I came across an interesting article on over-regulating playground safety. Fear of litigation has caused New York City officials to remove equipment deemed dangerous (like see-saws) and replace them with safer (and more boring) playground equipment.
Safety-first playgrounds take a simplistic approach to safety. They are concerned with safety in the a particular situation, and so with mechanical simplicity. But they neglect long-term safety by ignoring a child’s need to experience the thrill of danger. By increasing regulation of injury, an important learning experience is unintentionally removed. Kids may become needlessly fearful because they aren’t exposed to challenging situations. They’re also encouraged to misuse “safe” equipment as they try to push through their limitations. My 9 year old son is as likely to be walking on the walls of a play structure as he is to be safely behind them.
The campaign to increase safety is really a campaign to reduce lawsuits. Seen in this way, the changes make sense. Falls from a high point are riskier than those from lower points, so climbing equipment should be as low as possible. Moving equipment is riskier than static equipment, so anything that swings, swivels, or shakes should be do as little of that as possible. But kids aren’t legal experts. They need higher and shakier, and will either go where they can get it, or they will internalize the belief that they shouldn’t, soaking up the pitiful fears of the legal profession (with none of the compensation) before they know what a lawsuit is.