Driving through Morehead City on Bridges Street on a perfect August Saturday afternoon, I passed by a neat, city-maintained playground surrounded by live oaks. It was equipped with new, colorful, playground equipment that I’m quite certain meets the litany of safety regulations imposed upon playgrounds today.
Everything about the playground and the weather was right except for one thing. The playground was empty. Kidless.
In a blog entitled “8 Reasons Children of the 1970s Should All Be Dead” posted on June 9, Yeoman Lowbrow writes correctly if not a bit tongue in cheek: “Remember when playgrounds were fun? Sure, there was a pretty good chance you’d be scalded by a hot metal slide, or walk away with tetanus, but that’s what memories are made of.
“The ground wasn’t coated with soft recycled rubber or sand as most are today — they were asphalt,” he said. “Remember being hurled from a spinning merry-go-round, then skidding across the gravel at full speed? Good times.
“According to the New York Times, we’re asking playgrounds to be so safe that they actually stunt our kids’ development. So, while blood was spilt and concussions were dealt on the playgrounds of the 1970s, we were at least in a developmentally rich environment — and we had the bruises and scabs to prove it.”
The New York Times column Lowbrow quoted was published in July 28, 2011, by John Tierney. Tierney reported, “When seesaws and tall slides and other perils were disappearing from New York’s playgrounds, Henry Stern drew a line in the sandbox.
“As the city’s parks commissioner in the 1990s, he issued an edict concerning the 10-foot-high jungle gym near his childhood home in northern Manhattan. ‘I grew up on the monkey bars in Fort Tryon Park, and I never forgot how good it felt to get to the top of them,’ Mr. Stern said. ‘As long as I was parks commissioner, those monkey bars were going to stay.’
“His philosophy seemed reactionary at the time, but today it’s shared by some researchers who question the value of safety-first playgrounds. Even if children do suffer fewer physical injuries — and the evidence for that is debatable — the critics say that these playgrounds may stunt emotional development, leaving children with anxieties and fears that are ultimately worse than a broken bone.”
Kids were once free to experiment. Test their limits. Experience fear and, yes, pain. Certainly we want to and should protect our kids, but pushing them outside — especially in Morehead City — to playgrounds and allowing them to experience some fear and pain — and germs — better prepares them for real life.
Dr. Martin J. Blaser, MD, author of the book “Missing Microbes,” former chair of medicine at New York University and president of the Infectious Diseases Society of America, believes we are experiencing a growing array of what he calls “modern plagues.” He claims the arrival of these plagues is rooted in our “disappearing microbiota.”
“Within the past few decades, amid all of [our] medical advances, something has gone terribly wrong. We are suffering from a mysterious array of what I call ‘modern plagues’: obesity, childhood diabetes, asthma, hay fever, food allergies, esophageal reflux and cancer, celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, autism, eczema. Unlike most lethal plagues of the past that struck relatively fast and hard, these are chronic conditions that diminish and degrade their victims’ quality of life for decades.
“The reasons for this disaster are all around you, including overuse of antibiotics in humans and animals, Cesarean sections, and the widespread use of sanitizers and antiseptics, to name just a few,” Blaser writes.
Kidless playgrounds could be another reason for disappearing microbiota. Kids are not being exposed to scores of other kids’ germs left on monkey bars, merry-go-rounds and teeter-totters. We can help by sending them outside to play. That is, if we’re not arrested for allowing our child to walk to the playground.
In an Aug. 8 article from the Natural News, P.F. Lewis reports, “A Port St. Lucie, Florida, mother was arrested for felony child neglect and released on bail recently.” She had committed the unconscionable and heinous act of allowing her son to walk severable blocks to a public park.
Agreeably, there is likely more to this case than meets the eye. But it highlights a problem in our society.
Kidless Morehead City playgrounds on perfect August days ought to tell us something. We’re overly protective, too sanitized, possess misplaced concern about the safety and emotional well-being of our children, and are way too connected to the internet, TV and other indoor activities.
Is it too late to change or are kidless parks a symptom of plagues — emotional, psychological, biological, and physical — to come, plagues of our own making?
Barry Fetzer is a columnist for the Havelock News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.