Eva Bradley: Fun police rain on kids' parade

By Eva Bradley

Eva Bradley.
Eva Bradley.

Put your hand up if you've ever had a scraped knee or stubbed toe.

If you haven't, I'd seriously have to wonder what padded rock you were hiding under while every other Kiwi kid was out in the big, (and sometimes a wee bit) bad world having fun.

Schoolyard injuries are a rite of passage for New Zealand children, and bear testament to our outdoors ethos and intrepid spirit.

The recent decision by a Wairarapa school to ban kids from climbing trees because of the risk of injury represents something far more worrisome than the loss of tree climbing - especially when it is not the risk of physical injury that has put paid to the practice, but possible financial injury to the school and its principal because of the new Health and Safety at Work Act.

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A response to the Pike River mine tragedy, the act could potentially fine principals $600,000 if kids on their watch were hurt.

And so, Greytown is now living up to its name by banning tree climbing at the local primary school.

It's a spectacular example of unintended consequences and the modern day penchant for risk avoidance at all costs - or in colloquial terms, covering one's ass.

Like a dark shadow sliding slowly along the street towards the close of day, the fun police have crept into our lives under a cloak of compassion and cast their nets wide across spontaneous, spirited activities everywhere.

In a bid to outsource the blame and always ensure there is someone to point the finger at when things go wrong, the Government has litigated us to within an inch of our lives.

And this is all apparently in the name of protecting our lives.

While there is no doubt safety in some workplaces - such as forestry and mining - needs to be improved, a one-size-fits-all solution is no solution at all.

I don't blame Greytown Primary for putting a stop to a simple and mostly safe pleasure. Teachers bear enough responsibility without having to worry about mounting a legal defence if a child falls out of a tree.

Kids will be kids and injuries will happen because of that.

Sitting them on the mat in front of iPad playgrounds is not a solution (and is bound to result in lawsuits over chiropractic consequences anyway).

Unless we want to become a litigious, unfriendly nation awash with wealthy lawyers, it is time we stopped finger-pointing and accepted responsibility for our own decisions and the consequences that come as a result of them.

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Kids fall out of trees sometimes.

If that's a problem, don't have them.

And sometimes it's the very act of falling that brings with it the greatest reward.

Would anyone know who Sir Edmund Hillary was if he hadn't had the odd tree to climb before he tackled Everest?

We need to encourage children to take more risks, not fewer.

We need to empower teachers to encourage measured risk-taking, not crush it because of fear of the legal consequences.

The reason we're told that from great risk comes great reward is because it is true.

Being brave comes from taking risks, and being brave is something we don't get enough practice at these days.

The Government needs to decide what poses the greatest risk to young New Zealanders: climbing trees ... or turning into a nation of wimps.

- Eva Bradley is a columnist and photographer.

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