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(Published in the Chilliwack Times week of Nov. 7, 2006)

Keeping boys in a bubble

  By John Martin

There I was passing some time in the lounge at the Salt Lake City airport when CNN reported that a Massachusetts elementary school had banned students from playing tag because the game is too dangerous and may cause injury. I took another sip of my pint of Polygamy Porter (I'm not making this up) and mumbled to myself, "Here we go again."

Earlier this year a school in Spokane issued a prohibition on recess games of tag because kids would sometimes bump into each other.

Not too long ago a school in Santa Monica also banned the all-time favorite playground game to protect the self-esteem of slower and less athletic children who found themselves in a perpetual state of "it".

One school principle noted, "Recess is a time when accidents can happen." Another supporter of the ban observed, "I've witnessed enough near collisions." Another was concerned that tag was "overly competitive."

This comes on the heels of numerous well-publicized prohibitions of dodge ball, football, soccer and other activities that may involve some body contact.

To some, it may seem odd that physical activity is being banned at a time when child obesity is considered an epidemic and kids are sitting around playing video games day and night.

The ban on tag has been widely ridiculed and dismissed as another example of political correctness run amuck.

But it's more serious than that.

The activities long considered normal and even healthy for young boys have been under attack for quite some time. Any boy displaying signs of restlessness or anxiousness is likely to be put on medication these days. If he runs around, he's considered hyperactive. If he looks out the window during class, he probably has Attention Deficit Disorder.

It has often been noted that if Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn were around today they'd be on Ritalin and sitting quietly at their desks.

The school system has short changed boys by denying their natural tendency to display aggression and be disruptive. There is a need for schools to acknowledge and channel, rather than deny and stifle, the excess energy that is perfectly normal for a young boy. But aggression and physical contact are considered "bad" according to the new orthodoxy and educators are convinced that if a boy's natural instincts are ignored and denied they will simply go away.

Consequently, boys have fallen behind girls in almost every area of school testing. They are at a much higher risk of dropping out, and much less likely to pursue post-secondary education. They exhibit learning disorders and behavioural problems at rates far exceeding girls.

Keeping boys in a virtual bubble where horseplay and physical contact is prohibited may save some scrapes and bruises.

But at what cost?



John Martin is a Criminologist at the University College of the Fraser Valley and can be contacted at

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