New York State health officials have yanked a new set of rules that would have regulated freeze tag, capture the flag and more than a dozen other classic childhood games. The regulations were meant to close a loophole to a law passed in 2009 that allows indoor summer camps to operate without the same oversight that applies to outdoor camps.
The retracted rules placed these childhood rites of passage on the same list of risky recreational activities as archery, scuba and horseback riding. Any program that offered two or more organized recreational activities, with at least one of them on the risky list, would have had to pay a registration fee and provide medical staff.
Many parents were incredulous that such measures were even considered.
"Was this dreamed up by the video game industry?" asked Melissa McNeese, a mother of two in upstate New York.
"Wow, wiffle ball isn't even a contact sport," said Dayna Diamond a Manhattan mother of two young children. "Should we lock our kids up in order to protect them from a scrape now and then?"
Child psychologists echo these concerns. "It seems counterintuitive to regulate fun. It's already hard enough to keep kids active," noted Jeff Brown, a Harvard psychologist and author of The Competitive Edge.
Brown notes that these games teach children important lessons about things like cooperation, focus and competition. Even if the games were regulated, he thinks kids would probably play them on their own. "It probably makes more sense to continue adult supervision," he advised.
Some parents have reached their threshold for this sort of childhood micromanagement.
Recent attempts to ban chocolate milk in the school lunch room were met with a less than enthusiastic response. And earlier this year, parents in Edgewater, Fla., staged a protest and won a rollback of strict guidelines like mandatory mouth rinsing and a daily sweep of the school by a peanut sniffing dog that were put in place to protect a single student with a peanut allergy.
Childhood Injuries No Laughing Matter
Although many people may feel overly protective legislation has gone too far, playgrounds can be perilous. Each year emergency departments treat more than 200,000 children ages 14 and younger for playground-related injuries, to the tune of more than $1.2 billion in medical costs, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Since statistics don't drill down into specific detail, it's unclear how many of these injuries are the result of an over-spirited tag or a Wiffle ball to the face.
"The vast number of play-related injuries in children do in fact lend support for more resources and interventions focused at prevention," said Andrea Gielen, the director of Center for Injury Research and Policy at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore.
With the retraction, New York State Health Department spokeswoman Claudia Hutton said officials would continue to gather information during a comment period that ends May 16 and will formulate new safety regulations that are broader. But for now, red rover and steal the bacon are still legal.