To: Barbara Strauch, Science Editor, The New York Times
From: Your Boss
Re: “Can a Playground Be Too Safe?”
Date: July 19, 2011
I know we’ve been cutting staff like crazy over here, but I hope you agree that brain pieces aren’t the only ones in need of your skilled edited assistance, especially ones that are entirely self-contradictory yet end up on the front page of the Science Times section.
To wit, today’s article by John Tierney called “Can a Playground Be Too Safe?,” about how today’s safer playgrounds are “stunt[ing] emotional development” and suggesting we should consider going back to the days of much more thrilling prison-style steel playground structures of the 1950s.
Mr. Teirney argues that today’s safer playgrounds aren’t risky enough, and in fact, are “leaving children with anxieties and fears that are ultimately worse than a broken bone.” A few paragraphs down, he supports his view by quoting an expert who says, “There is no clear evidence that playground safety measures have lowered the average risk on playgrounds.” In other words, kids are still encountering risks and, we assume, “overcoming anxieties and fears” – just on better equipment. So to begin, this whole thing is pretty confusing.
The basis for this article is a study done in Norway, England and Australia. These are countries with no right to trial by jury in civil cases and with universal health care paid for by taxpayers. So although it’s not stated in the article, we assume their motive for moving to safer playgrounds is the safety of their children and lowering the health care costs of their countries. Such an explanation is apparently a problem for someone intent on finding any opportunity to take a gratuitous swipe at the U.S. trial bar for no reason. Like here, when Mr. Tierney writes:
The old tall jungle gyms and slides disappeared from most American playgrounds across the country in recent decades because of parental concerns, federal guidelines, new safety standards set by manufacturers and — the most frequently cited factor — fear of lawsuits.… Fear of litigation led New York City officials to remove seesaws, merry-go-rounds and the ropes that young Tarzans used to swing from one platform to another. Letting children swing on tires became taboo because of fears that the heavy swings could bang into a child.
“What happens in America is defined by tort lawyers, and unfortunately that limits some of the adventure playgrounds,” said Adrian Benepe, the current parks commissioner.
Now that sounds nasty. So I was more than a bit surprised to read, in complete contradiction to this sentiment, Mr. Tierney continuing, “But while he misses the Tarzan ropes, he’s glad that the litigation rate has declined, and he’s not nostalgic for asphalt pavement. 'I think safety surfaces are a godsend,' he said. 'I suspect that parents who have to deal with concussions and broken arms wouldn’t agree that playgrounds have become too safe.'"
In other words, litigation is working to protect kids, make parents happier and save money.
A little editing would have helped.