Mmm… Tort Law. All you need is a J.D. and a dream to get in on the action.
But have we gone too far? No, I’m not talking about the general accusations that tort lawyers make things more expensive for consumers (and the mega-companies they buy things from). I’m asking if our tort regime is crippling our future by hobbling our children. New studies suggest that our children’s playgrounds may be too safe.
Hehe. That’s right, parents who sue schoolyard bullies for saying on Facebook that your kids are stinky heads. It turns out that your totally sanitized, tetanus-free, no-skinned-knees zone might be making your kids the very kind of chubby, neurotic weaklings who will need to keep their lawyers and shrinks on speed dial for the rest of their lives…
Some child-development experts and parents say decades of dumbed-down playgrounds, fueled by fears of litigation, concerns about injury and worrywart helicopter parents, have led to cookie-cutter equipment that offers little thrill. The result, they say, is that children are less compelled to play outside, potentially stunting emotional and physical development and exacerbating a nationwide epidemic of childhood obesity.
Why don’t kids want to play outside anymore? Because outside is boring. Yes, part of that is because video games are much more exciting now than they were in, say, the 70s, but the other part is that outside has gotten objectively less thrilling than in the 70s. There’s no danger anymore. There aren’t any rope swings over a lake/murderous rocky outcropping. There aren’t any bike paths ringed with barbs leading to hidden caches of knives and liquor. Hell, you can’t even dare your buddies to go get some candy from the local pedophile, because now everybody knows who the local pedophile is.
Our “safety first” regime has other consequences:
Some psychologists suggest that not exposing children to risk can result in increases in anxiety and other phobias. Children who never climb trees, for example, are more likely to develop a fear of heights, according to a study in Norway. And encouraging free play, in an age of structured activities and computer games, is believed to be important in helping children develop physical and cognitive competencies, creativity and self-worth…
“It’s important that play environments are as safe as necessary, not as safe as possible,” [Dr. Ellen Sandseter], says, adding that broken and fractured arms and legs shouldn’t be considered serious injuries.
Try telling a tort lawyer that a child’s broken legs aren’t “serious.” The plaintiff’s bar would go after trees for negligence if they could figure out how to make money out of wood (zing).
This kind of thing isn’t just happening in the public sphere. At home, my wife is trying to convince me to buy these plastic covers for all the electrical outlets, to prevent our baby from sticking his fingers into them once he can crawl. I suppose that’s one option. Of course, the other option is that if the kid sticks his finger in an electrical socket, he’ll learn pretty damn quickly that he shouldn’t do that ever again, and we won’t have to run around putting plastic covers on everything.
But maybe there is something more sinister going here. Making kids neurotic and risk-averse sounds like an excellent way to seed the next generation of lawyers.
Playing It Too Safe? [Wall Street Journal]
Will Litigation over Playground Injuries Create a Generation of Neurotics? [ABA Journal]