One of those times I wished I had a camera: at a playground yesterday, one of the posted rules was “No running.”
No running. On a playground.
They’d nestled the rule in with a whole lot of other sensible rules such as “No drugs,” “No wild animals,” “No pocket-sized atomic bombs with live detonators,” and “No loitering after sunset.”
The playground was filled with laughing, shrieking, and yes — running — children. They were climbing the ladders and swinging on the swings and sliding down the slides. I started asking parents who were fiddling with their phones to please call the police and report that there were lawbreaking children running on the playground, and ask them to come to restore order. Society is depending on them.
“Officer, I think that child broke into a slow trot.”
It’s ridiculous, of course. I told a couple other kids, “Please, no laughing on the playground. Quit smiling.”
You can tell what happened: some town leadership group was making up rules for the playground and an attorney said, “The town of West Cupcake got sued when a child slipped on the playground, so let’s ban running, that way if a child slips while running, we’re not liable.”
But think about what we’re teaching our children with a rule no one has any intentions of enforcing: we’re teaching kids that rules don’t matter. We have posted a rule that in no way benefits the kids and which they are encouraged to ignore. How can I tell they’re encouraged to ignore it? Because it’s posted on a playground with lots of open spaces in which to run.
We’re intentionally cultivating disrespect for authority. Isn’t that a warm thought? “They only care about themselves” is the nicest possible interpretation a kid might come to. The worse one will be the kids who do feel guilty about breaking the rules and then go and break them anyhow — so they’ll feel bad, but they’ll slowly kill their own consciences about it and start justifying any rule-breaking.
I told Kiddo3 about the rule. I did not tell Kiddo4 because he’d get upset and start trying to tell other kids not to run. But then he’d run because he’s playing, and he’d feel terrible.
Kids shouldn’t feel guilty about being kids. The playground was safe enough. And I’m angry at the town for telling kids that, in effect, they should play without playing and follow the rules without following the rules.