Playtime waivers a new level of ridiculous

Renee James Contributor
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In case anyone is wondering, the score is Team Ridiculous Parenting and Lawsuit-wary Companies: 1,000; Team Common Sense and the Rest of Us: Zero.

A friend of mine was “chagrined”—to put it mildly—at the waiver she was required to sign so her second-grade son could attend a birthday party at a local party place. But before we get to the waiver, let’s back up a bit. About 15 years ago, we gave our children 5th-birthday parties at a local venue. We distributed no waivers, and would have run in the other direction had waivers been offered to us. The lesson we learned that day was that the best way to attend a 5-year-old’s party was to stand aside. Our boys and their invited guests climbed, jumped, rolled, zip-lined, slid and careened around an indoor course, shrieking and shouting in excitement.

Let’s back up again, to my own childhood. Not only did we climb on monkey bars at a school’s playground, we climbed on monkey bars that were affixed to cement at a school’s playground. And yes, our parents paid school taxes but I don’t recall anyone protesting that we needed mulch, or recycled tires (whatever those might have been circa 1968) or any other soft material to cushion our falls. I just don’t think it occurred to them.

Sometimes a group of us walked farther from home—by ourselves—to a park several blocks away, where the monkey bars were different: they were affixed to a blacktopped surface, surrounded by grass. We climbed, dangled, and sat several feet up, while our friends popped up and down on a nearby seesaw, deliberately bumping the ground to make it extra dangerous up top. Others were swinging skyward on swings and jumping off just as they reached the apex, then crumbling in a heap on the ground. Still others spun the merry-go-round really fast, so everyone riding it, whether lying down, dangling off the edge or sitting on the bars, felt dizzy.

Was it fun? Yes. Was it just a little sadistic? Yes. Did I sometimes feel a little scared on that merry-go-round, especially when older kids were pushing it? Yes. But it was also fun. The park may have had a sign posted that read something like “Play at your own risk” but I’m not sure.

Let’s get back to my friend, Mary, and that waiver. She shared this much: “I understand that during participation [in the activities], I may be exposed to psychologically and physically stressful and challenging situations….The child recognizes that attending this party can be a ‘strenuous endeavor requiring good physical condition’ and admonishes the child to obey all posted warnings during the fun.” More than that, and I would have resorted to the Bailey’s to quiet my nerves.

I have some questions. First, how is a child in second grade supposed to read and understand this? (The waiver does address the child in the first person.) And second, what the heck game are they playing that is “psychologically and physically stressful and challenging?” Is this Navy SEALs training or a birthday party for 7-year-olds? I want to meet second-graders who can give me an example of a “psychologically and physically stressful and challenging situation.” Then again, maybe I don’t.

I’m wondering what the posted warning signs indicate to the children, who may or may not have the reading skills required to obey the messages. I’m also wondering who determines the children who are in “good physical condition” and may take part in the “strenuous endeavor.”

The answer is obvious. Enlightened parents are supposed to discuss and share a “teachable moment” with their child about the waiver and what it means. After thoughtful and empathetic discussion, they will eventually compel their child to embrace and yes, welcome, the psychological and physical challenges the party represents. With little or no (obvious) force, they will exact a pledge from the child that he or she will sail through these strenuous endeavors with grace, determination and the will to succeed.

Perfect. Couple of tweaks to that insanity and there it is: the seeds of a killer college application essay. It’s never too soon to start over-thinking stuff like this.

Renee James writes social commentary and keeps track of the things that mystify her on her blog: “It’s not me, it’s you.”Her email address is raaj3@msn.com.