No More Playing in the Dark, Kids

Hi Readers — Another day, another lawsuit, another childhood institution crushed. In this case, back in 2001 a Scout troop in England was playing a game where everyone had to grab a block from a pile in the middle of the room. Get there last and there’s no block left for you. Sounds like musical chairs.

Anyway, to make it more fun, the troop decided to turn the lights out and play by the glow of the “Exit” signs and guess what? A 13-year-old kid hurt his shoulder. Not so much that he could not go on and play rugby for the next nine years until the courts made their final ruling on his suit.  But still — I’m sure his shoulder did hurt.

What hurts more is that the courts ending up ruling that the Scouts were at fault. Playing in the spooky dark is just too dangerous. As this article from The Telegraph explains:

The Scouts Association had urged the court to overturn the award, arguing it would make it harder to draw youngsters away from computer screens and televisions. But Lady Justice Smith and Lord Justice Ward, dismissed their appeal.

They ruled that Mark Barnes, of Castle Bromwich, West Mids, had been a victim of negligence and that playing the game in the dark had created an unacceptable risk.

Despite expressing “instinctive sympathy” towards the Scout Association, Lord Justice Ward said that “scouting would not lose much of its value” if such games were played with the lights on.

In a dissenting ruling, Lord Justice Jackson found that it was not the function of the law “to eliminate every iota of risk or to stamp out socially desirable activities”.

I’m with the dissenting justice, of course. I know my sons’ favorite thing over the summer is to play “manhunt” (some sort of tag) after the sun has gone down. It’s heady. It’s scary. It makes you feel excited and grown-up and that’s why scouting — and childhood — DOES “lose much of its value” if everything is done in the Kleig lights of super safety.

One way kids get that “self-esteem” we’re so worried about is by facing up to a fear and conquering it. Like, say, a fear of the DARK. And one way to get kids to FACE that fear is by making it so fun that the excitement outweighs the trepidation.

Maybe the judges are afraid of the dark. Who knows? But this kind of ruling means a smidgen more safety purchased at the cost of a ton of old-fashioned joy. That is scary. — Lenore

Why is the night so spooky? It's filled with LAWSUITS!Â

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47 Responses to No More Playing in the Dark, Kids

  1. Larry Harrison December 27, 2010 at 11:23 pm #

    First to comment–maybe a sign I spend too much time online? Ha ha.

    I have my own story to tell about a dark-time adventure, an injury that happened–and how I wouldn’t trade it for all the sterilized safety of the sort which Lord Justice Ward would have as our very lives.

    About age 9 or so (around 1976) I was playing outdoors in the woods, at a cousin’s house–at night-time. My mother was there. My cousin & I were chasing fireflies in the woods (probably some 120 yards from the house) and I ran into a barbed-wire fence that was in the woods (but obviously not very visible), it was there to separate boundaries. It barely missed my actual eyeball. I had to go to the hospital. A slight scar very near my eye is still visible to this day. I went to school the next day proudly showing it off as a badge of honor from a wonderfully fun childhood event.

    No one though of my mother as irresponsible or reckless, as far as I know–I was only 9 so I doubt I’d remember something like that, but from what I do remember she wasn’t subject to it. No visits from social services, Childhood Punitive Services (CPS, that is), or the like. I sure don’t think she was irresponsible myself either.

    The woods isn’t anymore dangerous in 2010 than it was in 1976. People are just stressing the safety too much at the exclusion of a fun childhood full of 850 units of adventure with maybe 5 units of pain. We think it’s “reckless” to allow a situation that remains & brings 5 units of pain with 850 units of childhood adventure.

    Personally, I’m going with my mother on this one–even though, ironically enough, she’s now probably one of the main ones who’d be against the very sort of free range which she herself instilled in me. So, more specifically, I’m going with the 1976 version of my mother vs the 2010 version of her as a grandmother who’s fallen for the hype.

    (I hope there are no typos etc.)

    LRH

  2. Uly December 27, 2010 at 11:41 pm #

    Lenore (and anybody else in the city), be sure to head to the park (if you can manage) on this great snowy day. The city’s giving out free entertainment and cocoa at 5 parks, one per borough.

  3. LEA December 27, 2010 at 11:53 pm #

    As a scout leader we encouraged all kinds of games in the dark, usually outside because the kids loved them. Ghosts in the graveyard was a year round favorite. Sure occasionally someone tripped or ran into something and got hurt but that was part of playing.

    Kids are suppose to bump things and get bruises and scrapes, cuts and even the occasional broken bone. It means they are exploring and playing and having fun without a screen in front of them. It’s a right of passage of childhood. My kids always have something sore, scraped and even occasionally broken just from being kids.

    I spent the majority of my childhood outside (when not in a classroom), unsupervised and in the dark a whole lot, playing with friends and even climbing trees.

  4. pw December 28, 2010 at 12:36 am #

    The loss is to great. No more ghost in the graveyard, Snipe hunting, etc. If we keep up the good work our kids really won’t know what a snipe is!

  5. E. Simms December 28, 2010 at 12:39 am #

    The Telegraph article said that the MRI that showed the permanent injury wasn’t done until 2007. If this kid had been playing rugby for the intervening six years, how do you think he really got the injury. I guess David Cameron has a lot more work to do.

  6. Slartibartfast December 28, 2010 at 1:23 am #

    …wondering if it’s possible for someone to set up a Free Range Kids Legal Foundation. I know other movements (homeshcool advocates come to mind) have such a thing.

  7. Elfir December 28, 2010 at 1:27 am #

    I can’t help but picture this game resulting in lots of injuries regardless of the lighting. They really have a bunch of kids lunge for wooden blocks in the middle of the room at the same time? Sounds like a football tackle but with more flailing arms.

    But yeah, whatever happened to the “it builds character” response to minor injuries?

  8. Jen Connelly December 28, 2010 at 2:15 am #

    Man, some of my greatest memories as a kid were playing in the dark. I grew up in Chicago (in the Back of the Yards neighborhood) and there were two times when the whole block got along (for the most part). One was sledding in the winter at the tracks (they ran over the end of our street and the embankment came all the way down to the sidewalk on one side…neighborhood tradition since my dad was a kid in the 50s at least). The other time was in the summer at night. I remember spending endless hours after nightfall hiding in the neighbor’s bushes in an all out hide and go seek extravaganza that included at least 20 kids from up and down both sides of the street. Kids we normally didn’t play with or even get along with. It was crazy and sometimes spooky (hiding under dark, dank porches) but always fun.

    I’ve let my kids do the same. Not sure our neighbors appreciated it when a group of 10 neighborhood kids took it upon themselves to play hide and seek in their yards at 9pm, lol, but the kids had a blast.

    And I remember me and my brother playing this game where we turned out every single light in the house, covered all the windows and then would try and find each other. One would be “it” and would wander around in the dark making spooky sounds while the other hid. And our apartment back then got really dark like that, you could barely see your hand in front of your own face. We had so much fun scaring the bajeezers out of each other (usually just by accidentally bumping into each other, never mind actually hiding behind a door and jumping out yelling, “BOO!”).

  9. Nicola December 28, 2010 at 2:24 am #

    I hate that this even went to court, but I’ve got to say… I agree with Elfir and then some.

    Putting a stack of anything in the middle of the floor and turning off the lights and asking kids to go get it is just asking for a headache. I know, as a kid, I probably wouldn’t have played just so I could avoid cracking my head against someone elses’ skull.

    No – it’s nowhere close to needing litigation – that’s just stupid – but maybe the scoutmaster could take them outside, in the woods, in the dark and play something more fun… like, “don’t get lost, boys!” >:D

  10. Marie December 28, 2010 at 2:55 am #

    So when is he suing over the hazards of playing rugby? If rushing to grab a block in a crowd of other kids in the dark is unacceptably dangerous, why play rugby?

  11. EricS December 28, 2010 at 3:16 am #

    And people wonder why society is changing (for the worse). When will people start understanding that the powers that be, are breeding a future full of fear and distrust, especially towards children. That ‘it’s up to the adults to make sure things are all ok.” But what if the adults are the ones holding back the children to their true potential, and building them up (or down) with fear in their hearts and minds. Grown ups can be very selfish…oh wait…because that’s how they learned growing up.

    Marie has a great point, why do parents still let their kids play in contact sports, ie. football, hockey, rugby, and even soccer. Those are all inherently “violent” sports. One of their primary objectives is hard physical contact. Kids get hurt all the time playing this sport, but you don’t see anyone suing anyone else for that. Well, except for things that happen outside the field, rink, or pitch, with the parents. Oh, there you it is again, PARENTS. It’s all centered around THEIR agenda. You know what it’s sounding like, our government. Adults being the government, with us being the kids. lol What a crazy world. I hope “Santa” brought some common sense for some people, and that the new year brings more resolutions of “I will not fear as an adult, I will be more like my children who have open minds, and are willing to engage in new thought and activities”.

  12. drpretzel December 28, 2010 at 3:26 am #

    I’m sure I’d go to jail if these idiots got ahold of me. My kids play outside in the dark on a regular basis. I’ve even started a bonfire for them out back and cut them loose with hot dog forks, hot dogs and marshmallows.

    I can do this because I raised my boys to pay attention to the actions and make smart choices (as parents ought to do). Don’t play in the street. Leave the fire in the fire pit so we don’t catch the yard on fire. Have a hose close by just in case.

    In this story it does not sound like the parents are all that concerned about the child. They saw an opportunity to make a few bucks and jumped on it.

    What does THAT teach their child? Sick SOBs.

  13. sue December 28, 2010 at 4:10 am #

    Like Drpretzel, I’d also be hauled off to jail for what I did today. I let my son, an 11-year-old Free Range Kid, and a 13-year-old friend go sledding earlier today after dark without adult supervision. (it gets dark early in Germany). The sledding area is a 5-minute walk from my house. My son says that it’s more fun to sled in the dark because he can’t see where he’s going. He came back from sledding with a bruise on his shin. This bruise obviously doesn’t bother him because he made plans to ski with a different friend tomorrow morning. I told him that cuts and bruises on his legs are what make him a “real boy.”

    I couldn’t imagine suing the ski area where my son and his friend went sledding over his “injury.” If I did that, the Germans would put me in the nearest psychiatric facility if I didn’t get laughed out of court first.

  14. sue December 28, 2010 at 4:11 am #

    I meant that I’d be probably be hauled off to jail if I were in England or in the States. I left that part out of my previous post.

  15. Library Diva December 28, 2010 at 4:18 am #

    That form of hide-and-seek that’s played in teams and has a home base is seriously the greatest game ever invented. I got to play it a few years ago (I’m 34) — it’s still fun. I have wonderful memories of playing that game with the kids in my neighborhood. I was older than most of them, and less of an active kid, more of a reader and a dreamer. Those games of bloody murder (which is what the game is referred to in my part of the country) were the only time I felt included with them or had anything in common with them. I’d hate to see it become among the many things that are lost to paranoia.

  16. Christina December 28, 2010 at 4:19 am #

    One more reason not to let my boys join Scouts! I let them turn out the lights in the house all the time when they want to make something more difficult for themselves. Of course, I also let my (almost) 3 1/2 years old boys use public men’s rooms when we’re out and about, so I’m sure to be hauled off any day now.

  17. anonymousmagic December 28, 2010 at 5:56 am #

    I remember playing a smuggler’s game while out on a scouts camp when I was younger. You couldn’t see a thing and all you had to go on where the flashlights moving through the trees and the sounds the leaders at the smuggler stations were making to guide us.

    I managed to drop into a pit with spikey branches (head first) and scrape my legs, arms and hands in the process. I cried, headed for one of the leaders and I was checked out for any blood. I was cleaned up and played on — no lawsuits.

    In fact, I remember another night game from my school camp and one organized by a campsite I frequented around the same time — and boy were those night games fun.

    Judges suck. I bet they were those wimps that never joined in.

  18. This girl loves to talk December 28, 2010 at 6:34 am #

    we used to play this game except with cans of food! for family game night. the goal to get five cans of food in your ‘corner’ except there is only enough to grab about 4 cans each from the middle. then you have to ‘steal’ from everyone else.

    so to the person who said it was dangerous – yes. But this is one of my most remember games as a kid in our family (though I suppose we were only playing it with 5 people)

    my dad was also a scout leader many years ago and we loved playing ‘wide games’ where you run crawl around in the dark trying to ‘win/get’ the flag.

  19. Steve December 28, 2010 at 10:14 am #

    Well, I’m fine and all with playing different games and all dont get me wrong, but playing with bricks in the dark only by the light of the “exit” sign I must admit wasn’t a bright idea no pun intended (or is it ;) ). It would have been better and smarter if the game was played with actual light.

  20. Marty December 28, 2010 at 10:26 am #

    I’m surprised the cheap nightvision goggle makers aren’t chiming in, showing how their products make playing at night ‘safer’….

  21. Gail December 28, 2010 at 10:52 am #

    Oh fer cryin’ out loud! Sure it was a teeny bit, um, imperfectly safe but isn’t that what Scouts is for? My nine year old is a new Wolf Cub because he wanted more adventure, but I researched the packs in my area to make sure he joined one that wasn’t risk averse. We were very lucky, the most cconvenient pack for us is a fairly old school one. we got a good taste of that attitude the night they were assembling their survival kits and our son – after having been warned of how sharp it was and how to handle it properly – was fooling around with his pocket knife. I’m told everyone, including our son, stayed quite calm while they got out the bandages and cleaned up his finger.

  22. Matt December 28, 2010 at 1:21 pm #

    Well, for just about every activity my kid is signed up for these days, we have to sign a blanket statement basically saying they’re liable for nothing and even if my child is killed by gross negligence of the highest order there’s not a thing we can do about it.

    I suppose this waiver of rights is mostly meaningless in true cases of negligence but I generally take each activity as a calculated risk and weigh worst-case scenarios within a range of relatively likelihood instead of hiring a, well, barrister.

    On the third hand…by the time I was the age my first boy is now, I’d had a broken collarbone, a broken wrist, more stitches than I had fingers and toes, and quite a number of fat lips and black eyes. But my son’s total injury count was three stitches, and he got those when he was tripped by his own grandma in his own living room while dancing.

    I have a feeling that despite my best intentions that he live an adventurous and slightly dangerous-in-a-good-way childhood, that the combination of the lack of unstructured free play with neighborhood urchins (of which I was one, and benefited from, when I was a lad) and the whistle-blowing, game-stopping-at-the-slightest-sign-of-a-booboo program that is virtually every organized kids’ activitiy these days, has nevertheless mollycoddled him, transitively if nothing else.

    Sigh.

  23. Sandra from Australia December 28, 2010 at 4:22 pm #

    I think all scouts and parents should sue the sue-ers (the cretinous parents, I assume) for loss of fun.

  24. Sandra from Australia December 28, 2010 at 4:46 pm #

    I always thought Scouts was set up to train boys in resilience, self-sufficiency and independence, so by the time they got to military age they already had the skills to take on the lone scouting roles needed by units who did those tasks.

    Ditto Guiding, to give girls the skills they might need later to run things if the going got tough and all the men were off to war. I do believe that Guides provided many women for important roles in the Home Defence forces in the UK during World War 2.

    I could be wrong about this but it fits with the time when these organisations were started in the UK.

    Now we might not need these skills instilled in our young people for war, we hope, but what about natural disasters, large scale accidents and other incidents? Do we want teenagers who have been ‘infantised’, kept as infants, who cannot look after themselves or younger ones if they are in a disaster and end up fending for themselves? Or do we want children who know how to tie a bandage, light a fire, get some food, boil some water, make a sign out of rocks or poke around in the dark and find a torch and first-aid kit?

    My kids were in Scouts and Guides and if they hurt themselves I expected them to come home with a bandage applied by the others in their troop or the Leader and a good story for their siblings.

  25. Sandra from Australia December 28, 2010 at 4:54 pm #

    And to follow on from my earlier post, do we want our (society’s) kids to turn into the kind of adultd who sits on their tush and does nothing in the middle of chaos, waiting for some-one else to do the rescuing? Do we want a community of people who are incapable of caring for themselves, let alone others around them who are suffering, in the middle of a disaster?

  26. Emma December 28, 2010 at 8:27 pm #

    In middle school my friends and I thought it’d be fun to play tag in the gym before school with the lights off. My best friend was it and she walked into the wall… because the lights were off. She chipped her tooth and we all left and she ended up being fine, we had had a fun time albeit we learned our lesson, but that didn’t stop us from playing in the dark still.

  27. sue December 28, 2010 at 9:02 pm #

    marty..don’t give them any ideas!

  28. Christopher Byrne December 28, 2010 at 9:26 pm #

    Hmm. What would the learned judges think of one of our favorite games–Graveyard Creeps? We had a large one-block square graveyard at the head of our street, which was never locked. So, it was a great place to play a spooky version of hide and seek. (Actually, think about it: removed from the street, fenced in, completely abandoned at night.Pretty safe.) Of course, it wasn’t total dark. We would light and hold up matches to give whomever was “it” a clue as to where we were, for a moment.

  29. April December 28, 2010 at 11:06 pm #

    I would donate to this!

    “Slartibartfast, on December 28, 2010 at 01:23 said:

    …wondering if it’s possible for someone to set up a Free Range Kids Legal Foundation. I know other movements (homeshcool advocates come to mind) have such a thing.”

  30. anonymousmagic December 28, 2010 at 11:21 pm #

    One thing I forgot to mention in my original comment was that there was another game I used to play at scouts, in which the kid who was it had to capture one of the other players and lift him off the ground as they tried to cross the playing field.

    It was a favorite of many of my fellow scouts, but it appears to be the most accident-prone one we played. In an attempt to avoid being lifted, I held onto a table for dear life, but I underestimated my situation. “It” pulled a bit harder and turned over the table — on top of my wrist. I was in a cast for several weeks and had to learn how to write with my other hand…

    Still, apart from some mean glares from me, nothing happened. No lawsuits, no police.

  31. oncefallendotcom December 28, 2010 at 11:30 pm #

    After reading the first comment to this article, my mind turned to that commercial trying to get kids to go play in the forest.

    I’m working on a fun little book project that I started with my mother about moving to the deep south from a big city up north. I’ve got tons of cute little stories to tell about growing up, but the most striking thing about my experiences is it seems so different from kids today. Kids live indoors in most places these days. My ex’s kid never went out into the yard to play by himself and he is 10. I took a trip to my hometown and went into the woods we used to play in. There used to be defined trails in the woods from the neighborhood kids playing, but those trails are gone and the woods covered in weeds and thorns. I guess kids these days don’t play in the woods. Its so bad we need a commercial advertising it.

    If you haven’t seen the commercial I’m talking about, here’s the site connected to the ad.

    http://www.discovertheforest.org/

  32. pentamom December 29, 2010 at 12:05 am #

    Yes, it’s a banner day when instead of teaching scouts how to function safely in the dark, they ban playing in the dark. As others have said, I thought on of the major purposes of scouting was to teach self-sufficiency, survival skills, and the like? Making sure they play only under “safe” conditions seems to defeat the whole ethic.

  33. jim December 29, 2010 at 1:30 am #

    A night time snow-covered pasture with lots of lumps and bumps, the hood from a ’56 Oldsmobile, a 3/4 ton V-8 4WD pickup, and a long rope connecting the bumper of the truck to the old car hood, which 4 or five young teens are riding on. Oh, and did I mention that the 18-year old somebody’s-older-brother who is driving the truck is nipping from a pint of blackberry brandy? Man, we had some fun out in the country…..

  34. Mannie December 29, 2010 at 2:29 am #

    They’ve already taken their Scout Knives away in the UK. Now they rule playing in the dark to be too dangerous. And they still call it GREAT Britain?

    Not that we’re any better in many respects.

  35. BJ December 30, 2010 at 1:10 am #

    My son is in Scouts and loves it. I wonder if it depends on the pack. For the past four years, he has cut out his Pinewood Derby car using a band saw, drills, and sanders with loose adult supervision only (a couple adults, lots of boys!) at the local woodshop. Noone has lost a finger yet, and the boys have a great time coming up with new ideas for their next car. In January each year, they race the cars down a track to see which design is the fastest. These boys are cub scouts, not teenagers. For those unfamiliar with the Pinewood Derby, they start with a rectangular block of wood and have to cut it out to resemble a car.

  36. Juliet Robertson December 30, 2010 at 4:33 am #

    Hi Lenore

    What would be helpful to know, is how we – parents, scout leaders, teachers and other carers of children can find ways around this….

    …for example are disclaimers needed to be signed by parents and children?

    …can leader do spur of the moment activities or must every thing be risk assessed in advance? I’m all for a little sponaneity.

    The article is sparse on the details…I’d like to know precisely why the scout leader was deemed negligent. There’s not info about the environment in which the game was played either.

    It concerns me that these cases are still coming to court and being won. How can we turn the tide here?

  37. Andy Fossett December 31, 2010 at 4:57 am #

    I don’t believe I’ve ever commented here before, but I’ve lurked for quite a while. Anyway, the caption:

    “Why is the night so spooky? It’s filled with LAWSUITS!”

    is probably one of the funniest things I’ve seen this week (I know, I need to get out more).

    Thanks for running a great site and for making me laugh.

  38. sohbet January 3, 2011 at 11:08 pm #

    Thank you for informing us about it

  39. Muriel January 7, 2011 at 2:03 pm #

    I’m glad our Scout troop is dying. Glad to get out of this craziness. I guess it’s OK for them to get their brains bashed out in rugby but not to have fun.

    It’s just a matter of time before Scouts outlaw Steal the Bacon. Those 10 mins doing that before Scouts was the main reason the boys went to that troop.

    Dr. Mom, mother of 5 sons.

  40. Mary Prankster January 7, 2011 at 6:38 pm #

    I was once told that if your child made it to adulthood without any stitches or broken bones, you had done more damage to their psyche than any physical injury ever could to their body. I was relieved when my kids had to get stitches. It meant I wasn’t an over-protective mother!

  41. Celina January 8, 2011 at 12:30 pm #

    There’s more risk of danger for my daughter delivering her paper route during daylight savings time…dark, snow & ice, and many people not home yet who have shovelled or salted. Good thing my 5 year old goes to help.

  42. Kiwimum January 9, 2011 at 5:20 am #

    Here is the appeal judgment for those who would like to read the whole discussion:

    http://www.bailii.org/cgi-bin/markup.cgi?doc=/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2010/1476.html&query=scout+and+association&method=boolean

  43. Elke January 29, 2011 at 3:03 pm #

    I remember when I was in 7 and I was 12 or 13 years old, we went on a weekend trip with our school. It was really outdoorsy, in the Ardennes (I’m from Belgium) with forests and rocky hillsides, and I loved it. We went on a big walk during the day with our teacher, and during the night, we went up to the forest and played a sort of stealthy capture-the-flag game in the dark. It wasn’t scary, but it was quite thrilling, working together, sneaking around the teachers in the dark and dropping our flags in the target bucket. I remember that game as the most fondest memory of that whole school year.
    So, yes, I think games like that should be allowed, teaching kids that the dark is something scary will only damage them far more than any potential injury of accidentally bumping into anything. After all, how else are they going to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night in their own house?

  44. Ed Askew June 24, 2012 at 2:48 am #

    i remember
    with pleasure
    the children
    gathered on a corner
    under the lamp

    the surounding darkness
    the circle of light
    the careless conversation

    we sat across the street
    a stones through from home
    a thousand miles away

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