Although it may be true that children need preparation for the dog-eat-dog adult world, Shubin says not every child will succeed in a cutthroat environment. Forcing them to compete, and more often than not, lose, will do nothing to help them cope in the future.
"Some kids are never going to make it that way, so they are just fodder for the kids who are going to make it that way," Shubin said.
Rick Swalm, an education professor at Temple University, believes in a laissez-faire organizing principle to the playground. While a potentially violent game such as dodgeball should not be part of a well-rounded physical education curriculum, he said, it can be a perfectly healthy activity for willing participants at recess.
Restricting children from planning their own activities at recess can also be damaging to their feelings of self-worth, he said. While some students may want to play hopscotch, others will still choose tougher games. And the latter will learn important lessons about winning and losing that are not in themselves, harmful, Swalm said.
"It's all in a context of 'life doesn't always deal us a royal flush,'" he said.
Keeping Fun In Sight
Experts said there are ways to continue the tradition of playing games like tag and dodgeball without permanently scarring some children. Adult supervision is key, they say.
For one, teachers can select teams, therefore eliminating the scenario of some children always being the last ones picked. In tag, Swalm said, students can be paired off in twos, so they can alternate being "it" and being on the chase. That way, no child would be "it" all the time, and no child would be left out completely.
As for dodgeball, some experts said the rough character of the game makes it beyond rehabilitation. But with adequate supervision and an emphasis on fun and not competition, others said, even that occasionally violent playground standby should be allowed.
"If one kid is throwing the ball really hard, they need to be told that. Kids need to be told what the rules of game are," Haller said. "They need to be reassured that this is a game, the goal is to have fun."