Wednesday, September 2, 2009

No Playing, You Might Get Hurt


Parents, be advised: playgrounds are dangerous.

I’m the father of a 5-year-old boy who loves playing at the playground. But my wife and I had to look for alternative ways to have fun because a local kid allegedly fell off the monkey bars at a nearby park and broke his arm. Now the playground is under public scrutiny and, we’re told, off limits.

“Can we go to a different park?” my son begged.

“I don’t think so,” I said, wanting to follow the rules. “Since all playground equipment is pretty much the same, I have to assume that all parks with playgrounds are dangerous.”

The said park is said to have been around for nearly 20 years. In that time, according to neighbors, nobody has been seriously injured. But now we know -- the place is really a death trap.

“We don’t need a playground to have fun,” I told my kid. “We’ll make our own fun.” We played bocce ball, rode bikes, tossed a baseball back and forth . . . my boy was having fun, and then he asked how much longer until we could have some real fun.

“Sorry, son,” I said, “but we just can’t play at the park until people say it’s safe.”

I asked some super parents what they were doing while authorities looked into the playground situation. They said they hadn’t bothered bringing their kids to the park in years.

“We stick the kids in front of the TV or have them play video games,” one parent told me. “It’s more educational.”

So my wife and I looked into it. We got one of those Leap Frog learning game units. Our boy became an instant fan. And the games were, indeed, educational.

“Look,” I said to my wife. “He’s having fun. And learning at the same time!” We gave each other a high-five.

Then we noticed something strange in our home. My wife and I found it difficult to walk down the halls without incurring an injury, and we couldn’t hear each other speaking unless we screamed. This was because our kid was more hyper than ever, with more bounce in his step than a Titleist golf ball when bounced off the garage floor at 70 miles an hour, and with a noise level that compared to the demolition of a Las Vegas casino.

“I bet it’s the game unit!” my wife yelled to me one afternoon in the kitchen.

We looked online to see if that was the case. Sure enough, we learned that, according to experts, video games are major sources behind juvenile violence. Luckily, our kid hadn’t joined any vicious gangs or killed anyone -- yet.

“What’re we gonna do now?” my son asked. “We can’t play at the park or on anything that’s taller than a park bench. And now I can’t play video games.”

We set up the model train set, drove toy cars, played board games. It was a lot of fun.

“Now I know why they call them ‘bored’ games,” my son said. Evidently, my wife and I were the only ones having the fun. Our kid was antsy.

A neighbor told us that maybe our son had ADHD. My wife and I couldn’t believe he could get ADHD overnight. We didn’t believe it for one second.

It took us less than five minutes to get to the pediatrician’s office. And then it happened. While crossing the parking lot to the doctor’s office, I stepped over a curb the wrong way and twisted my ankle.

“Yeow!” I yelled. “Stupid curb! That’s dangerous.”

“The curb’s not dangerous,” my wife said. “You weren’t looking where you were going.”

She was right. Then it occurred to me that maybe the park wasn’t dangerous either. It also occurred to me that my son only became hyper after the playgrounds became off-limits.

“I bet he’s hyper because we’re keeping him cooped up,” I said to my wife as I nursed my ankle in the parking lot. “He just wants to run around and play. That’s what kids do.”

We had a serious dilemma. We had a kid who wanted to let loose on some playground equipment, and we had authorities telling us that playgrounds were too dangerous.

So my wife and I made a decision. We told our kid, “Life’s dangerous, be careful.” And we enjoyed playtime at the park -- right after the doctor wrapped my ankle.

-July 2009

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