First it was dodgeball. Then tag. Now, it's chatter.
In their ongoing war against fun, the nannies who run Little League in Cincinnati have decided to ban chatter on the diamond. The league president explained:
"If you're saying, 'Swing, batter,' and this poor little kid is swinging at everything, he feels bad and maybe he turns to the catcher and gets mad. Honest to gosh, I didn't have any trouble doing this."
To which one critic from the Internet peanut gallery responded: "Good idea! Chatter should be banned! I can still remember the sting of being accused of being more of a belly-itcher than a pitcher!"
Said another: "What are they going to do next? When little Timmy strikes out, are they going to give him an ice cream cone for trying, or maybe just let him keep swinging until he gets a hit?"
You shouldn't even joke about such things these days.
A Colorado Springs elementary school is the latest school to ban tag on its playground. Running will still be allowed, as long as there's no chasing. The twist here is that the ban wasn't the idea of overprotective educrats - it came after children and their parents "complained that they'd been chased or harassed against their will."
Other schools have already banned swings, merry-go-rounds, teeter-totters, crawl tubes, even sandboxes. One California school district - worried about "bullying, violence, self-esteem and lawsuits" - also banned tag, cops and robbers, touch football and every other activity that involves "bodily contact."
In some schools, free play has been replaced by organized relay races and adult-supervised activities, in order to protect children from spontaneous outbreaks of creativity. This makes sense to the sort of person who thinks children must at all costs be protected from the scrapes of life.
And we wonder why we have an obesity problem.
As I mention in Rule 11 of my new book, The 50 Rules Kids Won't Learn in School, "The Duke of Wellington once said (perhaps apocryphally) that 'the Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton' - reflecting his view that competitive sports shape a nation's character. We certainly should hope that's not true about America unless, that is, we plan on going to war against an enemy who also values noncompetitive, risk-free, self-esteem-building play activities for its young."
Childhood - at least the fun part - is falling victim to a potent stew of psychobabble, litigation and overwrought overprotectiveness.
Principals in at least eight North Carolina schools, worried about how schoolchildren will cope with scorching summer heat, want to raise thousands of dollars to erect large canopies and shelters over playgrounds. Obviously, we can't let kids actually play outside in the sun, because that would be too much like what we've been doing for several thousand years.
If that's not enough reason to keep kids inside, ABC News last week breathlessly reported that there are actually germs on playgrounds...where (God help us)...children...play. Out of 60 playgrounds tested, ABC's exposé discovered, "59 had evidence of bacteria or mold that could make children sick."
News flash for ABC: Check out your own lunchroom. Or anyplace where kids play. Where there are children, there are also germs. Once upon a time, we knew that - which is why our moms made us wash our hands before dinner.
If we are already setting up canopies on playgrounds and swabbing jungle-gyms for bacteria, can actual bubble-wrap be far behind?
The modern bubble-wrap mentality assumes children are so frail and easily bruised they must be insulated from life. But like a child who grows up in a bubble without developing any immunities to the outside world, kids raised in bubble-wrap are not prepared for life's realities: failure, frustration and the need to make choices tougher than the color of their new iPod sleeve.
We're already paying the price for the epidemic of overprotectiveness. Congress has appropriated more than $600 million to encourage kids to walk or bike to school - something their parents once made them do. Nowadays, it seems, Mommy and Daddy drive them, even if they live just a few blocks away.
Why? Could it be we have a generation of parents in minivans who are incapable of saying no, while their children's backsides grow like mushrooms in the glow of their PlayStation 3s?
Finally, from Texas comes the story of the family who hired a lawyer because their daughter was cut from the high school junior varsity cheerleading squad. The lawyer told the media her clients had "no other option but to sue the school district."
One alternative, of course, might be to teach their daughter that life is unfair and that she's not always going to get everything she wants.
Like so many other things, apparently, she's going to have to learn that on her own.