A series of Michelle Obama-inspired postage stamps depicting children participating in active recreation—soccer, running, jumping—will never grace your mail, at least not in their present form. On the advice of the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition, the U.S. Postal Service pulled the entire printing at the last minute because the stamps supposedly depict dangerous negligence. The skateboarder is not wearing knee pads. The swimmer is doing a cannonball. A reckless youth attempts a headstand without a helmet. Another is up at bat without a batting helmet. An improperly supervised girl is balancing barefoot on a potentially slippery rock. And someone is playing soccer without shin guards. Without shin guards! Almost half the 15 stamps are said to encourage unsafe play. The juggler appears to be safe.
Just before this, a middle school on Long Island banned all sports balls during recess except for Nerf products. A coach must supervise tag and cartwheels.
One parent reflected, “Children’s safety is paramount, but at the same time, you have to let them live life.” That’s precisely the dilemma. If children’s safety is the ultimate consideration, then none of them should be allowed out for recess without padding and helmets. The expense would be burdensome, but if it saves even one child from a head injury, surely it’s worth it—or so the reasoning goes. Perhaps we should require these for all children everywhere outside the home, an extension of bike helmet and car safety seat laws. “Safety first” means never leaving your bed.
But “you have to let them live life.” Children learn life lessons from risk-taking, from hard play, from leaping into the wild and climbing high. They learn prudence as well as the benefits of boldness that later become entrepreneurial, military, and missionary adventures. Of course, there are obvious limits. Buckle up in the car!
This protective excess has political roots in the progressive, personal security state. Liberty is the risk-free life. President Franklin Roosevelt expressed this in his 1944 State of the Union Address:
“[T]rue individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. “Necessitous men are not free men.” People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made. In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all regardless of station, race, or creed.”
The new American liberty will be freedom from want and fear, that is, from the challenge of life and from personal responsibility to face it. This was to include, according to FDR, “the right of every family to a decent home; the right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health; the right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment.” Today, every touching story of personal setback justifies another blanket of government regulation and protection. Obamacare is only the latest.
We are raising children to be risk averse and to blame others for any harm they suffer. This changes us morally. We become litigious and entitled, a nation of takers, not makers. Citizens become clients. A free people needs the space to tackle the terrain of life, to fail, and to scar and grow.