Childhood should be free from bubble wrap


Last week, the National Health and Medical Research Council recommended that preschool centres stop children from blowing out candles on birthday cakes. 

Think of the nasty germs. Ew! 

Last year a primary school in Victoria banned students from touching each other. No hi-fives.  No hugs. No germs, I guess. 

Meanwhile, one parent in Canada last year demanded that oak trees lining the edge of her daughter’s school be chopped down because her daughter was allergic to acorns. It is a nut allergy, apparently, and her daughter might have eaten one! 

Teachers and preschool staff today have to worry about peanut allergies, dairy allergies, bee stings, asthma attacks, ADHD students, pupils walking holding a pencil (they might trip) and more. 

Some of these allergies are serious. But a problem remains – how many risk factors can one teacher reasonably manage at one time?

The pivotal ‘‘duty of care’’ case in Australia, I believe, was Watson v Haines, NSW, 1987. 

It is known as the Long Thin Neck case. Schools had been given information concerning the hazards of boys with long thin necks playing rugby, especially the position of hooker. One boy was tragically injured and the school authority held accountable. 

Wait a minute. Who arbitrates the longness of necks? 

Is there a neck chart somewhere? Teachers can’t touch students let alone check necks. Besides, what teacher would dare tell a parent their kid had a long neck? Tricky! 

What other anatomical bits should teachers monitor? Should they prevent long-legged students doing the high jump, over-weight students from climbing on climbing frames(they might fall and squash another kid), short-armed children from climbing on climbing frames (frames are ergonomically designed for children with average arms)? 

Originally duty of care required a teacher to act as an ‘‘ordinary reasonable school teacher’’.

 When duty of care focused on the individual student, long necked or otherwise, everything changed.

 Parents started making outrageous demands to cater for the smallest needs of their own child, such as emailing the school to make sure their child put on a jumper.

Schools have responded to this ‘‘risk management’’ by chopping down trees (students might climb them), putting up shade cloths (because there are no trees), installing fake grass (no clumps to trip kids) and putting up pictures of students with ailments. 

But how has this duty of care diligence affected the kids?

The first generation of risk-managed children have grown up and are having children of their own. If you read any child-rearing articles or mummy blogs you will realise that today  giving birth and rearing a child demands hysterical levels of hypervigilance. 

The grandma grapevine relays stories of tyrannically strict regimes. Grandparents I know had to do a first aid course before they were allowed to babysit. 

I can’t help wondering, and it’s just a thought, if these risk-managed children have become adults who are terrified of risk. 

Life is a risky business. You can be the most dedicated risk manager alive, but you cannot control every aspect of life. 

You can only live it and deal with the ‘‘slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’’ as they arise. 


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