And unfortunately, the fear of lawsuits is very real.

    Before becoming a stay-at-home mother, I was a librarian in a public library. You would not believe some of the experiences my colleagues and I had with parents who, by the way, can be completely insane. And you would not believe some of the crazy things we were threatened with. It astounds me how many parents refuse to accept responsibility for their child's well-being. Or even accept that occasionally as they progress through childhood, children may suffer minor injuries.

    In all cases in which I have any direct or indirect knowledge, threatened lawsuits either never materialized or were dismissed by the court. But lawyers had to be consulted regardless of the ridiculous nature of the lawsuit. Nonprofit organizations have very limited funds and have a difficult enough time just keeping the doors (or gates, in the case of a zoo) open. A single frivolous lawsuit could shut them down completely.

    Perhaps it is time for us to follow the model of many of the European countries? Here in Switzerland, and in most other European countries, if you bring a lawsuit against another individual and you lose the court has the option of ruling your lawsuit as frivolous.If that happens, you may have to pay all of the legal fees for the defendant as well as the various court fees (i.e. judge's salary, hourly wage for court reporter, bailiff, rental on the court room, etc.) That is why there is so much less litigation here!

    Until there are repercussions for individuals who file asinine lawsuits, they will continue to happen. And any organization which is open to the public will remain hyper-vigilant out of fear of a single lawsuit closing them down forever.

  2. I accept my kid will get bumps, bruises and scrapes. We were out for a walk last year and he tripped over some raised sidewalk and face-planted, bloodying his face. The lady across the street saw what happened and offered us a cool, wet cloth for cleanup and gave him a cookie afterwards. In Canada there ARE penalties for sueing someone; if you sue and lose, you have to pay not only your court costs but the person you're sueing as well.

  3. I struggle with my own hyper-vigilance. I have come a long way, but I am distrustful of my own body and abilities. That makes it hard to trust my kids.

    Interestingly, I don't freak out when they do actually get hurt. I freak out worrying that they might get hurt :)

    I am with you though that there is a striking contrast between the "move! move! move!" messages from one side and the "don't move you might get hurt!" messages from the other.

  4. Kids get hurt, it's a sad fact of life. I like the notion of punishing frivolous law-suits. Global, a good reminder from the other side that many parents don't observe common sense safety notions. I joke that I should have been an OSHA (Occupational Safety group here in the US) inspector as I seem to imagine any possible danger, so generally if I think something is likely safe, it probably is :)
    The joke was that my child would be raised in a plastic bubble with padding, but luckily that hasn't happened. it's too bad that a few folks who aren't paying attention or who sue willy-nilly can spoil things. When we first moved here, there was a 9 year old boy who tried to pet the meerkats at the local zoo. He climbed over a rock and leaned in (it took some effort.) He got bit. Instead of him getting the series of rabies shots, the family refused and the entire meerkat family had to be euthanised and tested for rabies. Go figure... Recently at the zoo we saw a dad trying to lift his kid to reach into the wolf exhibit. So, what can you do!

  5. I hear you Clio! When M got a scooter last spring (she was not quite coordinated enough but wanted to try) I bought knee, elbow and wrist guards, and her helmet of course!!! Still working on it myself.

  6. "In contrast, in France, where they have 10% of the lawyers we have here, the playgrounds I have seen look like something out of Fear Factor..."

    I don't know about the rest of the US, but here in LA, the most beloved of my childhood playground structures has been completely eradicated: the humble merry-go-round (not the carousel kind, just the jump-on-and-spin-around-until-you-are-too-dizzy-to-think kind). There used to be one at a nearby park when my daughter was too young to enjoy it, but alas that is now gone too. So sad.

    I'm sure other parents would argue that kids spun too fast and got flung off. I would argue that a valuable tool for showing kids about centrifugal force has been lost. ;-)

    Seriously, how is a kid supposed to learn about their physical boundaries unless they have a chance to test them? I know it's scary for parents and none of us wants a child to be seriously hurt, but effectively bubble-wrapping the world is not a good it?

  7. As I happen to be the parent of a VERY active four-year-old boy who loves to test his physical limits (we've already had one broken arm and I fully expect more broken bones along the way) it can be a real struggle NOT to keep him in bubble wrap but I love his independence and his enjoyment of movement. I lost the latter really early on, thanks to the horrors of gym class, and it means a lot to me that he NOT pick up my exercise phobia.

  8. Yes, absolutely. A friend has two kids, 11 and 7 yo now, and told the story how they got a great new climbing net at the schoolyard, but all kids had to sign a paper that they would not climb "fast or reckless" on it, scuffle on it or jump down from it. The eleven year-old complained and got told, by my used-to-be-so-very-lawful friend, "then you must not get caught when you are doing it". Kids are not allowed to bicycle to school until the have passed a test which they can only take at the end of fourth grade (note: It's the *school* that does not allow it. Can they enforce it? No idea), and recently there's an initiative by a father to ban kids from riding their scooters to school, because his son is always driving downhill so fast. (The mind boggles.)

    And this is not a culture where anyone will drag in a lawyer. It's all raised eyebrows, gossip and moral outrage in a place where people have too much time, no real problems, and no grasp of statistics. When I was a kid, this village/small town/exurb outrage was directed at girls who wore too-short skirts. Today, it's directed at the mothers of girls who go beyond the garden gate unsupervised.

    Poor kids. The only place where they are allowed to run is in hamster wheels, like grown-ups do at the gym.

  9. I think this site is along this theme, if folks don't know about it already:

  10. I noticed that all of the cuts-and-bruises injuries that my toddlers have sustained have occurred within arm's reach of a attentive adult. I may be trying to spot a climbing child, but if he actually slips, I do a pretty poor job of actually finding something to grab as he goes down. In any case, being too close tends to split his attention and make him more likely to fall.

    I do get a lot of flak from other parents at the playground. My stock answer is "oh, he's short for his age" said with a proud smile - it's only somewhat accurate, but it gives the other party a way to save face rather than simply saying "yes, he's allowed to do that."

  11. great points Lyorn. I do lament that kids are hounded to exercise (morning cartoons included) but are told it isn't safe. I've seen tiny treadmills for preschoolers and it turns my stomach... I remember counseling a family a long time ago about activity. The mom would not let her daughter play outside in front of their home (they lived in a small rural community) because she was afraid she would be kidnapped. The girl was 9 if I recall. I think we have a totally out of whack notion of risk, and it's not healthy. I fight it myself. That stuff about the school not allowing biking and the dad trying to outlaw scooters is frightening, though a natural progression from where we are...

  12. Camilla,
    Good for you! I know that when M got her big owie, she was in our home, with her Dad... (ahem) She still has a dent in her forehead and had double shiners for about a month :)
    You're right. Vigilance does not equal safety always. I'm also seeing a trend to keep kids rearfacing until they are two years old. Then I see the same kids eating foods in the rear-facing position that are clear choking hazards. Go figure.

  13. My husband stayed at home with my first son for the first two years. I learned a lot from him....stay back and let the kid learn how to use his body. At the playground now I channel my inner "daddy" and let my sons climb and play without me hovering.

  14. CJ. SO true! Dads don't get a lot of credit.I know my hub is far less cautious than I am. I too try to take his lead often. I can realize when I am not being rational. But, when he thinks something is not safe, watch out! The impulse to hover and protect is strong. I love all the comments about how mindful and aware this group is of our own limitations.

  15. I can't tell you how happy I am to see a parent who is a doctor comment on this phenomenon. My 21 year old daughter and I observe this all the time and have decided we are creating a society in which we are being protected from ourselves. to our detriment. There are too many people doing irresponsible things - like lifting your son up to the wolf exhibit...really people?

    It seems the over abundance of lawyers is creating this atmosphere in which the irresponsibility is being tolerated to the extent that we don't have to take responsibility anymore and those who are making poor choices are being rewarded.

    If we look at the big picture from a Darwinian perspective, we're creating a society that is getting filled with irresponsible people.

    I like what Canada and Europe are doing and hope that cooler heads will prevail and we can let people suffer the consequences of their choices and learn from them.

    Let the children run and play (and split their lips without suing the park).