I can’t fault the New York Times too much. After all, they were quot­ing what oth­ers said in yes­ter­day’s arti­cle Can a Play­ground Be Too Safe? about the effects of mod­ern safe­ty play­ground equip­ment on the emo­tion­al growth of children.

«Para­dox­i­cal­ly,» the psy­chol­o­gists write, «we posit that our fear of chil­dren being harmed by most­ly harm­less injuries may result in more fear­ful chil­dren and increased lev­els of psychopathology.»

These con­clu­sions should not be at all sur­pris­ing. This les­son was learnt in the dis­cov­ery of the caus­es of the increase in sever­i­ty and num­ber of polio cas­es in the Twen­ti­eth Cen­tu­ry. Improved san­i­ta­tion con­di­tions in the indus­tri­al­ized world led to chil­dren hav­ing lat­er expo­sure to the virus. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, as chil­dren age, their immune sys­tems become set in their ways and become less adept at han­dling and fight­ing the new virus. By pro­tect­ing chil­dren, we robbed them of the abil­i­ty to pro­tect themselves.

If we look at child­hood play as what it is, nat­ur­al explo­ration and learn­ing, it should be obvi­ous that it is a way of devel­op­ing an emo­tion­al and behav­ioral immune sys­tem. Chil­dren push bound­aries, learn to face fear and as impor­tant­ly learn when not to face fear. They devel­op tech­niques nec­es­sary for nego­ti­at­ing their path in life. Restrict chil­dren’s play to only what is safe, and you will restrict their abil­i­ty to grow emo­tion­al­ly and behaviorally.

Whether this fact is obvi­ous is beside the point. It is, at most, coun­ter­in­tu­itive. It is not para­dox­i­cal. This is not a mat­ter of degree; there is noth­ing about the state­ment which would make any oth­er part of the state­ment untrue or impos­si­ble. Iron­i­cal­ly, it is one of the few places they could have used the word iron­i­cal­ly instead of what they did use, and it would have been appropriate.

Cat­e­go­riz­ing this word as a phrase to avoid. How­ev­er, it needs only be avoid­ed when not used correctly.