Minimizing Risk: Are We Going Too Far?

by Brittany P.

Every time I walk by a playground lately parents seem to be hovering behind their child. If they aren’t right there, you can almost always spot them sitting nearby on a bench, calling out the occasional “be careful” or “don’t do that, you might get hurt.”  Lori Freeman, a frequent contributor to Active for Life’s online database of articles, is a self-proclaimed helicopter parent. She admits to being one of those parents and, as consequence, has noticed a level of cautiousness in her daughter some of the other children do not possess.  She realized this one day while hiking with friends and has since made an effort to stop cautioning her child and encourage exploration. While that was a difficult decision for a concerned mother to make, the article notes how her daughter has gone on to take chances and she has become more curious and active.

This phenomenon of fear of injury has even gone so far that a Toronto area school banned the use of any hard balls (including soccer balls, dodgeballs and basketballs among others) in their playground area for a brief period in 2011. The principal of this small school claimed children were coming to her, injured and frightened, while one parent claimed she developed a concussion following an accidental hit from a soccer ball.

A second school in New York has taken this ban one step further, banning not only balls but also CARTWHEELS and TAG! The reasoning behind this middle schools decision to institute this ban was to protect their students; however students were not in favour of the restrictions. Sadly this school is not the only with these restrictions in place, a Queensland Australia school has also banned cartwheels, handstands and other gymnastics moves without the supervision of a coach or physical education instructor.

It was the backlash of a society so afraid of risk that the principal of a New Zealand school feared when he adopted a no rules playground. Even I was a little skeptical when I started to read this article, but the results of his experiment were incredible. Now that children were able to climb trees, create structures from left over building materials and play, as children are meant to play, they are more attentive in the classroom, bullying has decreased and injuries have actually decreased.

Which approach is best for our children? Looking at principles of youth development, we can see how many children could be deprived of these fundamental skills in the first few settings presented. Principles such as, developing a wide range of knowledge, skills and behaviours,  as well as developing youth capabilities, require challenge and decision making, something kids may be lacking in if we continue to protect them from all risk. In a playground setting, if they are permitted to climb, and swing and jump, they will learn what they can do safely, and what may cause harm. The calculated decisions they make there can transfer to other parts of their lives.

Further reading/articles used:

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6 Responses to Minimizing Risk: Are We Going Too Far?

  1. hvesterb says:

    Helicopter parents, the over involved, controlling, micromanaging and meticulous hovering guardian; not an excellent reputation to say the least. Reflecting further on these hovering tendencies, I can’t help but draw attention to the fact that perhaps helicopter parenting is an unintentional response to how society has evolved.

    I am certainly guilty for looking at helicopter parents negatively. The culture in which we now live in expects nothing less from parents. Parents are encouraged to be involved in all aspects of youth development as soon as they are born. Moreover, parents are called upon to help with school activities and extracurricular. Acts such as the No Child Left Behind Act set high standards and goals intended to improve academic success in schools only fuel the helicopter turbine engine. This increased stress to meet standards demands micro managing parents.

    Helicopter parenting without a doubt ignores the principles behind positive youth development. However, I can empathize with their behavior. I think it is crucial for youth development advocates to focus on both the youth and their hovering parents. Introducing to the Stepping Stones resources/ developmental maps, the 40 Developmental Assets, and the principles of youth development will provide a framework for interacting with youth in a way that promotes a successful transition into adulthood; which is all a parent really wants. It seems that a helicopter license is a prerequisite for parenting these days.

    Hannah V

  2. katelynpeters2014 says:

    This article is a showmanship for how society has developed in a negative direction. If children always have adults hovering over them telling what they can and cannot do, how will this ever produce critical development skills?

    This is a very “touchy” subject due to past injuries and even on occurrence, deaths of children at playgrounds. However, our generation (Z), has learned what is safe and what is not safe through our own exploration.

    Unstructured activities and informal play have so many crucial assets to offer a young child. For example, through unstructured play a child can develop; problem solving and negotiation tactics by not having a parent telling them how to resolve these conflicts. Which also allows a child to develop critical thinking skills that will be used and foster their independent thinking skills throughout their entire lifetime. A child has a short attention span, with unstructured play this will benefit the attention span by allowing a child who becomes bored or uninterested in an activity to choose an activity that they enjoy to spend their time on. When a child becomes uninterested in structured play they are usually known as the “bad” or “unruly” children. In accordance, a child’s motivation levels will be higher due to the fact they can choose something that appeals to them.

    Another point of view of minimizing the risks for children is this can directly connect with the link between youth development and sports. If children are being protected from every risk possible outside of sport, how will they react in sport? Children ARE going to have injuries if they are put into sports. There is nothing a parent, official or coach can really do about it, besides following the basic rules of the game. This can incorporate into making weaker athletes and a weaker society.

    Toughness is an asset that is needed in every life situation one will come in contact to. If the children of today do not contain this asset, or any assets listed above, due to hovering parents and ridiculous bans on play equipment, they will never develop these assets that are so critical to the development into adult hood and the “real world”.

  3. b834z says:

    Great post Brittany!

    I must say, helicopter parents are definitely becoming a hassle to deal with in the sport and recreation field. Parents are almost too involved, you could say, with their children’s activities. What I have noticed as a result for helicopter parents is that their children are becoming too dependent. When I was a coach of a junior girls basketball team, there were a number of days where girls told me they did not have water, because their mom’s hadn’t packed them any. This both shocked and confused me where water was always our own responsibility while growing up in sports. This was not just an occurrence with water, but shorts, shoes, anything you would regularly pack. If their parents did not pack it, it was not there. These are children in grades six and seven at the time. I completely agree with how you noted that the youth development of fundamental skills and capabilities are deprived from helicopter parenting.

    These new regulations appearing in schools are continually astonishing. Banning hard balls for games as well as tag and cart wheels?! That was my childhood in a nutshell. Perhaps school physical education leaders and parents should find ways to meet each other half way so that their children can still have positive play experiences. For example, instead of removing balls in fear of injury, enforce rules like no head shots in dodge ball. If they do not follow the rules, then there will be a consequence. It is unbelievable how as a society we are not trying to cope or work around potential barriers to safety in youth, we are eliminating the activity altogether. I fear for when these children are grown up with all of these developmental aspects through recreation, sport, and play being compromised by over protective parents.

    Meggie S

  4. erikaermen says:

    What I tend to take away from this article is that in the long run children will have a decreased sense of sport. As we talked about this past weekend at the Physical Literacy conference, that children are lacking “free play”. This can have a direct negative result on imagination, physical activity and the basic understanding of most sport. This may affect how active children are and may begin to become more sedentary, as we are now seeing with Generation Z.

    We are able to see some correlation to this within the rules and regulations the schools in New Zealand have adopted, or have failed to adopt. We are able to see that while allowing children the time to move their bodies and engage their mind they will in time perform better in school.

    With this modern (or old school) way of thinking I can only hope that we will eventually see children become more physically literate because they feel comfortable playing sports and engaging in positive and active play because they know they have the ability to do a lot more than expected. This will hopefully allow children to increase their physical vocabulary, and will in turn decrease all the injuries the other school around the world are scared of.

  5. Julie macfarlane says:

    Brittany Great Post,
    Parents being over protective of their children is a growing issue that is influencing youth’s development. Being overly restricting of what youth can and cannot do for safety reason can have negative effects on youth’s playtime and development. The situations where hard balls, cartwheels and handstands were banned were socking especially hearing that the decisions came from schools. When decisions like these are made it limits youth’s activity levels by reducing the variety of activities that they can do. These decisions also tell youth that they can not be trusted and that their voice is not valued in the matter of their own play time.
    The article were the mom decided to be less cautious of her children when they were playing saw the benefits of letting them learn, explore and make mistake on their own. Also the school that had no rules on there play ground saw positive benefits to letting children decide what they want to do in the context of play, another great example of this is the forest schools that are becoming more popular where the children engage in learning to do things for themselves in the outdoor setting. These points make it clear that children need to experience aspects of life for themselves and how beneficial it is for youth to have their voices heard and valued.

  6. emilymckim says:

    Great post Brittany!

    This is very true. Parents these days are so afraid of their child falling and scraping their knees. They do not allow for their youth to explore and make mistakes. As a child I remember playing outside and doing flips and cartwheels, did I get hurt? Yes many times, but I learned how to bounce back and learned what I was able to achieve and what caused too much harm. If you are just contently told, no don’t do that, no don’t touch that, the youth will not understand their limits or what may cause harm. I work at an afterschool program and there have been many parents come in and complain that their child got a bruise or scrap on their leg. Putting your child in a protective bubble will do more damage then protection. I agree that children need to make mistakes and learn from them. Because parents are so protective of their children, when they do get hit with a dodge ball or someone hits them a little too hard during a game of tag, they do not know how to handle this little amount of pain. Some children you would think they just got their leg cut off, the water works and the fear of playing again. I think it is ridiculous. Children need to learn how to be resilient and dust themselves off and get back up. They will never learn how to do this If their parents are hovered over them constantly warning them to be carful. Sometimes the best way to learn is to fail and pick your-self up and try again. So I agree, I believe parents need to take a step back and allow their children to explore and be a little dangerous within reason. This will allow for more asset development then shielding your child from pain and failure.

    Emily M

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