Is a Broken Bone Better Than a Broken Spirit When It Costs You $5000?

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Did you have a chance to see the video I posted last week about the benefits of risk in children’s play?  If not, I hope you’ll take a few minutes to watch it, and maybe share it with  your peers.  It has some great takeaways in it, and you might even recognize a few faces.

Many of the ideas and issues brought up were things I’m familiar with, but there was one statement in particular that I’d never thought of before.  It had to do with how willing we are in the US to let our children try risky things.  For example, would you let your kids do this?

My friend Lisa’s son, Thomas, on a recent kayaking trip

Or climb this?

Finnegan and Mietta and the climbing frame

Photo by chopp3rs via flickr

Would you let them build a fort on their own?

Or climb halfway up a large tree?

The risky kid climbs a tree

For many parents, the answer is an emphatic “No!”  It’s easy for those of us who say “Yes!” to  chide the other parents for being overprotective.  But in the video, an important point is raised:

What are the financial implications for a family if a child is hurt while taking a risk during play?  

What if you have an insurance plan with a high deductible?  Or worse yet, no coverage at all?  Do you blame a parent for telling their kids not to climb, or hovering near the monkey bars?  Eli broke his arm as a toddler (oddly enough, not doing anything more risky than squabbling with his sister), when Mike was self-employed.  It cost us over $5000.  So yes, I get it when you see your kid climbing a tree and you don’t think, “How grand! Imagine what he’s learning by taking risk!”  I see the dollar signs, too.

I don’t have the answers as to how to make this different.  It will take not only a shift in the culture here, but also a dramatic change in our health care system.

What do you think?  Is it possible (and fair) to encourage risky play among families who might not be able to handle the implications of an accident?  Have you ever discouraged your kids from an activity because you were afraid of the medical bills they might incur?



  1. Children can get hurt any time, whether they are engaged in risky play or not. It only takes a moment for something to happen. If you fear the cost of a possible accident, you are still living in fear. Also, there is a difference between allowing supervised risky play and being reckless and inattentive.

    • Heather, that is definitely true. I’m one of the most laid-back parents you’ll meet in regards to play, and my children have yet to get an injury beyond the normal scrapes and bruises while playing. The visits we’ve paid to the ER for gashes and broken bones have all occurred during freak accidents when the kids weren’t playing. So yes, they can definitely get hurt anytime and there’s little you can actually do to prevent it.

      This year thanks to planned knee surgery, we met our deductible early in the year. For the first time I don’t feel that pit of anxiety when my kids are climbing a tree or attempting jumps at the skate park. It’s not that I ever discouraged them from doing those things, but I was definitely worried that something would happen and we’d end up the ER with a big bill. I wouldn’t call it living in fear, but that feeling of anxiousness was definitely there, and it’s not there this year. My philosophy on play hasn’t changed, but I’m not worried about the financial implications.

      I’m able to push pass that anxiety in other years and let them continue to play. I just know in the back of my mind that they could just as easily slip off that log and get a cut that requires attention as they are to trip on the way to the mailbox and break a bone. However I can definitely see how other parents can see it differently, can see that opportunity on the log as a situation with a possibility of costly injury that they might be able to prevent. There will always be a population of parents that would never let their kids attempt riskier play, but I really believe there’s a population that would let go of that anxiety if they weren’t worried about the medical bills a normal childhood injury can occur in this country.

  2. Here in Canada we still have socialised medical care, and expect to continue to have it in the future, though we’ve had some right-wingie-dingie scares about losing it and we currently have some (lots) of issues with how our medical system operates (or doesn’t) in view of an economics-first environment. Never a day goes by when I am not grateful for our system, for how it ensures we do not die of preventable illnesses, and can heal from normal childhood injuries.

    I cannot stand the idea of children not pushing to discover consequences of reasonable play and exploration … and all of the above situations fall into that category as far as I am concerned. I sure hope you Americans get a smart socialised medical system sooner than later. As shown here, it is not the beginning of the end, not even a great equaliser, simply the humane way to care for a population.

    • Thanks for your comment, Karen. I love to hear your perspective from a very different medical system. Do you parents as a whole are more relaxed about play in Canada than we are because of your health system? And do you think this is reflected in your playspaces? I look at the playspaces in Europe and am so jealous, but at the same time I know those designs are possible here because of the element of risk we just won’t tolerate.

      • Our play places have recently “loosened up” a bit — more of those string climbing things that go quite high and some really cool adaptive swings (for kids with disabilities) that are big saucers that kids can make fly in crazy ways in a big group, but I think we are not too different from the States … mostly because our culture is so incredibly influenced by yours because of media — news, film and TV shows. We have much less fear of lawsuits here, though some parks boards and schools would have you believe that is why they create cautious play spaces.

        I agree, our incidents that have resulted in ER visits were both with our wildest (and smallest child) and in non-play situations. What can one do.

        I believe that allowing a child to feel reasonable fear from putting themselves at (more or less manageable) risk teaches them lessons in limits, safety and self-confidence. I’m unwilling to disable my child by not allowing reasonable risk.

        When I lived in Paris (pre-children), I was insanely happy about the tall structures that looked “dangerous”. Those kids were happily at the very top of them.

        I was gobsmacked, too, by the lack of a guardrail at the Seine. But then, that experience really reinforced in me the need for my children to have good judgement and exercise self-control … which means they are able to tell the difference between adventuring and being foolish.

        Sometimes (though not always) it is a fine line. The Seine is one fast and nasty river. The river below the child in the picture above looks like a fun one into which to topple.


  3. This is a U.S. problem. Most other first-world countries have universal health care.

    • I never thought when I started a blog about kids and play that I’d ever touch health care with a 10-foot-pole. And here we are …