In Defense of Tag

Ticking by at a snail's pace, it’s a daily miracle to many kids that the classroom clock ever strikes “recess time.” With energy abuzz throughout their minds and bodies, most are champing at the bit to hit the playground with unlimited gusto and curiosity. Alas!-- a good ol’ game of tag to get blood flowin’ and let the homework woes drift away! But, not so fast... unfortunately, for some California students, this glorious pastime is no longer an option.


Covered widely by local news outlets, an elementary school in Folsom, California recently banned the wondrous game of tag, along with all other activities where physical contact is a possibility. Citing repeated instances of students playing too rough, the school’s principal decided to do away with a the whole genre of recess games. Having directed youth programs for the past ten summers of my life, I’m the first one in line to empathize with the frustration that’s evoked when a small group of kids acting badly shifts the entire tone of the day for the worse. I’m also quick to grant that, due to the complexity of playground disagreements, coming up with a fix-all solution that keeps everybody happy is quite literally impossible. However, taking away tag to solve the problem of rough play is a broad brushed blunder.


Very little digging is required to unearth the wide-reaching benefits of tag. Physically, the game helps kids develop the sensory-motor skills needed to efficiently move one’s body through space, and begins to build the cardiovascular work capacity required to live a long, healthy life. Mentally, it introduces our little ones to strategy, and provides their brains a necessary break from academic rigor, thereby priming them to continue learning for the rest of the day. Socially, tag gets kids interacting within a group and, when adversity inevitably arises, requires them to navigate their way towards a resolution. When rough tags occur, there’s an opportunity for developing minds to find their voice and figure out why it’s important to speak up against wrongs, and when it’s necessary to do so. Now, while these are all noteworthy benefits of tag, they’re a far cry from the meat and potatoes of the conversation.
Outlawing tag from the playground is an oversimplified, misguided, and shortsighted attempt to patch up dilemmas that call for considerably more forethought and clarity of intention. The issue here is not the fact that tag, or any other activity for that matter, has the potential to lead to horseplay amongst classmates. Rather, the tendency of adults to micromanage how kids play impedes our youngsters’ ability to freely learn how to be humans that eventually go out and independently and effectively maneuver their way through the world.


What will adulthood look like for the child who’s always been protected from conflict on the playground, or for the kid who was never told that his or her actions aren’t in line with how to treat others with respect? You don’t need a crystal ball to see that getting cut off in traffic and experiencing workplace tension are most definitely not going to be cake walks for the former. And, the latter will likely struggle with collaborating on group projects in college and will spend lots of time wondering why people tend to not stick around in their lives all that long.


As opposed to micromanaging play in an attempt to shield our little ones from conflict, we have to do the hard thing. That hard thing is to let our kids be kids, allow them to work through disagreements to the best to their abilities, and step in to guide and teach them when the complexity of the dispute is beyond their years. Instead of taking tag away, comfort kids with hurt feelings when they feel as though they’ve been mistreated, and take the time to educate the instigator on where their actions went awry and how to move forward. While uncomfortable and tedious, these processes are pertinent for growth.


Ironically, when we come across an adult whose behavior we deem as being outside the realm of how a grownup should behave in a given situation, we commonly remark that so-and-so is “acting like a child.” Well, perhaps they’re just making up for lost time, and were never allowed to be a kid when doing so would have been age appropriate.


Aaand in case it’s not yet obvious, we play A LOT of tag at Champ Camp.


Tag you’re it,


-Trevor