Recently, I read an article in The New York Times that, though it had nothing to do with pools or spas, made me think of some of our products. More importantly, it made me optimistic.
The piece was about playground equipment and how, after decades of safety enhancements designed to reduce the risk of injury, experts are now wondering whether we’ve gone too far.
The accompanying photo showed a bunch of kids, circa 1972, hanging on an impossibly tall, hard, metal jungle gym. Seeing it made me remember my own childhood and our playground’s merry-go-round, a sort of metallic disk with railings for kids to hold onto.
Very low-tech, very high speed. When I was young, the bravest girls would get on that thing, and the boys would push them in an adrenaline-filled game that had no actual name, but could have been called, “Try To Scare the Girls Until They Cry or Fall Off and Break a Tooth.” It was so much fun.
Those merry-go-rounds disappeared many years ago, along with tall jungle gyms, see-saws and tire swings — all removed because of injuries that lead to liability claims. But according to the article, today’s uber-safe, low-to-the-ground, soft-sided playgrounds are actually worse for kids because there is no longer any opportunity for risk-taking or a sense of personal accomplishment. Studies have shown that children who fall from a high place and even break a bone are less likely to be afraid of heights as a teenager.
The movement to suck the joy out of the American playground corresponds with the vilification of diving boards. During summers at the neighborhood pool, I remember catapulting myself off the high-dive — that ecstatic second when you’re in the air and flight, actual flight, seems possible.
The pool is still there today, but the high and low boards are gone, even though there’s never been an accident. “They were a lawsuit waiting to happen,” the manager told me.
Obviously, I’m not in favor of dangerous conditions, but life carries with it a certain amount of risk, and in an effort to circumvent liability in this country, we’ve managed to circumvent fun as well.
Yet The New York Times article gives me hope that the tide is turning. More and more people I speak with believe that it’s time for a change, and I predict that over the next decade we’ll enter an age when it’s increasingly difficult to win a frivolous or unfair lawsuit.
I believe that as the quality of life gets worse for all of us, some sort of reform is inevitable. Sometimes accidents happen, and sometimes no one is at fault. That realization is slowly hitting the media, and from there it will travel outward to the juries, the voters and the politicians.