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Can Playgrounds be too Safe?

By Whirl Construction (573 words)
Posted in Commercial Playgrounds on July 17, 2012

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In a New York Times article published in July 2011, journalist John Tierney quoted Norwegian psychology professor Ellen Sandseter: "Children need to encounter risks and overcome fears on the playground." Sandseter's premise is that children who do not learn to cope with their fears on the playground will carry these fears with them throughout life. According to the NYT, our playgrounds, stripped of high slides and jungle gyms, are now "too safe." Really? Where the lives of our children are concerned, I believe it is impossible to exercise too much caution. After all, statistics show that over 200,000 children are treated in emergency rooms for playground-related injuries every year. However, let us examine some of the statements made in the NYT article.

For one, the reference to the 10-foot-high jungle gym arrested my attention. The article minimizes the danger posed by this toy by implying that conquering this jungle gym might be worth a broken arm. However, the experts seem to have forgotten that people have died from falling 10 feet or less. These falls have even greater potential for lethality if the fallee lands on a concrete surface, the very substance into which jungle gym bars must be set to ensure stability. While parents and government agencies have fought for protective regulations to prevent broken bones, concussions, and other serious injuries, these precautions also exist to save children’s lives.

The New York Times article in question also suggests that removing dangerous toys from our playgrounds renders these playgrounds too boring to capture kids' interests, therefore prompting youngsters to pursue more dangerous fun elsewhere. First of all, in a world of HDTV, interactive video games, and smartphones, kids get to experience a virtual adventure, safely, without endangering themselves on a risky, unsafe playground. It’s the adults’ responsibility, despite the adventure-loving nature of children, to use discretion and eliminate the playthings that pose the most significant risk.

Referring to the role that we, as adults, play in protecting our children leads me to my final point. We can never be too careful when it comes to child safety. This is one reason why playground regulation has become increasingly necessary: lack of adult supervision. Kids do grow fast. Some may be tempted to mistake physical size and prowess for actual mental and emotional maturity. When we err in this way, we allow kids more responsibility for their own safety than they are mentally or emotionally able to handle. Thus, we set them up for dangerous situations at home and at school, as well as at the playground.

Despite Ms. Sandseter’s claims, it’s vital that playgrounds all over the world be built according to national safety guidelines in order to protect children across the globe.




Whirl Construction has been a leader in park and playground construction since 1982. With thousands of installations completed throughout the tri-state area we continue to operate at the forefront of our industry. At Whirl Construction we provide quality, professionalism and over 100 years of combined knowledge and experience. With these and our commitment to customer satisfaction we remain a leader in our industry.

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International Playground Contractors Association New Jersey Recreation and Park Association Certified Playground Safety Inspectors Interlocking Concrete Pavement Institute