At one time, Christmas lolly scrambles used to involve wrapped sweets being dropped from low-flying aircraft to children waiting nearby. Nothing about the practice seemed untoward.
Now, according to health and safety rules enforced by the Auckland Council, sweets cannot even be thrown from floats at Christmas parades. They must be handed out. Equally pettifogging restrictions dictate that no child under 5 can be a passenger on a float, and there must be no wetting of people with water pistols, bombs and cannons.
This is all a measure of how risk-averse our society has become when children are involved, and this year's Santa Parades around Auckland will be the worse for it.
The phenomenon has been gathering pace over the past quarter-century or so. Its first victim was children's playgrounds, which had all sense of challenge and adventure removed from them. Subsequently, it has become more and more inhibiting. It is at its zenith in countries where the fear of litigation is strong. In Britain, for example, at least one primary school has stopped pupils making daisy-chains in case they pick up germs from the ground.
ACC should make a difference in this country. On the evidence of the new Santa Parade rules and other common practices, that, however, does not seem to be the case.
Children today play outside far less than was once the norm. The lure of television, computer games and so on plays an obvious part in this. But when parents are questioned, they also talk of the fear of strangers, worries about traffic, and the risk of accident and injury.
For much the same array of reasons, a distinct minority of children walk or cycle to school these days.
We, too, are in danger of raising cottonwool children who are never subjected to risk of any kind and, therefore, have no means of assessing it. Yet there is ample research to suggest that children learn through taking risks, relish challenges and adventures, and want anything but an over-cautious culture. The manner in which they have embraced skateboards and in-line skates - and even welcomed back the scooter - confirms as much.
Outlawing lolly scrambles because of the slight, and easily preventable, risk that a child might be run over suggests all sense of balance is being lost. We need to abandon fear of the ordinary risks of life and allow children to enjoy themselves.