Wanted: A Dangerous Childhood

I myself occasionally have longed to climb on the monkey bars of my youth with my own daughter, but I haven’t seen any. I had assumed that they were extinct because their metal frames had rusted and been replaced by the cheerfully-colored plastic apparati that now dot playgrounds. It turns out they were pulled for being too dangerous, the cause of too many accidents.

It should come as no surprise then that as we discover the dangers of making our environments too safe — germ-free households do not expose children to the germs to which they need to be exposed — we discover that the other dangers that used to lurk among us, and bruise us and break our bones, were just as good for us:

“Climbing equipment needs to be high enough, or else it will be too boring in the long run,” Dr. Sandseter said. “Children approach thrills and risks in a progressive manner, and very few children would try to climb to the highest point for the first time they climb. The best thing is to let children encounter these challenges from an early age, and they will then progressively learn to master them through their play over the years.”

Sometimes, of course, their mastery fails, and falls are the common form of playground injury. But these rarely cause permanent damage, either physically or emotionally. While some psychologists — and many parents — have worried that a child who suffered a bad fall would develop a fear of heights, studies have shown the opposite pattern: A child who’s hurt in a fall before the age of 9 is less likely as a teenager to have a fear of heights.

Read the full article at the the New York Times.