Wait, we’re banning ‘tag’ now?

Family/Kids, News, Relationships

On the heels of a dodgeball ban in New Hampshire, we now have a school district in Washington State trying to ban the game of tag.

As the story broke into national news feeds through social media, and virtually everyone who used to be a child cried foul, parents formed a Facebook group called STAR MI (Support ‘Tag’ At Recess in Mercer Island Schools).

Recognizing their mistake and hoping to quell the outcry, the Mercer Island School District reversed the ban within days. The reversal, written by Superintendent Gary Plano, claims that there is no ban on tag—the principal was simply talking about a “hands-off expectation at recess.”

While it’s easy to counter that tag inherently involves touching, this ban/no-ban story is a common tale. “Probably two or three times a year, a principal bans tag and there’s quite an uproar about it; usually it’s a school site decision. I do see it reversed a good percentage of the time,” says Melinda Bossenmeyer, president and founder of Peaceful Playgrounds. “The principal will say it’s about kids getting injured.”

It’s all fun and games until…

Bossenmeyer, aka the Recess Doctor, serves as a witness in cases where someone is injured on a school playground or in gym class. Yes, these bans are partly about preventing serious injuries that can lead to personal injury lawsuits. Statistically speaking though, it’s a lack of supervision that leads to about 40 percent of playground injuries, according to Bossenmeyer.

That’s one of the claims in a lawsuit filed against Mater Academy Charter School and Mega Party Events in Florida in 2014. Student Celaida Lissabet suffered brain injuries while sumo wrestling on the school’s spirit day. The second claim alleges Lissabet wasn’t properly fitted in the wrestling gear provided by Mega Party Events.

While sumo matches during school convocations seem to be a recent phenomenon, old-school games like Red Rover garner lawsuits, too. In 2013, the San Diego area school district paid out $15,000 to the family of a seventh grade boy who broke his leg during an unsupervised game of Red Rover during gym period. The settlement also stipulated that the elementary school ban the game altogether.

The rough and tumble nature of Red Rover appears rosy in comparison to dodgeball, where players aggressively eliminate each other by hitting them with fast-flying balls. The National Association of Sports and Physical Education has a position statement on dodgeball, which is that it’s “not an appropriate activity for K-12 school physical education programs.” As Bossenmeyer notes, “Why would we play a game when a child is a target? If you are still having kids playing a game that’s identified as being inappropriate by a national organization, you are kind of on thin ice.”

Parents lead opposition to safety rules?

If these bans are about avoiding injuries to children, which seems like a desirable thing, why are so many parents getting outraged when these bans are put in place? At the Mercer Island elementary school, parents were not only upset about the ban, but were also concerned that “they hadn’t been consulted about the change,” said parent Kelsey Joyce. She goes on to say, “To be honest, kids get hurt on the playground. It’s an unfortunate part of life, but part of learning and growing.”

This refrain of “let kids be kids” is a big piece of the current free-range parenting versus helicopter parenting battle. For many, playground games like tag are a key part of growing up.

“I’m no psychiatric professional, but I feel like the kid who would be traumatized by being even in the vicinity of a game of tag might need more help than the normal public-school system could offer,” writes Katherine Timpf in National Review. “I’d also be much more concerned about the ‘emotional safety’ of a person having to enter the real, games-of-tag-very-much-allowed world without a clue that competition exists.”

Bossenmeyer says most bans are quiet, brief injunctions that shouldn’t get this level of attention. “When I was an elementary school principal and flag football troubles were spilling over in the classroom, we wouldn’t play it for a week. Do that a few times a year and it will allow kids to play a game they really love and it will remind them to play it appropriately,” she says.

“Sometimes we do the end run or the most drastic intervention when really what we need is small steps to extinguish the behavior.”

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