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Common Sense is Now Uncommon as We Raise Kids

In October 2013, a surprising news report came out of Port Washington, New York. Worries about injuries at a Long Island middle school led to a ban during recess. Kids can no longer play with footballs, baseballs, soccer balls or anything else that might hurt someone on school grounds. In fact, playing tag and doing cartwheels without a coach has been banned as well. I assumed this was a joke at first. It’s not.

School administrators are concerned about injuries among students and replaced the athletic equipment with Nerf balls. Hmmm. Makes sense. I’m sure teenagers will love the challenge of playing with a sponge ball on the playground. Uh, yeah right.

common sense

This is both ridiculous and damaging. Let me explain why.

As a dad, I totally understand the desire to keep kids safe. In our effort to reduce injuries, however, we’re removing some of the elements that have long been a rite of passage for kids in the school community. Needless to say, most students were not thrilled with the news. One said, “You go for recess—and it’s our one free time to let loose and recharge.” Another student said, “That’s all we want to do. We’re in school all day sitting behind a desk learning.”  Another one jumped in: “I think we need the soccer balls, footballs and everything so we can have some fun.”

But, alas, students will have no such option anymore.

The school superintendent explained that there had been a rash of injuries which warranted this policy. After all, experts say without helmets and pads, kids can get hurt. Educators are simply concerned about the children. And, uh, the lawsuits.

Why is This Wrong?

Allow me to make a case for the fact that this policy may prevent kids from getting hurt, but it may increase their chances of being harmed. Both educators and parents must be aware of the long-term impact of such decisions.

Consider this. When we safeguard a kid from getting hurt, they often fail to learn to navigate risk at a young age, when the stakes are relatively low. I’m not suggesting putting helmets or pads on them is wrong, just that protection from hurt hinders them from perceiving the world as it is. And, dealing with it. One reason we see teens attempting ridiculous stunts is that many have been so protected as a child, they have no clue what harm can come from risky behavior. Many freshmen in college have never failed, they’ve never been hurt, they’ve never shared a room with anyone, and now they don’t know how to cope. We did a great job of intervening to protect them from the real world. Not so great a job of preparing them for the real world.

The Price of Our Intervention

When adults intervene like this, we solve short-term problems. I have no doubt, injuries will go down on the playground in that Long Island middle school, and all the other schools who’ve jumped on board with the policy they initiated.

I also have no doubt, that preventing hurt today leads to more harm tomorrow. As kids mature into young adults, they won’t be equipped for adulthood. I predict one of two outcomes will emerge:

1. The first time they are autonomous, they will try terribly risky behaviors, because they’ve never calculated the negative consequences of stupid conduct.

2. They will fear any risk, because it’s all so new. They never learned to navigate it as a child on a playground. And they become paralyzed.

Both of these are far more harmful than the hurt of a skinned knee or broken arm as a child. In our effort to prevent hurt, we’ve accelerated harm. It’s now showing up as they become adults. The majority of students today move home after college, feeling ill-equipped for life without help from mom or dad. Psychologists in Europe say that some experience phobias, as they never faced risk as children. Many even face what therapists are calling “quarter-life crisis” at twenty-five years old.

My exhortation is simply this: we must stop leading our kids with short-term vision, and see the long-term impact of our decisions. Hurt is far better than harm.

It’s common sense.


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  1. Chris on October 29, 2013 at 6:14 am

    Thanks Tim. This article confirms the value of all the stitches, bruises, and band-aides I received as a child were not in vain. And when I take my own children to the doctor with similar ‘scars’ my comment is, “they are active kids.” But even better, they are learning how to navigate life’s ups and DOWNS!

    • Tim Elmore on October 29, 2013 at 1:34 pm

      Thanks for sharing Chris.

  2. Bill on October 29, 2013 at 7:37 am

    Tim, consider another consequence. This kind of rule elevates the role of ‘authority’ figures such as coaches and teachers. Making some kids susceptible to never developing the ability to make their own decisions, rather – they will rely upon authorities to tell them what is or is not good for them. In this case, even parental logic and permission is overruled.

  3. Hannah Zuniga on October 29, 2013 at 11:55 am

    …Dr. Salvatore Pardo, an emergency room director. “Head injuries, bumps,
    scrapes, worried about concussions.” (from the original article) This is
    the issue here. Why are children being taken to the emergency room for
    bumps and scrapes? Because the parents know that the school is footing
    the bill, that’s why! The schools cannot afford this. After a certain
    number of these ER visits it’s only natural that the insurance companies
    will start to be concerned about the cost and start pressuring the
    school to do something about it. I think the parents are to blame here,
    not the schools.

    • Tim Elmore on October 29, 2013 at 1:42 pm

      Hannah, you definitely have a great point here. I do think there is more to this than simply blaming the schools. Bottom line, is we have to be willing to let our kids step out of our protective bubble we’ve created for them.

  4. Brian McWilliams on October 29, 2013 at 12:28 pm

    Is this really the schools fault? Or is it the fault of the over-litigious parents looking for any excuse to sue the school and earn a quick buck? There’s plenty of blame to go around, but I don’t think it’s fair to portray this as a school’s shortcoming as much as a school’s response to other outside factors.

    • Tim Elmore on October 29, 2013 at 1:47 pm

      Brian, I do not believe it is the school’s fault. As I stated in the article, “when adults intervene like this, we solve short-term problems.” This is the school’s solution, to a bigger problem that we, adults need to address with our kids. Thanks for your comment.

  5. Jack on October 29, 2013 at 1:23 pm

    I agree, the harm is deferred and condensed into fewer more serious incidents later in life. Snowboarding/skateboarding example: without a helmet, kids learn to tuck and roll, avoiding head impacts. With a helmet, kids learn to brace against their head when falling!

  6. Jimmy Collins on October 30, 2013 at 10:39 am

    Tim, your understanding and ability to describe why we need to preserve “common Sense” needs to read far and wide. Keep spreading the word! Jimmy Collins

    • Tim Elmore on October 30, 2013 at 12:36 pm

      Thanks Jimmy, I appreciate the feedback.

  7. Rach on November 1, 2013 at 11:59 am

    Painful moments are learning moments. I learned a lot through the painful experiences. I’m thankful for the painful experiences because they taught me a lot. If I was protected and sheltered from the world, I would not be successful. Over sheltered children and students are not successful. Bottom line. The sooner they realize the “real world” the more successful they are.

    • Tim Elmore on November 1, 2013 at 1:28 pm

      Thanks for your comment Rach. It is definitely a balance, but I do agree with you that is healthy to expose students to the “real world” sooner versus later.

  8. JennyL on November 2, 2013 at 11:43 am

    What happened to “work hard, play hard?” If you work hard, you will succeed. If you play hard, you will probably get hurt at some point, but at least your living and having fun. I don’t want my kids on the sidelines for their entire life – let them play! Protection (padding, common sense) = prevention, not avoidance.

  9. Monica on November 3, 2013 at 8:28 pm

    “When we safeguard a
    kid from getting hurt, they often fail to learn to navigate risk at a young
    age, when the stakes are relatively low.” This observation is so
    relevant to many areas of growing up. We live in a world where if you buy something
    that doesn’t work, you take it back. Kids are set up for success by adults
    handing everything to them and never allowing them to fail, and if they do, everyone
    keeps it really “hush” and gives them a ribbon anyway. There is so much value
    to failure and hurt in life. From experience, we all know that responding
    rightly to failure is what makes us strong. Thanks for the great insight!

    • Tim Elmore on November 5, 2013 at 2:11 pm

      Hi Monica. Thank you for your comment and great insights.

  10. Amy on November 4, 2013 at 12:16 am

    The idea to take away balls for fear of danger to the child is absurd. Beyond children just taking risky behaviors because they do not perceive the consequences, children will also fail to perceive danger. They will have spent so much time under the structure of supervised adults protecting them from danger that what would they ever do if they encountered an authority figure who purposely put them in danger. Would they just blindly follow them? Also, children need to experience pain in order to become sympathetic and empathetic toward another person. If they don’t feel pain themselves, how will they recognize if they’re inflicting it upon others. The implications and consequences of such an approach are endless.

    • Tim Elmore on November 5, 2013 at 2:14 pm

      Hi Amy. I agree, and thanks for the comment!

  11. Melody on November 4, 2013 at 12:38 am

    Thank you for putting it in words easy to remember: “preventing hurt today leads to more harm tomorrow.” That indeed is so true! I remember learning how to roller blade and the first thing our instructor taught us was how to fall (with knee pads and all on of course!). There is this growth that comes with pain that can’t be learned otherwise. Hopefully common sense starts to become more common.

    • Tim Elmore on November 5, 2013 at 2:17 pm

      Hi Melody. Such a great example of this principle. Thank you for the comment!

  12. Jehú Barranco on November 4, 2013 at 9:19 am

    “preventing hurt today leads to more harm tomorrow.” Love this quote. I feel like a lot of the time we try to protect our children so much that we damage their future. How do we create a balance between protection and freedom to fail?

  13. Lexi Riley on November 4, 2013 at 12:13 pm

    I understand that parents want to protect their children from getting hurt, but seriously? What they’re doing is just putting them in a bubble and not allowing them to learn from their own mistakes. I got hurt a ton as a kid (climbing on the outside of a tube slide at a playground, falling off of it, and breaking my collarbone as a result and I wasn’t even at school!), but I learned my lessons the hard way. Sad to say, most people have to learn lessons the hard way. You can tell a child all you want not to climb the outside of tube slide, but 9 times out of 10, he/she will probably climb it anyway and probably won’t stop until they are disciplined by the parent (i.e. a spanking) or get hurt. However, there also seems to be a lack of discpline going on in many different home situations, and this is probably why many kids get themselves into trouble in the first place because they have a lack of discipline.

    • Tim Elmore on November 5, 2013 at 2:26 pm

      I agree, Lexi. Not allowing these kids to learn from their mistakes will only hurt them later on in life.

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Common Sense is Now Uncommon as We Raise Kids