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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, March 14, 2010

Skinned knees a badge of youth

By Treena Shapiro

All parents have something to add to the list of things we survived: seesaws, rusty jungle gyms built on rough blacktop, dodgeball, bike riding without a helmet and being told in no uncertain terms that trying is not the same as succeeding.

We didn't grow up taking risks. We did things that we didn't know were dangerous until we saw the world our children inhabit, where playgrounds have padded surfaces, knee pads are something to strap on along with a pair of roller skates and slides are plastic curvy things, not metal chutes to wax smooth for the fastest ride and hardest fall. Merry-go-rounds today are relaxing carnival carousels, not the manual wheels we spun so fast just for the thrill of seeing if we could keep from being thrown off, or from throwing up.

We want our kids to be safe, but we should concentrate on the big things like making sure they're strapped into their car seats, taking away their lead-laced toys and trying to keep them safe from head trauma.

But maybe we're doing them a disservice by eliminating too many of the minor dangers that we all survived. Kids who feel too safe can end up worrying so much about skinned knees that they wear pads instead of learning how to avoid falling. Failure is not an option because we're creating perfectionists, but we're raising overly cautious children who take precautions instead of risks and never feel the sense of accomplishment of getting up after taking a spill and learning to do it right the next time.

Being safe is a good thing, but not if kids end up being too afraid to face a challenge head on. In some ways, a playground fraught with peril is a good place to train for the real obstacles that lie ahead.

When she's not being a journalist, Treena Shapiro is busy with her real job, raising a son and daughter. Check out her blog at www.HonoluluAdvertiser.com/Blogs.