::Literate Blather::
Tuesday, February 03, 2009
Essay: Have Adults Ruined Childhood?

No More Sledding, Bike Helmets, and the End of Outdoor Play Spells Bad News for Children

There is a movement afoot in Massachusetts and other snowy states to ban sledding. A rash of sledding injuries in the state and the death of two girls in upstate New York have many municipalities in the Bay State on the verge of banning sledding at several locations.

“There are no brakes on a sled,” a state representative in Massachusetts told the Boston Globe.

No way! No brakes? But isn’t that what make sledding fun? It’s the thrill of hurtling down a hill and
possibly taking a spill.

Welcome to the 21st century, kids, where your parents are in the process of ruining your childhood. Sledding bans are already in place in parts of New York, Missouri and Ohio.

Blame the Baby Boomers. Blame our litigation happy society. Blame the media.

We are living in a society where we want to regulate any danger –
perceived or real – out of our children’s lives. It’s not possible, of course, but we’re trying anyway. As a result – in the name of “safety” we’re ruining the concept of free play. We’re taking the impulsiveness, the liberty, and the natural reckless out of childhood.

Let’s look at further evidence.

Bicycle Helmet Laws

Children in 37 states are now required by law to wear helmets when they ride their bicycles, including, I might add, tricycles. Bicycle helmet laws were first enacted in California back in 1987.

Advocates have pushed for the laws because they say helmets save lives. But only 700 people where killed in bicycle accid
ents in 2007 (up from the 662 killed in 2002 when there were fewer bike helmet laws).

This is a micros
copic percentage considering that it is estimated that there are between 73 and 83 million bike riders in the U.S. What is your chance of dying in a bike accident on any given day? Less than 0.0009 percent.

The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which support bike helmet laws, is fond of reporting facts like this: “More than 47,000 bicyclists have died in traffic crashes in the United States since 1932.” But there’s no indication how many would have survived if they had been wearing helmets.

The result of these laws, of course, is the loss of childhood impulse to jump on your bike and ride.

The Demise of Outdoor Play

When was the last time you were forced to slow your car on a suburban street because a large group of boys were playing street hockey or touch football? I know the answer for me.


The death of independent play many be the worse gift ever bestowed on a generation by their parents. But adults have killed the concept of free, outdoor play. Once again under the guise of “safety,” parents have slowly eroded one of the best parts of being a child. This despite ample evidence that independent outdoor play lowers stress and incidents of hyperactivity.

But with the fear of serial killers and pedophiles lurking behind every fence post and more families with dual working parents, kids are no longer allowed outside alone. They are corralled into organized sports – run by adults – or spend their afternoons watching TV or playing computer games.

And now for a reality check. Do you know how many children in 2007 were kidnapped by a stranger and killed, tortured or injured? 58. There are more than 74 million kids under the age of 18 in the United States. So what is the chance of any one child being abducted off the street and murdered by a sociopathic pedophile? 0.000078 percent.

Do you think we might be overreacting? There is a four times more likelihood that your child will be electrocuted to death. Is it any wonder that childhood obesity is an epidemic or that the diagnosis of Attention Deficit Disorder is at an all-time high? It’s gotten so bad that in 2007 California issued an Outdoor Bill of Rights for Children – 10 activities a child should experience outside before the age of 14.

What are your thoughts? Do you think adults have killed childhood?

The Twilight of Reading

Addicted to Convenience

Misplaced Passion: The Day After

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Blogger Mike Snider said...
A few adults with agendas and scary slogans have done great harm to childhood, but I suspect air-conditioning and all-day cable children's programming have done at least as much harm.

Blogger GFS3 said...
Good points. Not only did air-conditioning create the South and ruin the North, but I blame it on the epidemic of allergies in kids.

And television -- well that goes without saying...

Blogger Kerry said...
As an adult bike rider--and a mom--I reeeeally like bike helmets. They aren't a big deal to wear, and it doesn't prevent you from riding your bike. But I get your point. Who wants to outlaw sledding?

Blogger GFS3 said...
Hi Kerry:
No doubt it is wise to wear a helmet on a bike. But there is also a difference between wearing a bike helmet and being required by law to wear a bike helmet.

You really want to prevent bike injuries to children? You can always outlaw them. But that's silly and so are laws that make people wear bike helmets.

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