Visit your local park on a weekend afternoon and you will see the playground teeming with activity from local children. Kids will be playing in the sand, running around with friends and/or siblings, or exploring the play structure.

Seated nearby on benches or other picnic tables you will also see parents watching their children, providing the supervision that all parks recommend for their safety. It is easy to tell which individuals have children at the park with them, accompanied by pull-along wagons, water bottles and snacks, blankets and other acts of outdoor parenthood.

This vision of a local community park is a wholesome and safe one. But how would you feel if you noted a number of adults who did not have children, observing the playground? Would you find it odd or a safety concern? Should teens and adults without children be permitted in the same proximity as children at play? That’s a question that many municipalities are asking themselves while evaluating alternatives that keep the park accessible for public use.

Banning Adults and Teens from Using Playground Equipment

There are a number of reasons why many municipalities are discussing new legislation to prohibit teens and adults from using playground equipment. While it is true that public parks are for the residents and the community they serve, the new laws do not ban individuals from using the park. The proposal is to simply remove adults from the children’s play area, if they are not accompanied by children.

From a safety perspective the discussion has merit. After all, how many times have you driven by a public playground to see adults and teens (without children) loitering on the equipment, or equipment damaged by graffiti?  Commercial playground equipment—while durable—is simply not designed for children above the age of twelve years. The equipment and its safety features are not engineered for adult use, and playground structures can sustain damage when used beyond their intended purpose.

At your local playground, everything from the height of the structure to the type of surfacing used to prevent injury is based on guidelines that reflect use by toddlers and children aged 2-5 or 5-12 years old. Adult use of playground equipment can result in structure damage that may lead to safety hazards for the children who use it after them. Because the playground is not designed for anyone over the age of twelve years, it is within the right of the organization or municipality to warn against adult use, and even prohibit use with citation, in order to prevent injuries for both children and adults in public playgrounds.

Dog Parks and the Argument for Designated Children’s Play Areas

Many community parks have a designated area for pet owners. The concept of creating ordinances regarding “pet friendly” zones is to enhance the enjoyment of all park visitors, no matter what their preferred recreational activity is. By creating dog parks, owners and their canine companions can enjoy a designated area just for them, while eliminating injury for both dogs and children at play. It makes sense to limit children to the play areas, dogs to the pet zones, and unaccompanied adults to seating areas only.

Most parks and businesses also have legislation that bans smoking in public parks and playgrounds for the same reasons. Parents do not want to be exposed–or have their children exposed–to harmful tobacco smoke and other chemicals. Most playgrounds post a “No-Smoking” ordinance within 20-40 feet of any children’s playground to protect their health, prevent injury from discarded cigarettes, and, for social reasons, modeling a healthy outdoor experience for children.

Various cities in the State of Florida have moved to create legal ordinances which define “Designated Children’s Play Areas” which will prohibit bystanders without children from being within a range of influence or observation that may impede the comfort or safety of children in the play are. But they are not the first state to do so; similar laws have been established in Oregon, Colorado and California. Overseas, in countries like the United Kingdom, the practice has been common for years.

Has your local community instituted a playground restriction and created a “Designated Children’s Play Area” in your park? Would you like them to? Leave a comment on our blog and share your opinion below.