The Hidden Cost Of “Cotton-Wooling” Children

But this wasn’t a playtime revolution, it was just a return to the days before health and safety policies came to rule.

AUT professor of public health Grant Schofield, who worked on the research project, said there are too many rules in modern playgrounds.

“The great paradox of cotton-woolling children is it’s more dangerous in the long-run.”

Society’s obsession with protecting children ignores the benefits of risk-taking, he said.

Children develop the frontal lobe of their brain when taking risks, meaning they work out consequences. “You can’t teach them that. They have to learn risk on their own terms. It doesn’t develop by watching TV, they have to get out there.”

The research project morphed into something bigger when plans to upgrade playgrounds were stopped due to over-zealous safety regulations and costly play equipment.

“There was so many ridiculous health and safety regulations and the kids thought the static structures of playgrounds were boring.”

When researchers – inspired by their own risk-taking childhoods – decided to give children the freedom to create their own play, principals shook their heads but eventually four Dunedin schools and four West Auckland schools agreed to take on the challenge, including Swanson Primary School.

It was expected the children would be more active, but researchers were amazed by all the behavioural pay-offs. The final results of the study will be collated this year.

Schofield urged other schools to embrace risk-taking. “It’s a no brainer. As far as implementation, it’s a zero-cost game in most cases. All you are doing is abandoning rules,” he said.

—“School Ditches Rules And Loses Bullies

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  1. “There was so many ridiculous health and safety regulations” – Grammar Guerilla come back, all is forgiven!

  2. My wife’s been trying to find a playground with a seesaw for years (for the kids use more than hers, that is). Apparently seesaws must have been a major cause of child mortality because they seem to have disappeared completely.

  3. I know of only one playground in our town that still has a seesaw, when they show wear, the parks dept. takes them out. Same for swings that have a chain longer than six feet and any monkey bars that have any sort of height to them.
    I think the issue is mostly lawyers, though. The parks dept lost a 2.3 million dollar lawsuit a few years back. A carload of drunk teenagers went through a (closed) park at night at three to four times the speed limit and rolled their car into a pond, one ended up in a vegetative state. Now this particular parks’ gates are no longer a 2″ bar secured by a chain, but 12 foot tall metal contraption that would take a bulldozer to crash….I think if some drunk teenagers managed to find one and do that that the parks dept would still be found negligent. Too bad how things have changed. Back when the town was founded, some college boys played a prank on the city police officer, so some local men tied them to the hitching rail in front of the hotel downtown and horsewhipped them…..

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