Schools have banned tag

Playing Tag, Riding Bikes, and other Nefarious Activities of Children

“We don’t allow tag”

Kristen and I looked at one another yesterday and giggled. It was more of a silenced snort. I looked down to hide my grin of disbelief.

My 10-year old son had gotten into trouble for playing tag in the school yard at lunch. Even his teacher knew how silly it sounded. (For the record: We love his teacher. It’ no knock on her. School rules. Law & order you know.)

The school banned the game of tag. Tag. Banned. A game played for centuries by school-aged children in every country in the world. Banned!

So why can’t kids play tag?” Actually, I didn’t even have to ask the question. His teacher answered it before I asked. “The school doesn’t want kids running around, acting wild, on the asphalt.

She then went on to share that her students haven’t enjoyed the new structured recess. In short, they hate it.

Yes, the term structured recess is an oxymoron. Somewhere someone went to a conference that told schools that free play at recess was bad and that structured recess was good. So now instead of kids running and playing they are put into groups and are forced to play games.

You see, structured recess counts as instructional time… so schools do it. 

So now my son is a criminal. His heinous crime? Be tagged “it” and daring to challenge the taboo of chasing another student to tag him as “it.”

First comes tag. Next comes buying and selling organs on the black markets in South Sudan. 

It’s a slippery slope to destruction, Paul. And it starts with a simple decision. If tagged “it” what will you do? 

God-forbid he gets a cootie shot. Circle, circle, dot, dot… now injecting yourself with a fictional drug will get you expelled.

“Kids don’t ride bikes”

A couple years ago I walked into my neighborhood bike shop and bought a very cool bike for Megan.

I don’t know why. She never rides it. And I never… EVER… see other kids riding their bike around our neighborhood.

Bike riding in our neighborhood is not a thing.

If we put her bike in the minivan and we drive over to a park where there are lots of people riding bikes, she will ride. We will ride together and it’s wonderful.

You see, that’s a fundamental difference between her childhood and mine.

My mom bought me a bike when I was 10 and she didn’t see me again until I was 13.

If it wasn’t raining we weren’t home. I’d come home and my mom would ask where I’d been. I’d just say “around.”

Why? Because that’s where I was. Around. Everywhere and nowhere and up  to nothing. We spent hours… days even… climbing trees and building forts and jumping off things.

I rode my bike around my neighborhood. Then I started riding my bike everywhere. I went miles and miles and miles around my community on my bike. And no one called the cops. My mom was not contacted by Child Protective Services.

I was doing something perfectly normal.

But today? My kids do none of that. I don’t know if they’ve ever climbed a tree. They’ve certainly never just gotten out of the house and been “around.” No hide-n-seek. No ghosts in the graveyard. No days lost to playing twenty-one until your hands turn white.

I always know where my kids are. They are either at home, school, or church. When they go to a friends I know all the details. When they go somewhere else, an adult is there.

To make it even creepier I’ve given my 12-year old an iPhone with GPS features. If I wanted I could track her all day, every day.

It’s very, fundamentally, different than how I grew up.

The death of free play

I’m not saying any of this is good or bad. I’m just saying it is. 

It is our kids reality. It is the world they are growing up in. This is the way education and parenting are today. Very high levels of control. Very low levels of childhood autonomy. And the absolute eradication of free play.

Free play, as you and I knew it growing up, is dead.

And free play is continually buried one-inch deeper with every news story about a child abduction or kid bullied on the playground or some idiot at the state capital decides that structured recess can count as a replacement for gym.

Fear did this. Parents are so scared that their child will get hurt that they’ve eliminated all of the fun stuff about being a kid.

So What?

One day the rubber band of fear we’ve strangled our children’s childhood with will break.

One day, our kids wake up as adults to the reality that the absence of danger was the most dangerous thing that could have ever happened to them.

And then what?

Question: Has your school banned free play? Do you think this is a good thing? Why or why not?





6 responses to “Playing Tag, Riding Bikes, and other Nefarious Activities of Children”

  1. Mike Avatar

    This idea is one of the big reasons I stopped taking kids to summer camp and started taking them camping. I had an awesome summer camp experience growing up, but I saw an opportunity to do something different. We now take our kids to National Parks while keeping the emphasis on spiritual discussions through devotionals and meal time talks.

    One of the best experiences every week happens like this (and it happens every summer): Students will ask what we’re doing that day. Our leaders turn to them and ask them what they’d like to do. We then sit down together with a park map and figure something out.

    I’ve spent entire days playing Capture the Flag in Badlands National Park, Hide and Go Seek in a boulder field in Colorado, and having pine cone wars in Northern Minnesota.

    When our students get cut loose, it’s amazing what they can do. It’s even better when they start to create together.

  2. Joy m Avatar
    Joy m

    Not a new question, but we were the mean parents who made our kids walk to the neighborhood school. A half mile. Out of our sight. When a friend (who lives in the “nice” neighborhood and still doesn’t let her 13yo walk around the block) asked how I could do it I countered with “How can you wait until your child is 16 and then give her the freedom of driving if she has never even walked around the block?” We agreed to disagree.

  3. Mike Andrews Avatar

    But free play is such a dangerous thing. It teaches kids to engage other dangers like imagination and free thought. The consequential skinned knees and bruised egos and bad choices can be so devastating.

    What would our society look like if everyone had to make up their own mind all the time?

    What kind of heartless culture makes people deal with the consequences of their own actions?


    I think what we see in all of this is a lack of faith. This shouldn’t surprise us from people who don’t claim to have any, but it sure can make it a challenge to lead our students and our own kids into a life of God pleasing faith.

    Last year, I noticed that part of the rubric on my kids’ report cards, part of what is ingrained in our culture is “awareness of the safety of self and others”. I couldn’t remember ever being graded on that in any way and posted some thoughts along these same lines:

  4. elementdave Avatar

    Hey Adam-Don’t know if you have seen this article, but it definitely speaks to what you write. The funny thing is as a 43 year old, I want to go here too…of course they didn’t need this when I was a kid. I just did stuff with my friends all over.

    1. adam mclane Avatar

      @dave – I hadn’t seen it. But someone shared it on my FB wall earlier today. Um, I want an adventure park in my neighborhood!

  5. Stephanie Snyder Staker Avatar

    Hi, Adam, great topic and, as a grandparent, I have seen all of what you describe. It is sad. When we were kids (I am closing in on 70), if it was nice weather, we were outside playing. Playing what, you ask? Just playing or riding our bikes or going to the city pool (walking by ourselves! Shock!), etc. My 11 year old grandson reported grumpily to me one day that the school had banned balls. Yep, you read it right – no basketball, no soccer balls, no balls of any time. I asked him why? He was told that “someone might get hurt”. Geez. Apparently, the kids in his class were all upset about the latest “can’t” and the teacher (wisely) suggested the class as a whole write a letter to the principal and school board. These are 5th graders, by the way. She supervised and helped them craft a class letter and it was sent. I asked my grandson a week or two later if they had any response and he sadly said no. I thought that was rude! The least they could have done is reply with “thank you for your letter” – acknowledging their work, right? Well, I noticed that there are now balls in the playground again. There was no big announcement apparently, they recess monitors just brought out the kickballs and soccer balls, etc. I still think some adult should have responded to the class but at least there are balls at recess again. The entire school is so automated that it is irritating. At lunch each class must eat together. No one can get up after they are done eating. They have to wait until everyone is done and get up as a unit and take care of their trash and trays. What??!! I asked grandson why….he was told that this way was the safest way. Absurd. Anyway, off the subject but I see all of this as you described and more and I am saddened by it.

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