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Last Updated: Wednesday, 6 October, 2004, 16:11 GMT 17:11 UK
Are we overprotecting our children?
Children playing conkers
A headteacher in Carlisle has bought safety goggles to ensure his pupils can play conkers safely.

Shaun Halfpenny, of Cummersdale Primary School has invested in six pairs of industrial safety goggles and now pupils queue up at breaks to take turns to use them.

Mr Halfpenny says the move is a "sensible" step to protect children's eyes from pieces of flying horse chestnut and because Britain has become an increasingly litigious society.

Do you agree with Mr Halfpenny's actions? Or have we gone too far in attempting to protect our children? Are traditional games at threat?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

The following comments reflect the balance of opinion we have received so far:

We cannot expect someone else to underwrite the risk
Steve Rogers, Yateley
The situation at Cummersdale Primary School has nothing to do with overprotecting children. It's about a businessperson, in this case a headmaster, assessing the risk to his 'company' and deciding that it was a risk that it was not worth taking. The 'no win, no fee' culture of litigation will eventually curtail all activities that expose anyone to any chance of injury. Of course it's ridiculous, but if we want to be responsible for our own actions and have the freedom to do as we please, we cannot expect someone else to underwrite the risk.
Steve Rogers, Yateley

What a lot of nonsense! We need to return to the days of common sense! The country has gone mad with political correctness and fear of prosecution! Since when did playing become dangerous? We really need to get a grip and allow children to experience all kinds of so-called dangers.... conkers, running, jumping, climbing, cricket etc etc.
Marge, Aberdeen

I would've done the same in his situation; his only other choice was to ban it altogether. If a child broke the rules and played conkers without the goggles he'd presumably still be sued. There seems to be another story every day of children's' lives being ruined by the threat of litigation. I'm still waiting for politicians to say they'll do something about this, but I think I could be waiting for some time.....
Oliver Adams, Godalming, Surrey, UK

It seems strange that many parents these days don't appear to be bothered about their kids enjoying ultra-violent computer games, song lyrics and films etc, yet can't bear them to do anything that might cause a bruise or two.
R. Winch, England, UK

What's next, bubble wrap track suits?
Chris, Plymouth, UK
This really infuriates me - what's next, bubble wrap track suits? We can forget ever being good at anything in the future, who is going to charge through people across the try line if they need goggles to play playground games. This country is on a downward slope - stop the insanity!
Chris, Plymouth, UK

It's not a question of litigation. The fact is that if children play dangerous games without taking precautions, someone is going to get hurt, sooner or later. The question is, would you be so relaxed if it was your child who was hurt? Because it could be!
Dave Brown, Bishop's Stortford, UK

In addition to wearing goggles, no doubt the conker contestant who doesn't win will have to be deemed to have come 'second' as calling them 'the loser' could leave them emotionally damaged for life!
Matt F, Bristol, UK

It seems half the stuff I did as a kid (and that wasn't long ago at all) has been banned by overzealous authorities in fear of compensation culture. What next, bio-suits in case they catch a cold?
Marc, Fife, Scotland

Parents who sue? Who do they blame if their child stubs a toe, trips over or perhaps traps a finger in a door at home? Stop this blame culture - get some decent laws to protect teachers and allow the children to do children's activities.
Sturge, UK

Having been put in this situation, I fully sympathise with the Head
Conker Law, UK
I love the critics in this thread. It is not they who will be dragged to court by parents to explain themselves should a pupil be injured. Having been put in this situation, I fully sympathise with the Head. Having to go to court over someone else's injured child is the most stressful experience going - and there will always be people who think it is your fault, regardless of any outcome. The Government wants trips and activities? Then let them pass laws to protect the teachers and organisers against claims for accidents. Let them stop parents dragging teachers to court over mishaps. Until the law is passed, I will continue to not do trips and wrap kids in cotton wool.
Conker Law, UK

Surely it would be more sensible, fairer and cheaper to ban the kids from playing conkers at school? I wasn't allowed to when I was a kid, but that's mainly because the headmaster didn't want to place a weapon in the hands of the school bully! There is plenty of time for friendly games of conkers after school.
Heather, Stockport, UK

Ridiculous. When I was a youngster I used to play conkers, climb tress, play down the local brickyard and thoroughly enjoy myself. Any knocks, scrapes grazes or worse were my own stupid fault. My parents would never have dreamt of claiming against the council, the tree-owner or anyone else. More madness.
Andy, Manchester, England

We urgently need a change in the law
Charles, Canterbury, UK
When are people going to realise that "accidents happen" - very often caused by sheer stupidity? We urgently need a change in the law, allowing councils etc to sue those bringing frivolous litigation. We also need an immediate ban on the "no win no fee" litigation business.
Charles, Canterbury, UK

At least they get to play conkers...a local school has banned it altogether for fear of law suits resulting from any injuries.
C. Flynn, London, UK

How are children ever expected to respect so-called dangerous games like conkers if they are armoured up in safety gear? I fell out of and off numerous trees, playhouses, playground equipment, bikes, sledges etc and survived, and every time I hurt myself it taught me to be more respectful and wary whilst still having fun. Children these days don't get this chance and now it looks like health and safety is meddling with an innocent game of conkers!
Ian, Dorking

Life's a gamble and we all lose in the end anyway. Get used to it at an early age to make the most of it.

Alas, it is the fact that parents will run to lawyers the second their child is injured is the reason this has happened.
Graham, UK

Is it any wonder our children just stay at home watching TV and playing computer games, getting fatter!
Ian, UK

I went for a walk in the local park at the weekend. The large lake used to have paddle boats and a swimming area with changing facilities. Alas the changing rooms have gone, as have the boats, replaced by "No swimming", "No boating" signs. I assume this is in case someone has an accident and sues the council who own the park. Is it any wonder our children just stay at home watching TV and playing computer games, getting fatter!
Ian, UK

Yes I think we do overprotect children though I can't blame Mr Halfpenny for taking this action as I have no doubt many parents wouldn't think twice before suing the school if an accident happened. Slightly off the conkers topic, children never seem to be allowed to get muddy and dirty any more, to use a cliché - it never did me any harm!
Jill, UK

Well at least these kids are allowed to play conkers - so many schools forbid it because of safety fears. Kids need to have the space to do stupid stuff - it's the best way to learn. But now I know conkers really can damage the eyes, I think it's the most sensible compromise. Well done Mr Halfpenny!
Isobel, Salisbury, UK

Yes, we are overprotecting our Children. The problem comes in that by not exposing them to risks and the consequences of risk taking they grow up unable to make well balanced judgements that involve risk taking. Combined with a loss of physical/competitive sports we are breeding a generation of milk sop softies
Chris Taylor, Haslemere

Perhaps we should develop a soft conker? Organic of course. I suppose we could just let children be children but then that would make Mr Halfpenny the full penny wouldn't it.
RC Robjohn, UK

Successful litigation is not easy, nor well rewarded, nor increasing
Matthew Joyce, Oxford, UK
We need more facts about litigation, not opinions from uninformed headmasters. Litigation costs in the UK have remained at 0.6% to 0.7% of GDP from 1989 to 2000 and overall accident claims were level from 2000 to 2002 and down in 2003. Successful litigation is not easy, nor well rewarded, nor increasing. Negligence has to be proved. There are increasing costs to local authorities in handling claims, but most of these claims are frivolous and don't result in awards being made. Tell us the truth about litigation, stop trying to shock and amuse with "conkers banned" headlines, and maybe we'll be less inclined to believe the promises of personal injury claims firms.
Matthew Joyce, Oxford, UK

To Mr Matthew Joyce, who suggested that we should take comfort in the fact that litigation costs are holding steady at around 0.7% of GDP - given that the U.K.'s GDP in 2003 was estimated at 1.664 trillion dollars - this seems like an awful lot of money goes to our legal friends - can anybody help me with the maths here - way too many zeros for me to get my head around!
Joan Sinclair, Aberdeen

Simply - Yes. To Mr M. Joyce, you are quite possibly correct in your figures on "successful litigation" but I am fairly sure that a lot of councils just pay up at the threat of litigation in a lot of small claims as it is cheaper than going to court. So your figures do not actually represent the true costs.
Ian, Hampshire, UK

The compensation culture wins again. No win, no fee should be outlawed and so should legal aid for compensation. It's not just the compensation that costs, it's the increased liability insurance - which, incidentally, will affect every organisation in the UK. We should only allow compensation in criminal cases, eliminate the "get rich quick because I had an accident" syndrome.
N.Hoskins, East Grinstead, UK

He needs to supply helmets with visors and bubble-wrap the kids. Add a good dose of antibiotics so no one spreads infections. Yes, he is justified, we live at a time when everyone is expected to live forever. Urban life has taken all the fun and adventure out of living. It would probably be cheaper to take the horse chestnuts away and have the children play inside on padded mats.
John, Alaska, US

I wonder where these compensation obsessed money grabbers will stop? I know of a guy who tried to sue our company after he broke his ankle jumping off a skip. Why? Because there was no sign telling him not to! Do we really want to raise a generation of individuals who are either too stupid to use their common sense, too eager to seek financial reward through the courts or too scared of the financial consequences to have fun? If we do, I want no part of it! Bring on the goggle-free full contact conker action!!
Andy D, Oxford UK

Children tend not to play with the conkers sensibly
Amanda T, West Midlands
I would have introduced wrist protectors too. It is dangerous and bashed wrists, black eyes etc are something we don't need more of in the school playground. Children tend not to play with the conkers sensibly which is where the problems occur!
Amanda T, Stourbridge West Midlands

When I played conkers at school (in the seventies) the biggest risk was from a broken knuckle rather than eye injuries, however, the biggest pain was from 'Excalibur' - the Headmasters cane! No gain without pain, and it certainly taught me... (not to get caught at least!) You should have seen us in the chemistry lab with sulphuric acid. Scary even then... still it taught us not be big softies, which is what most kids are now... Ask the Army recruiters.
Mr Smith, England

Whatever next. A crutch for playing hopscotch in case children fall over when hopping on one leg? Only allowing children to walk when playing chasing? I can understand teachers worrying that parents may sue, but really this is going too far.
Rod Cox, Maidenhead Berks

Although I agree it seems a ridiculous step to take to hand out goggles to play conkers, I think that if it is the only way Mr Halfpenny will allow conkers to be played, then it is a good step. I remember when I was at school nearly every playground activity ended up being banned, such as yoyos and pog, and it would be a travesty if the age old game of conkers was to disappear.
Sandi, Manchester, UK

Children today are missing so much
Annabelle, Strathclyde, UK
I remember falling out of many a tree as a kid, playing in the mud and building "dens" in the woods. I remember when a sign of a great adventure was the bruise and the scrape you got as a souvenir. Those were the days. Children today are missing so much, and my heart breaks to think that we have made a world for them that would let us wrap them in cotton wool to save them, if only it didn't mean danger of suffocation.
Annabelle, Strathclyde, UK

My initial reaction was to think how ridiculous, what will come next? But actually, the more I think about it, the more sensible it seems. It will instil (hopefully) a more careful attitude in children, including possibly an increased chance of them wanting to wear cycle helmets, and also later in life, realising that they are responsible, and health is important to look after, so it might increase overall awareness of their health and well being.
Iain, Poole, Dorset

I think the problem is that many parents do NOT protect their children and do not teach them to respect authority. I was on a canal trip yesterday and before we set off, the skipper expressly asked parents to ensure that kids did not hang out the side at locks. What happened at the first set of locks? You can guess. Yet if there had been an accident, I am sure it would be these same parents who would want to find 'blame' elsewhere.
Mark, Glasgow, UK

Well done to Mr Halfpenny for quietly implementing a no-nonsense approach to something that could've ignited the pc-brigade. His quiet, understated attitude reported in this article is an example for how to handle potential problems.
Colin Hughes, Leamington Spa, England

Welcome to the future world of wimps!
Ray, Wolverhampton
How long before we need to send our kids to school in racing leathers, crash helmets, American football gear, cricket pads and industrial safety boots? Welcome to the future world of wimps!
Ray, Wolverhampton

Somehow the classic Fudge advert with the two boys playing conkers wouldn't look the same if they were wearing safety goggles... How are children supposed to learn anything about safety and common sense, let alone skill, in knowing how to avoid such potential accidents if we just protect them all the time such that they never really experience anything on their own terms? I can see the point, but this world just gets more pathetic every day.(
Andy Funnell, Chelmsford, UK

Perhaps this is a good time for businesses to innovate. How about virtual conkers played on your console with realistic shock controller? And Top Trumps Conkers where you have stats like "Bake time" and "Vinegar content" - just make sure the cards have round edges, don't want any paper cuts do we.
Jonathan, Bedford, England

You can't blame the teacher. He's covering his own back. It's just a sad reflection of the mentality of people nowadays with regard to always looking for someone else to blame.
Wendy, Oslo

Perhaps there will be a time in the future when adults will sue for the loss of their childhood
Kiltie, Staffs, UK
Too much cotton wool, not enough common sense. I remember sharing my bubble-gum with my best friend - AFTER it had been in my mouth. Scraping my knees more than once from seeing who could jump the highest off the swings, etc. The compensation culture has a lot to answer for. Perhaps there will be a time in the future when adults will sue for the loss of their childhood.
Kiltie, Staffs, UK

This shows how corrosive the insurance industry and the law profession have become. The custom of playing conkers dates back centuries. It was always an acceptable risk. But now, schools fear being sued and having their insurers invalidate their policies. Government has to act to stop this getting out of control by setting up public regulation for both the insurance and the law professions.
Tim Watkins, Wales

I think actions like Shaun Halfpenny's simply perpetuate the problem. The more people employ over-zealous safety measures, the more they will become the norm and come to be expected. This cannot help matters in the long run. Crazy...
Jonny K, London, UK

Good for him! Rather than banning the fun in such ridiculously litigious times he's taken some initiative and found a solution.
Mark, Middlesbrough, England

They'll be stopping hopscotch soon just in case a kid twists an ankle!
TC, Norwich, England
For heaven's sake, why don't we all take responsibility for our own actions, stop finding scapegoats to sue for accidents and actually get on with enjoying life rather than worrying about what might or might not happen all the time? They'll be stopping hopscotch soon just in case a kid twists an ankle!
TC, Norwich, England

The only reason that the headteacher is taking this stand is due to the blame culture we have in this country, People are too quick to sue for accidents and playing conkers is an example of a sport that could go wrong.
Lianne, Cannock, UK

Just another thing turning this country into a nanny state. Stop wrapping everybody up in cotton wool!!
Chris Morgan, Worthing, West Sussex

What a load of rubbish, what next gloves to play marbles with?
Dave P, Manchester

It's absolutely the right thing to do. Unfortunately we live in an age where people look to be compensated for whatever they can. Introducing this health and safety measure could save the education department a lot of money. Some people think it's silly but imagine how they would react if their child was blinded from playing conkers in the playground.
Leigh, Gatwick

I'm not surprised that the headteacher has gone to these lengths. I'd think it's more to protect the school from being sued by money-grabbing parents than for the protection of the child.
Maurice, Birmingham, UK

Parents are too quick to look to apportion blame
Richard Speight, Barnsley, UK
Unfortunately until people will, once more, be responsible for their own actions and realise that accidents can happen this type of thing will be more widespread. Parents are too quick to look to apportion blame and to sue just because of an accident.
Richard Speight, Barnsley, UK

Yes we are, but in today's stupid litigious world it will only get worse. If I was a teacher I would refuse to do anything remotely "risky" with kids for fear of being sued!
Scott, Leeds, UK

I am at a loss for words. What kind of a world are we building for our children? When do they ever get a chance just to be kids? And when and how do they learn to assess risk for themselves and learn to handle unfamiliar situations? We are bringing up a generation of feeble, over-cautious youngsters, and we will live to regret it.
Richard, Wales, UK

Well, it depends. Have there been any recorded cases of children being hit in the eye by conker fragments? The answer determines whether goggles are necessary. One option would be to simply make goggles available and encourage children to make a sensible choice on their own.
Ray Gray, London, England

I can't believe parents still let their children play such "dice with death" games without full body armour, let alone mere safety goggles.
James, Hertfordshire

Children must learn about the dangers of life
Chris, UK
Yes we overprotect them, children must learn about the dangers of life or they will soon succumb to them when they cease to be wrapped in cotton wool. On the other hand, Mr Halfpenny is a wise man; I can easily imagine him being sued because someone's child got some conker in their eye. His problem lies in all the other dangers the world can produce, he can't protect the children from them all and he will be sued as soon as someone smells money.
Chris, UK

I remember having a great childhood where I could ride for miles on my bike and there were no mobile phones to keep tabs on me. I could climb trees and play conkers with no eye protection. And I am not old, I am only 28. What on earth is next?? Gloves for reading in case they get a paper cut?? I have a son and while I want to protect him from the dangers of this world he is going to have to fall down and scrape his knee from time to time, it's part of being a kid.
Richard Scott, Iver, UK

Conkers? Bonkers more like!
Robert Cragie, Sheffield, UK

Absolutely pathetic. I used to play conkers and never needed goggles. I also used to eat worms, play rugby and cycle, all without ever having to wear protective clothing. It's amazing that I've lasted as long as I have if you consider what children can't do today.
Sarah, UK

It strikes me that we're not overprotecting the children, the headmaster in this case is protecting his own back.
Paul, Isle of Man

Where has personal responsibility gone?
Jim Kirk, Basildon, UK
This country is going loopy. Where has personal responsibility gone? Litigation is required but should only be as a last resort in the case of culpable neglect and then to protect in the future rather than just to seek compensation. Let kids grow up and make relevant risk assessments on their own; contrary to popular belief children are not stupid.
Jim Kirk, Basildon, UK

People seem to have forgotten that scraped knees, grazed elbows and the occasional poke in the eye are all part of the experience that is childhood. Children may be precious. But precious doesn't always mean fragile.
Doug, Swindon, UK

I thoroughly agree with Shaun Halfpenny's actions. As the victim of a stray conker-shard to the eye, I have had to endure years of painful surgery and 'procedures' to my left eye. I never let my children go to school with conkers unless they have safety goggles.
Tom, London

I pity the kids nowadays; they aren't allowed to do anything anymore. But it isn't to protect them it is more to protect the parents and the authorities. They are so afraid of getting sued that they'd rather impose their silly rules/laws on the kids.
Franziska, UK

Pupils wear goggles for conkers
04 Oct 04  |  Cumbria

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