January 21, 2009

"Don't Let Him Hit You!": Manhattan Playground Cultures, Circa 1972

There were once hitting playgrounds? If we've become a nation of helicopter parents raising a nation of wimps, maybe this 1972 survey of the entrenched-but-unwritten ground rules at various [uptown] Manhattan playgrounds will help identify the point where we went astray:

A Playground Dad once suggested to me, as we sat together side by side on a bench, that a giant megaphone be installed over the entire West Side, intoning at steady intervals in a deep Godlike voice: "We don't hit. We don't hit." He's long since gone to Scarsdale, but I stayed in town, and while making forays to neighboring playgrounds as my children grew older, I gradually realized that neither West Side nor East Side could have agreed upon a single megaphone message. True, "We don't throw sand!" is citywide, as is "We don't hit babies!" but after these two basics, the "Thou Shalt Nots" diversify. At some playgrounds we do hit, at least defensively, or we make sure nobody hits us, or we hit boys but not girls, or we hit "gently."


At my home playground in Riverside Park at 82nd Street, for example, we support a high-aggression, high-sharing ethic that ties in with an over-all psychological orientation at the playground, maintaining that a kid should develop self-expression by expressing himself. So we don't intervene until we hear the cries of pain. Even then, "Don't let him hit you!" is more apt to be heard than "Don't hit!" The mother of a victim is at the sandpit rails long before the mother of an aggressor--who may not show up at all. Aggression is a fact of life, according to our ethic, ad we bring children to the playground partly to wean them from the kindly benevolence of home. We've even been known to cheer quiet victims when they finally slug back.

And now we know how our current generation of a**hole derivatives traders was raised.

Playground Mores: Hit, Give Up, or Share? by Zane Kotker, New York Magazine, June 1972 [nymag at google archives]

1 Comment

I remember that playground, over by Soldiers and Sailors... it was a bad scene.
I'll never forget "Aunty Entity" Bronstein swinging out over the sandpit in a contraption made of old stroller parts saying "You know the rule, two toddlers enter, one toddler leaves. Unless it's nap time, then we continue tomorrow."

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