Seesaws: A Vanishing Part Of America

by bobdorigojones on April 29, 2011

in Uncategorized

Can you remember the last time you saw a seesaw?  I’m talking about an old fashioned teeter-totter – the kind without springs.

If you are under the age of thirty, it’s very possible that you’ve never seen one.  Although they were once a staple of playgrounds around the country, the lawsuit explosion in America prompted school officials and park superintendents to start removing them in the 1970s and 1980s.

Philip Howard, a prominent attorney and the author of the bestselling book, The Death of Common Sense, wrote this about seesaws eight years ago: “Visit a playground and look for a seesaw. They are rapidly disappearing, going the way of merry-go-rounds, diving boards, and other joys of childhood.”

The problem wasn’t that every school and community was being sued.  No, it was simply the likelihood that they would be sued in courts that were increasingly turning a blind eye to personal responsibility that motivated schools and communities to rip the teeter-totters out of the ground and install less “risky” things for kids to play on.  The real possibility of being sued was enough to cause insurance rates to skyrocket, so kids had to say good-bye to their seesaws.

Books have been written about how playgrounds don’t challenge kids enough nowadays.  Playgrounds often don’t often allow kids to take the kind of small risks help them grow and develop.  Not that seesaws were a huge challenge, but they did at least require a little leg power and balance.  Today’s spring-loaded seesaws require very little effort to move, and some experts believe such changes are one of the reasons childhood obesity has become such a problem in America.

Despite the virtual extinction of the old-fashioned seesaw, there is at least one still around.  In my most recent “Let’s Be Fair” radio commentary, I mention that I actually found one!  However, it isn’t in a public park.  It is located in one of the few places in America where lawsuits are as uncommon as seesaws are in the rest of the country…an Amish community.   Makes sense, huh?  The photo above was taken at a school in an Amish enclave in northern Michigan.  The hitching post for horses is visible in the foreground.

Do you have a story to share about how life in America is changing because of the ever-present threat of litigation?  If so, I’d like to hear it.

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Karen May 26, 2011 at 12:51 pm

Heard you talking on WJR and totally support what you’re doing. Thank you.

Matso Limtiaco July 8, 2011 at 6:58 pm

The new community park near our home in Snohomish WA includes a good old-fashioned teeter-totter. I haven’t looked closely enough to see if it includes any warning labels! The park also has a merry-go-round, which you don’t see much anymore either, and to date I haven’t heard of any local kids getting hurt. I applaud your efforts and will keep wwatching for further developments!

Andrew July 15, 2013 at 2:57 pm

I hadn’t seen a seesaw / teeter totter in a park or playground for a long, long time up until a recent family vacation during which we came across one in West Yellowstone. A few minutes after seeing this seesaw in a park my 12-year-old had two broken teeth which we had to get fixed locally that day, and which will require further treatment. There’s a GOOD reason seesaws aren’t in playgrounds anymore. It’s because they’re dangerous even when the actions of the users are normal and reasonable. I’m all for personal accountability, but there are some cases – and this is one of them – where toys that have been deemed too dangerous for playgrounds simply should be removed from ALL playgrounds. Unless you like holes in your lips and broken teeth, you’re really not losing anything at all from having seesaws removed from parks. It’s GOOD that kids today aren’t experiencing seesaws in parks and playgrounds because they’re obviously dangerous, and they’re really not that much fun even when someone doesn’t get hurt.

Sue March 8, 2014 at 11:07 pm

I was on a teeter totter at the age of 3. The kid on the other end jumped off without warning and I still remember my front tooth getting hit by the teeter totter. I ended up with an accessed tooth which was pulled by a dentist. No front tooth for years. Yea, 57 years later, I agree they should be removed from playgrounds.

Miles May 8, 2014 at 3:09 pm

I for one believe that seesaws were a very fun thing and great for kids. It combines the motor stimulation you get from the a swing with interactivity with other kids, something that isn’t necessary or normally needed when being on a swing. I’ll agree that alot of older seesaws weren’t the most safe, but that could easily be fixed with a basic redesign. With the addition of a back and a seat belt you could probably avoid most of the complaints that people have towards seesaws.

Thomasa Hoffman July 30, 2014 at 5:20 pm

I have been contemplating producing a documentary film on the vanishing neighborhood. I grew up at a time when children were encouraged to take risks in play. Scraped knees, bruised elbows, yes, even occasional broken bones were a common sight in my classroom. As a result we developed a respect for self responsibility and cooperation. This has been summarily replaced with isolated video play and cohabitation. What is more dangerous than that!

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