Thursday, October 19, 2006

Tagged Out

Lots of e-mailers have written wanting my comments on the game of tag being banned by yet another elementary school, this time in Attleboro, Massachusetts.

Unfortunately, it's just symptomatic of the litigious times we live in, with school districts afraid that some kid will fall and scrape their knee, followed by their lowlife parents filing a lawsuit. I say, a kid who goes through childhood without some cuts and scrapes is a kid who didn't have any fun.

Six years ago, I wrote a column on the death of dodge ball, so this sort of thinking isn't brand new. It is merely the continuation of the drop in spontaneous fun we allow American children to have. There's very little unsupervised, unplanned kid stuff left in this country, and it is the parents who are to blame.

A few weeks ago, my mother was in town, and I took her and my daughter to the historic district in St. Charles to walk among the shops and enjoy a nice fall day. At one point, we walked down to the banks of the Missouri River. When my daughter spotted a big grassy field, she turned to me and asked, "Dad, can I run here?" I said, "Of course," and she took off with a huge smile on her face, running around with complete abandon. I was thrilled, and then I was sad. Thrilled to see my daughter this happy, but sad that it has become such a rarity today -- not just for her, but for most suburban kids.

Their lives are scheduled so heavily, their sports activity so organized, their homework load so heavy, their free time so limited, that the simple concept of fun has been forced into the background. And now, they can't even break out into a game of tag during recess, which itself has become a precious and rare commodity.

More and more schools are doing away with or reducing recess and gym classes -- and then we wonder why we have a childhood obesity problem in this country. What do you expect when you don't let kids run around and burn off a few calories? Worse, you end up with kids who have so much natural energy pent up inside them that it can find its way out in other, less constructive ways (and then we give them medication to bottle it up even more).

This is a vicious cycle we're reaping, the literal destruction of childhood fun.

What's worse, with no one allowed to play tag anymore, there's some kid somewhere who will perpetually be "it."