Stop Waxing Poetic About How Fun Playgrounds Used To Be - They're Safer For A Reason

by Anna Gebert
Image via Shutterstock

Experts say kids need to take calculated risks on the playground but parents still want their children to be safe, above all else.

Bubble-wrapping your kids is out, and a little danger is in – at least on Australian playgrounds. After years of playgrounds being designed primarily for safety and limiting liability, many will now be designed with intentional elements of risk: think moving equipment, large gaps in nets, and the potential for kids to fall from as high as 3 meters (nearly 10 feet).

Before clutching your children to your breast and swearing you’ll never let them anywhere near an Australian playground, at least consider that these changes are the result of significant thought and research devoted to this very subject. According to Professor David Eager from the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Technology in Sydney, “Children need to be given opportunities to engage in activities where they will be able to learn from their mistakes.”

He claims that research indicates raising fall heights from 2.5 meters to 3 meters doesn’t necessarily lead to increased injuries, just an increased perception of risk. Professor Eager says, “Children who are exposed to too little challenge often take on inappropriate risks, where the chance of injury is high, because they lack the ability to judge the level of risk and the strategies and skills to tackle it effectively.”

This means kids can practice using their own judgment regarding whether they’ll sustain an injury if they take the leap and that a playground specifically designed to minimize injuries should they occur is a great place to expose kids to a lesson that will keep them safe in the long run. A lesson like, say, a broken leg…yup, that’ll definitely teach ‘em what their boundaries are. They’ll certainly have plenty of time to reflect on their experience while hanging out on the couch for a few months.

What Eager is saying does theoretically make sense, especially for older children or teenagers, but what parents like about taking their kids to the playground is that they believe their kids are safe to explore all the elements without getting hurt, and without having to hover over them to keep them safe. I don’t need for my kid to fracture an elbow in order to determine that he can jump maybe seven feet onto vulcanized rubber, but not ten feet. I want to sit on the park bench eating my son’s orange crackers and playing on my phone while he has an enjoyable, safe, and hopefully exhaustive time.

Over the past few decades parents have unquestionably improved their kids’ safety in all areas — food, health, transportation, and yes, playgrounds — and in some situations they may go overboard, and as an unintended consequence, limit their kids’ independence. We all remember not being subject to the annoyance of car seats and getting to play on awesomely dangerous playgrounds. But overall, protecting our kids when and where we can is our responsibility as parents, and today’s playgrounds are safer for a reason. Let’s keep them that way.