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Emily Writes: There’s no war on fun and cotton wool culture is bullshit

We keep hearing that Kids These Days are mollycoddled and risk-averse, but is that really true? And guess who gets blamed when kids do take risks and things go wrong?

This generation aye? They don’t let their kids climb trees and they can’t play bullrush. No lolly scrambles either! In my day I used to play in an abandoned washing machine.

To be fair, the last part is true. The washing machine was fantastic. Perched precariously over a river, we used to climb inside it and kick the back. The game was that if it fell into the river, the old door would shut and you’d die. Fun! We loved that old washing machine. We were thrilled with all the new rubbish dumped by people into our river. Oh, the good old days! We played in the river among the rusted machinery, oil and petrol and we loved it.

Emily Writes’ kids and friends off to build a fort (supplied)

That was back when men were men and kids were kids and if you broke your legs playing bullrush you said thank you.

Not like today. Bullrush was banned in….Oh it wasn’t banned? Was that just something someone said and everyone went along with it and actually there is no Ministry of Education directive to not play bullrush at school? Because the only actual news stories I can find about bullrush are about principals and school board trustees announcing their school allows it and saying things like “We believe that boys need to run around and play bullrush and climb trees and get scraped knees. It’s about being real – as real as we can be.”?

Aside from the casual sexism (girls also enjoy running as they also have legs) basically the only evidence I could see of bullrush being banned was….no evidence.

Damn. Well, climbing trees is banned right? That school had to ban it! Because of work and safety laws. I mean they temporarily banned it. While they got some information about liability. And then were informed that actually the advice they were given was incorrect and kids can climb trees. At the time WorkSafe told Stuff that banning children from climbing trees was unnecessary, and advice to the contrary was incorrect. “The good news is kids can continue to climb trees, and experience the usual playground rough and tumble,” communications general manager John Tulloch said.

“Talk of banning kids climbing trees, going on camps or making farm visits is a massive over-reaction. If a claim about the impact of the new law sounds far-fetched, then it almost certainly is.”

Lolly scrambles are definitely banned. I have been to at least three this year alone with my children but the thing is, it’s very stealth. All the parents link arms and hide the children from the government drone ready to report them. Easter egg hunts are also banned. Except that I went to one at the zoo. But don’t tell anyone, they’ll shut down the zoo. And the one at Frank Kitts Park. And the one at Rock and Rhyme. Other than the literally thousands of lolly scrambles and egg hunts everywhere, they’re banned.

I could go on. But why bother. The No Fun, Parents These Days, Fun Police, Nanny State, Cotton Wool Culture myths are so pervasive there’s no way to get around them. And they exist in a contextless never-happened nowhere land.

If only, if only, the same people who jump onto Facebook and news websites and furiously wank over these articles took those same attitudes about risk-taking into the offline world. But they don’t.

At the same time as all the “In my day we went out in the morning and didn’t come home until dark and played outside all day” is the endless lecturing about how parents these days are on their phones. Can they not just watch their children for every second of their lives like we did? When a child tragically dies in an accident, comments immediately go to “Where was the mother?” The implication clear: Whatever happened, it was probably her fault.

Kids should be left to be free, but not free like that.

Parents wrap their kids in cotton wool, but look at that mum just letting her kids play while she has a coffee? Doesn’t she care about their safety?

Let them play bullrush! But make sure it’s quiet, and not around any neighbours who might want to have a sleep at 2pm.

In 2019, if I let my child play in an abandoned washing machine, if I even let him walk to the mailbox alone, and something happened, I would be crucified. Media organisations would allow comment after comment saying what kind of parent would…

We want to believe that children should be free, that parents can decide risk based on their child’s cognitive and physical abilities and development. But that’s just not how we live. We live in a blame culture, not a cotton wool culture.

The finished fort (supplied)

We live in a culture where if a child falls over on their bike in the street, you don’t actually know if someone will help them out. So of course you walk beside them as they ride to school. I rode my bike to school from five years old. Once, daydreaming, I got lost. I just knocked on the first door I saw that had kid stuff in the yard and asked the mother there to tell me how to get home.

Could a child do that now?

Would the neighbour even answer or would they be too busy frothing themselves into an outrage coma over bullrush?

Children do have less public spaces to play in. They do need more playgrounds and parks and BMX tracks. But if you believe that, do something about it. For years, Auckland Council have been underfunding South Auckland playgrounds. We wrote about it in 2018. 

Hamilton City Council had plans to build more of these destination playgrounds across the city but now mayor Andrew King says the council can’t justify the cost. We wrote about that in 2017. 

UNICEF even spoke out about local government calling playgrounds ”toys” and constantly referring to them as ”gold plated” and ”nice to haves” but not essential.

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”Play and playgrounds are not ‘nice to have’. Play is a fundamental right of children and if Hamilton City Council really cares about families in their city, they will view playgrounds as a positive investment,” said Jacqui Southey, UNICEF NZ’s child rights education manager.

”Playgrounds are an absolutely fundamental investment for the positives of a community. How does the council perceive children? Do they see them as legitimate citizens in their community?”

You would think, that with thousands of comments on every story about “cotton wool culture” we would have destination playgrounds in every city in New Zealand. With so many people passionately wanting children to have access to public spaces, councils must be absolutely inundated with demands for free play for children.

Or maybe it’s not about wanting what’s best for kids. Maybe it’s just that old inter-generational bullshit at play. If you thought your childhood was idyllic, if you want to go back to the “good old days” – then fight for the next generation instead of fighting with them.


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