Nanny State

The War on Fun

Go outside and play, already!


In 1859, the esteemed magazine Scientific American issued a warning about young people's "pernicious excitement" over a trendy game: chess. The shuffling of pawns and rooks was "a mere amusement of a very inferior character, which robs the mind of valuable time that might be devoted to nobler acquirements," the magazine complained. Worse yet, the game offered "no benefit whatever to the body."

Bad for You: Exposing the War on Fun (Henry Holt), a nonfiction comic book by Kevin C. Pyle and Scott Cunningham, shows that virtually every popular amusement was considered dangerous before it was widely understood and accepted. Chess was going to distract kids. Comic books would turn kids against their parents and cause "reading disorders." TV was going to "hurt radio, conversation, reading and the patterns of family life." Video games would make kids more violent. The Internet would "scatter" the users' "attention." Parents do not, by and large, want to deny their children fun, but as this comic illustrates, it's easy to fear what's new and to wind up working against your kids' best interests.

And when adults aren't afraid of what's new, they're getting nervous about something that's old. Like chess. Or playgrounds.

The original intent of public play spaces, Pyle and Cunningham explain, was to give kids a safe place to have fun instead of busy streets or dirty alleyways. No less than President Theodore Roosevelt is quoted as declaring that "playgrounds should be provided for every child as much as schools." And for a while, kids got some terrific playgrounds, especially those designed by artists and child psychologists to "stimulate imaginative play."

Sadly, that's not how playgrounds are made anymore. Now overprotective regulations and the fear of litigation drive design. Swings are removed, and "improvements" like heat-retaining rubber mats are added. The most common designs have been likened by Susan G. Solomon, author of American Playgrounds: Revitalizing Community Space, to waiting in line for fast food; children's options are limited to one-directional movement. As Solomon has explained, kids mostly "wait, go up, go across, go down, start all over again."

At many schools, managing what type of fun kids have has become a priority. The schools want to mitigate the risk of fighting and bullying-an extreme result of physical play-so instead of monitoring children's free play, they institute "teacher-supervised physical activities" or bring in a paid recess supervisors. Playworks, the biggest name in the recess business, sends "coaches" to implement "structured play," which turns out to mean old-style kids' games like mother-may-I. The authors of Bad for You are right that a professional recess coach is better than no recess at all (which also happens), but why should it be a choice between worse and worst?

Meanwhile, the market for books like Free to Learn (Basic) and Playborhood (Free Play Press) grows, as even well-intentioned parents feel the need for validation of their impulse to let kids be kids. Once a mom might just open the door and tell her offspring to go play; now, there's a good chance she's been too traumatized by exaggerated media reports of abductions and other dangers. Kids are about half as likely to get abducted off the street as they are to get hit by lightning, and as the authors shrewdly ask: "How many people do you know who have been hit by lightning?"

Bad for You isn't a complete antidote to parental insecurity, but it does have a valuable lesson to convey: We don't have to fall for every mass hysteria about the evils of texting, Marilyn Manson, Mortal Kombat, or Dungeons and Dragons.

NEXT: A.M. Links: Possible MH370 Debris Spotted, Another Obamacare Delay, Secret Service Agents Sent Home After Night in Amsterdam

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  1. Puritans with new clothes.

    1. Yeah, a few hundred years ago, the progs would have been wearing hooded robes and burning people at the stake.

      Now they’ve been reduced to roaming the halls of our universities and calling anyone who disagrees with their ‘consensus’, deniers.

      1. Eventually ‘deniers’ will be ‘terrorists’.

        1. If the warmer Nazis have their way, yes, some of them have already openly advocated for rounding up any skeptics and throwing them into a cage.

          1. I recall the UCSB fem Prof that just got busted for assault recently calling the pro-lifer types ‘terrorists’ in order to justify her free-speech-defying actions.

    2. As she left school about 3 weeks ago my child was yelled at by a teacher for walking on three inches of snow! Right in front of me! “GET OFF THE SNOW!” this cunt screamed. I literally wanted to throw her dumb ass on the roof.

      That, my friend, indicates we have human beings among us with far more than puritanical issues. I think it is tyranny with new clothes and the clothing is a security uniform.

      1. Why did she want your kid off the snow??

        1. Are your kids in a DoD school?

          1. No. Believe it or not a rural public school where you think common sense would rule the day.

        2. I can only imagine for some bizarre insurance reason? Other than that your guess is as good as mine. They don’t allow kids on the snow. Even an inch of snow seems to get their hackles up.

          1. The snow needs to be left untrodden, lest it become ice.

            1. Or just melted.

              1. Or ugly.

          2. Good god. When I was in elementary school we were provided with dangerous sleds and played on the icy pavement whenever possible.

            1. I have to laugh, man. Sleds at modern public schools? Never. Hell, the last superintendent here banned kids from riding bikes to school in spite of the fact that when the new school was finished they installed bike racks near the entrance. The new super at least decided that was a dumb idea so this year kids can finally ride their bikes to school.

              1. Proof, again, that we are ruled by idiots.

                Worse yet, is that we allow it.

                1. I’ve had several interactions with the school on a few notables over the years. Problem is, when only a tiny number of parents seem to care about school overreach you have to choose your battles very wisely or you can create trouble for your child.

                  1. We had parents who were banned from the elementary school by the principal, because they didn’t take her bullshit responses.

                    I delegate all that to the wife-unit. This lets her use her powers for good, for a change.

                    1. I am NOT looking forward to dealing with all of that nonsense. I think I’ll probably ask the wife-unit to use her much sweeter tongue (I’d probably call the teacher a cunt and then my kid would be fucked).

                    2. That’s one of the bigger reasons I don’t particularly want to have kids. Too much potential for annoying nonsense and exposure of my private life to people I don’t want to deal with.

                    3. I understand your sentiment, but if we don’t replenish the team, we’ll become an even more minuscule part of society as a whole. I say, have a whole brood, so some day, we can outpopulate ’em.

                    4. No amount of sweet-talking will change the behavior of a rotten teacher. Our elementary school has a rotten apple (maybe more that I don’t know of) that a few parents have been trying to get rid of for years even to the point of contacting the union chain of command to no avail. Not two months ago parents we know had to pull their son out of school because of her hateful attitude. I had a run-in with her not two days into the start of the school year. She’s been doing this for 30 years with no negative impact on her career. She’ll happily retire a shitty teacher.

      2. I hope you told her to fuck off.

        1. I thought it. Actually telling the teacher this wouldn’t have achieved any favors for my kid’s future at that school. Teachers can be very passive-aggressive behind the backs of parents.

          1. “Teachers are very passive-aggressive behind the backs of parents.”


            1. Thank you.

      3. As she left school about 3 weeks ago my child was yelled at by a teacher for walking on three inches of snow! Right in front of me! “GET OFF THE SNOW!” this cunt screamed. I literally wanted to throw her dumb ass on the roof.

        I applaud you for resisting the raging urge to tell her to shut the fuck up. I would not have been able to do that.

        My wife and I are trying to have a baby, and we are sincerely terrified of sending it to public school. Terrified. Although I think a curriculum of anti-brainwashing at home may counteract the worst of it if we have to do that.

        1. This, as a child, I remember that parental instruction on life was as important, possibly more important than anything I got from school.

      4. more like stupidity issues

  2. When I was kid, parental unit fun ruining was, fortunately, restricted to only a few things:

    Don’t sit to close to the TV.

    You’re watching too much TV, go outside and play(what a terrible punishment).

    Don’t eat more of that candy, you’ll ruin your appetite!

    That was pretty much it.

    1. My mother used to lock me and my two brothers out of the fucking house in the summer between the hours of 11am and 1pm.

      We had a few acres of woods. “Go play in the woods,” she’d say. And play we did. Hard. We built stuff. We climbed trees. We explored. We lit stuff on fire. No parents around! It was a fucking blast!

      Then we’d come back in to a nice lunch. I had a cool mom.

    2. There’s only one now, in my house. GET OFF THE FUCKING XBOX AND GO OUTSIDE AND PLAY.

      To be fair, The Boy does love to go out and play sports with his friends. The She-spawn lives on her computer, but she seems to be doing OK. She could use the exercise, but that’s a lost cause with her.

      1. “The She-spawn lives on her computer, but she seems to be doing OK. She could use the exercise, but that’s a lost cause with her.”

        Sounds like my ‘she-spawn’. She’s 7 and has been on her laptop non-stop since the day we got it 3 years ago. We may have to have it surgically removed.

        1. Mine is 15. Long story, but at least this way I know she’s not out boozing it or getting knocked up.

          1. Sounds like me growing up. Just let her play. Seriously, I don’t know why everyone gets worked up about kids playing video games. I practically lived on my PC and assorted consoles and grew up into a fine young libertarian. Jeeze. Quit clutching your pearls and fanning each other.

            1. I’m cool with it, bro. Tho, I do make her jump in the pool from time to time and play with her Shiba Inu.

  3. A nation of helmeted retards.

  4. “GET OFF THE SNOW!” this cunt screamed.

    You should have zinged a snowball at her.

    1. Chuckle. Father educates Teacher. Teacher still won’t stop screaming.

    2. “Daddy would speak up for you, but Daddy doesn’t want you marked for revenge throughout the rest of your school years, nor does Daddy want to be charged with 15 bullshit felonies for reacting like a normal father.”

      1. Or even worse, the following headline:

        Deranged father on playground, assaulting teacher, probably on bath salts.

        Cops arrive, fear for their life as father is armed with deadly snowball. 300 shots fired, 5 children struck.

      2. El Correcto. Even though throughout the years I have occasionally made my thoughts known I do so only after considering it from several angles.

        1. Flip teacher the bird, continue to walk on snow.

          “I see where she gets it from, now.”

    3. How’s about a snowball sandwich, 4 eyes?!

    4. You should have zinged a snowball at her.

      “A local man was arrested and charged with attempted murder today after he allegedly assaulted a schoolteacher with a hard-packed ball of snow. The Department of Homeland Security is working to determine if terrorism could have been a motive. An unnamed source at the source claims the man screamed ‘DIE YOU FUCKING CUNT’ as he hurled the deadly object.”

  5. After I read this article, my first thought was: all of these “safety improvements” are just to prevent lawsuits. We’ve become a nation of folks who are afraid of what a pissed off parent’s lawyer will do to us because our child accidentally bumped their child on the playground, resulting in a small abrasion that required neosporin and a band aid. It’s really sad.

    1. As I’ve said before, if you want to practice law in the US, you only need to know 2 things.

      Everything is illegal.

      You can sue anyone, for any reason, no matter how trivial.

      1. I turned away a potential client the other day. She wanted to sue the local high school because her son was injured during wrestling practice.

        1. Of course, that didn’t stop me from calling my friend, who is the in house for the district, and “feeling him out.”

        2. That’s because unlike most US lawyers, you apparently have some principles, ethics, and morals.

    2. After I read this article, my first thought was: all of these “safety improvements” are just to prevent lawsuits.

      I actually don’t have a problem with making playgrounds “safer,” if all you’re talking about is making the existing set up better.

      Rubbery surface? Who the fuck cares? It’s not a mark of virtue to show off scars from the asphalt. Nostalgic bragging rights for sure, but better? No. Hell, all this means is that you can play even harder without worrying about greater injury.

      Unfortunately, this usually means satisfying howling urges of the rabid pearl clutching soccer mom shock troops, which means getting rid of all of the fun things: swings, slide tubes, monkey bars, that raise the risk level to their snowflakes by the proverbial RCH.

    3. Mostly it’s ADA. Swings came out because per ADA you can’t have more than a 2% cross-slope on any accessible surface, and since kids tend to kick the ground as they swing by, no soft surfacing has yet been found that doesn’t also need to be constantly re-leveled so you don’t get sued for access compliance issues.

      Kids hurting themselves or each other is really rare anymore, and that’s not really what they’re thinking about as they design these play structures. Attorney-initiated accessibility lawsuits are common, and drive design of public facilities in some really unbelievable and extreme ways.

  6. That’s why I’m a libertarian: I’m into culture.

  7. Having reached middle age I see that a lot of the complaints about the internet are the same ones I heard about TV.

    1. Back in the late 80s, I remember the craze when a lot of SoCon parents were looking for demons who would send your kids to Hell, behind every rock and under every bed.

      The Masters of the Universe toys and cartoons and anything D&D were especially likely to send kids to Hell.

      1. Yeah, Pat Robertson told parents that kids playing D&D were “looking for a supernatural experience”. Naw, we just ordinary nerds.

      2. Speaking of which….…..1547477697

        Someone making a movie version of the anti D&D Chick Tract Dark Dungeons

        1. Fantastic!

      3. There’s even the film classic Mazes & Monsters in which Tom Hanks plays a victim of fantasy role playing games who winds up in a mental institution after almost killing himself. Round about 1986, if I remember.

    2. Having reached middle age I see that a lot of the complaints about the internet are the same ones I heard about TV.

      Mortal Kombat was the death of civilization!

  8. The root of all of this is parents’ obsession with “safety”. If people wouldn’t sue every time their kid hurts themselves, schools and insurance companies wouldn’t go insane trying to lower risk.

    I don’t understand how we got here. I understand the desire to protect your child. But my parents wanted to protect me and they were not insane. How the hell did society wake up one day and decide no child should ever have anything painful or unfortunate happen to them and we will bear any burden or accept any cost to prevent such?

    1. 3 words.


      1. I guess if you say it enough, it eventually becomes an unstoppable obsession. We are treating our kids like a three year old treats a baby rabbit, killing it with affection.

      2. The other part of it is that people have lost the ability to understand and accept that sometimes bad things happen. It used to be that when a kid got hurt on a playground, parents were not happy about it but also understood kids do that sometimes. Now, everyone thinks that nothing bad should ever happen and if something bad does happen it is someone else’ fault and they are entitled to compensation from that someone. Legal thinkers call that the “risk free environment”. There are legal theorists who think the tort system should be designed such that no one ever should have to bear the cost of something bad happening to them. And they have been driving tort law for about 40 years now. I think that attitude has seeped into society at large.

        1. And then you end up with kids who are terrified of any injury. You want to avoid unnecessary pain, but I’d say it is a necessary and positive thing for kids to get cuts and scrapes and even the occasional more serious injury so they can learn that it is really not a huge deal.
          If I cut myself and it is obviously not serious, I’m much more worried about getting blood on what I am working on than about having hurt myself.

          1. That is a very good point. Children raised that way also never learn how to properly take and manage risk or overcome setbacks.

            Teenagers today have more of a propensity for really dangerous drinking and suicide than kids in the past. I wonder if some of that is because they never learned how to judge risk or handle setbacks when they were growing up.

        2. There are legal theorists who think the tort system should be designed such that no one ever should have to bear the cost of something bad happening to them. And they have been driving tort law for about 40 years now.

          John, that’s the entire point of tort law. Civil recovery of damages by private parties.

          1. No it is not JW. The point of tort law is to make people pay for the foreseeable results of their negligence. What the theorists I am talking about want is for Tort law to ensure that someone pays for every harm, whether it is foreseeable or the result of negligence or not. That is a big difference.

            1. I’d have to see some examples of what you’re talking about. I suppose the definition of harm is also relevant here.

              If I incur damages through someone else’s action and I’m not negligent myself, I would want compensation.

              1. There are lots of examples. The first would be strict product liability. That took away any standard of negligence for manufacturers and replaced it with strict liability for any harm the product causes even for misuse of the product. So you can make a perfectly safe lawnmower and still get sued and lose if some idiot misuses it and cuts their foot off. All the plaintiff would have to show is some way you could have designed your product to prevent the harm and that is was foreseeable someone would misuse the product like he did.

                Another example is comparative negligence. Under the common law if your own negligence was found to in anyway contribute to your injuries, you could not recover. Now, all even a negligent plaintiff has to prove is that the other party is 51% (whatever that means) at fault for the accident and they recover. Moreover, since liability is joint and severable, you can have two defendants (say the driver of the truck that hit you and the manufacturer of the truck) and if the jury finds the driver 49% negligent, the truck maker 2% and you 49% at fault, you can recover all of your damages from the truck maker.

      3. But children have been around for quite some time. How has “for the children” gained so much more power over the last 30 years or so?

        1. Fewer children per couple, I think. Less spares, more free time to worry about them, leads to overprotectiveness. In a big family, the parents get more jaded. “Not dead? No broken bones? How much blood? No, that’s not enough for an ER visit, just put pressure on it.”

          1. And don’t forget the always classic “just walk it off”.

          2. I think it is also the fact that things are just safer now. Safety is a relative term. Parents are always going to naturally want their kids to be as safe as possible. It used to be that most people lived on farms. Farms are very dangerous places for kids. They are large animals, all kinds of dangerous machinery and equipment that are nothing but attractive nuisances for kids. It is very easy for a small child to get seriously hurt or killed on a farm. I think some of what has happened is that when people were on farms they were so worried about the numerous big risks to their kids they didn’t have time to worry about anything else. Then people moved to the city and for a couple of generations were just happy to be in a safer environment they didn’t worry. Well now that has worn off and the natural parental neurosis about safety has kicked in and there are not many big risks to focus it on.

          3. no harm, no foul.

            spit on it, rub some dirt on it; you’ll live.

            Bikes with no helmets, licenses at 16 with the radio blaring, driving the strip to be driving the strip. Somehow, we survived.

            1. Our city bike liason dude is (was – he moved on) publicly against wearing a bike helmet! He sez biking is safe.

          4. I agree with the fewer children part. When you have more than two or three you are forced to start not fucking caring due to simple mental logistics. Hell, my wife was last out of 12 kids. She was raised by her oldest sister. Her mom seems to barely remember her and I don’t think it’s because of meanness- just pure mental logistics.

            Two you can dote on and protect with a feverish intensity. Two more and that feverish intensity says, “Fuck this, I just need time to shit and read a mag in peace. KIDS! Call me ONLY if you are bleeding heavily or white things are sticking OUT of your skin.”

            1. Probably part of it, but 2 child families were already quite common in the 70s and 80s.

        2. Because it’s the ultimate power tool for corrupt politicians. They know they can pass any pork laden bill that they want if only they utter those magical words.

    2. When I was in 5th grade my friends and I were playing dodgeball on the fucking jungle gym! One day I was at the top and dove out to dodge the ball, only I dove the wrong way and fell through the firemans pole and landed on my hip on the concrete that held the pole in place. Broke my hip in a couple spots.

      I’m sure the school was worried about us suing. My dad said “Why would I sue you? He’s the one that jumped out into thin air.” More parents need to be like that.

      (Of course just to be safe they removed the old wooden gym and replaced it with a boring plastic one over the summer anyways.)

  9. I must say they were largely right about TV and the internet. But shit changes and people like what they like. And there are loads of good things about TV and the internet too.

  10. “Once a mom might just open the door and tell her offspring to go play”

    Actually, her words were: Go outside and find something to do, I’m not going to entertain you.

    p.s. I survived, as did all of my siblings and neighborhood cohort.

    1. I think that that is really important to a person’s development. Kids need to learn to make up their own activities, games, rules, etc. When everything is structured and organized, you never learn how to be self directed or figure out what you should be doing on your own.

      1. That doesn’t fit in too well with the governments goal of crafting tiny little sheep.

        1. And even have grown up with “free range play”, there are an awful lot of my fellow babyboomer who are nothing more than “sheeple”. ….. ‘please, I’ll do anything, just keep me safe’ being their preferred w(h)ine.

          1. let my oldest free range play…ended up with a Marine Infantry Captain…see what happens

  11. By the way, isn’t it fascinating that the resident proggies (shriek, Tony, et al.) normally stay away from discussions about how the government stifles all those things we find enjoyable but will jump all over anything that has to do with government-delivered Free Stuff?

    1. A bit. But not too surprising. I think a lot of people on the left agree about this sort of stuff, but (as often is the case) can’t quite put together how trying to micromanage society with government contributes to the problem.

  12. I coach children in football, but I don’t think that should be a substitute for children’s own free play, and in fact I would prefer that it remain a minority taste so that only those really motivated to participate in a formal team sport did so.

  13. Wasn’t Al Gore on that whole anti Satanist bandwagon as well? It would be funny if we look back on green zealots decades from now with the same ridicule and contempt we look back on those D&D scares. There has got to be some kind of anthropological explanation for panics like these. I mean most of life is kinda bland, vacations here and there, falling in love, making friends and so on are all important and profound experiences but at the end of the day, we just have a routine that we go through. I think the whole Crusader mindset feeds off of this psychological ennui and gives people a purpose. If you’re just minding your business doing your own thing there is no real excitement to that, but if you crusade to ban things, “social justice” and fairness or any other bullshit bromide-well hey, now you’re really something. I think that’s what a libertarian temperament is, they don’t have that “crusader” gene.

    “I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened”

    Mark Twain

  14. So glad I was a child during the 60’s!
    There was none of this nonsense!

  15. “Once a mom might just open the door and tell her offspring to go play; now, there’s a good chance she’s been too traumatized by exaggerated media reports of abductions and other dangers.”

    Maybe I’ve been too traumatized by the NOT exaggerated reports of CPS getting involved and folks having their kids monitored or even taken by the state,

  16. “now, there’s a good chance she’s been too traumatized by exaggerated media reports of abductions and other dangers”

    I doubt very much that this is the reason and I’m not at all surprised that this assertion is qualified and presented without any backing from any of the books referred to here.

    My own feeling is that there is another cause, one the libertarians here can relate to. Seems to me that the reason why children aren’t given the free reign they once enjoyed is that parents no longer trust their neighbours as they once did. Lack of trust in neighbours is probably why libertarians feel that gun ownership is so important. Essentially, two sides of the same coin.

    1. There’s an element of truth in what you say, though I disagree with the whole of it. The social isolation of people from their neighbors definitely plays into feelings about the “big, bad, unknown world.” There no way it wouldn’t. The disconnect of people from their communities–or a failure to really establish community in the first place–is a real social problem, I think. (And I say this despite wanting nothing to do with my neighbors!)

      But the media most definitely helps to scare the pants off of parents by exaggerating the world’s dangers, including child abduction. You can see this in political overreaction to school shootings, which haven’t increased in frequency since the 60s. Politicians wouldn’t do it if it didn’t work.

      And your thesis on libertarian gun ownership is just patronizing.

  17. So they were right about tv and the Internet?

  18. “TV was going to “hurt radio, conversation, reading and the patterns of family life.””

    Yabbut, didn’t that one actually happen?

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  20. do not, by and large, want to deny their children fun

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