We all love a good, scary headline, don’t we?
“Shocking” and “unbelievable” says an article reporting a story that has grabbed national attention in the UK this week. This is in response to a story about a group of children seen playing ‘chicken’ in the road.
On the surface, this story appears to be about a dangerous behaviour carried out by some unthinking children and yet the incredulous comments being made in the article, and others on the same story, are clearly from people who have no idea of the reality of playing because this form of play is well known and points to a need and not a deviation.
In a Playwork context we would describe this as an example of Deep Play – playing in a way in which children know it is placing them in some form of tangible danger. It is as old as the hills, which if nothing else is an indication that it serves some purpose.
Even very young children engage in Deep Play as they climb higher, jump further, spin faster, pushing themselves and their bodies to the limit. Trouble is, at that age such play is often subtle and so easily overlooked but with slightly older children it becomes more obvious as they jump from bridges into rivers and canals, scale heights that could make your head spin and, yes, play ‘chicken’ on roads and railway lines. We even continue this as adults as can be seen in the popularity of roller coasters and strapping yourself in to some device connected to the world only by a big bit of elastic band. But that’s ‘fun’ eh!
This form of play is happening for a reason and it is the reason that needs addressing not the act itself. So, comments such as “children are risking their own safety" and, "parents should know where they are and what they are doing" are simply wrong headed.
The real comments should be in the form of questions along the lines of, ‘You police officers and local councillors - how often did you play 'chicken' as children and can you remember why you did it?’.
‘What access have these children to effective play space close to their own homes – and no I don’t mean a football pitch or a public playground made of unrelated metal stuff surrounded by a fence.’
And then let's also ask about the decimation of the Playwork sector in the north of England in general and in the Tyne area in particular. Let talk about the mass closure of neighbourhood junk adventure playgrounds where children have been able to satisfy the need for this essential form of play for decades, now made impossible in many areas because such provision becomes a victim of austerity. These are the real issues here, not screamy, scary, blaming headlines.
But no! Let's blame the children themselves for unsafe behaviour and shame their parents for not knowing where they are or what they are doing and ignore the ignorance of those that actually have the power to do something about it: that would be those councillors and police officers who are the ones actually doing the complaining.
See the BBC News Online version of the story here [7/7/2017] http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-tyne-40491760