In almost all societies around the world, children have chased each other for fun. Depending on where you come from, you probably call it ‘tig,’ ‘tick,’ ‘tag,’ ‘it,’ or ‘touch.’ The tag game has countless variations, and some are enjoyed by adults as well.
Tag is a simple chasing game, where one person chases the others, trying to touch or tag them. The game is not free of risks, disadvantages, and downsides. Some may argue that the game is entirely safe. Still, there are valid concerns about physical injuries, bullying, harassment, mental health issues, and even death.
Let’s explore 14 real disadvantages, risks, and downsides of the game of tag and its variations.
1. Broken Arms
Imagine breaking your arms and being unable to properly clothe or feed yourself because of a game of tag. This was the case in 2003 when an 11-year-old boy suffered two broken arms while playing British Bulldog on the playground.
The tag-based game is notorious for being overly aggressive. In the incident, the boy playing with other pupils was tackled by another pupil. The more senior pupil pushed him, and as he fell backward, he put his arms out, resulting in the injury.
2. Injured Bystanders
Not only can you get injured playing tag, but you can also end up injuring innocent bystanders. For example, in 2004, a school dinner lady was wounded after a boy crashed her while playing a game of tag with friends.
She was struck in the face as the boy tumbled backward and left with a broken nose, damaged teeth, and severe brain damage. She was hospitalized for weeks and was unable to return to work after the incident.
3. Self Esteem Issue
Positive self-esteem is an integral part of child development. Kids with negative self-esteem may not believe they’re worthy of success or good treatment. As a result, they lose interest in learning, feel sad, angry, frustrated, become withdrawn, and give in to peer pressure.
Believe it or not, the tag game can create self-esteem issues among children. This is because a child may be repeatedly chosen as ‘it’ or the ‘victim,’ especially the scrawnier ones who become easy prey for the tougher classmates.
Bullying involves aggressive and intentional acts perpetrated by a group or individual repeatedly against individuals who can’t easily defend themselves. Bullying is globally recognized as a complex and severe problem.
The game of tag presents lots of opportunities for bullying. Peer bullying is one of the most common forms of violence among youth and children. A child can be repeatedly chosen as ‘it’ as a form of humiliation, especially if they’re weak or less popular.
5. Social Rejection
The game of tag presents unique risks to vulnerable children. It makes it easy for the vulnerable ones to be singled out by their peers as an unwanted ‘it’ that they have to reject and escape from.
This can leave children with disabilities, children belonging to minority groups, refugees, and those who simply differ from the peer group excluded. Children can be very cold-hearted and cruel, especially those who are yet to develop an appreciation of other people’s feelings.
6. Sexual Harassment and Abuse
Although many people would love to ignore it, child on child sexual abuse and harassment is a brutal reality. It often remains unreported because adults dismiss it as “kids being kids” or fear what will happen to the children.
It may be hard to believe, but tag, which involves a power difference between kids, can quickly morph into something sinister. In 2007, an elementary school had to ban tag in its playground because children complained that they were being chased and harassed against their will.
7. Lawsuits and Litigations
The legal atmosphere has changed over the years and created an aura of fear among teachers and school administrators. More and more parents are using lawsuits to improve services in schools or make them pay for what they did to their children.
The last thing you’d want as a teacher is to get sued because some kids got hurt playing tag during recess. So many schools now err on the side of caution. They have banned any unsupervised chasing game during recess, including playing tag.
8. Lower Extremity Injuries
Such injuries result from falling or overexertion. Tag requires running, quick movements and frequent directional changes to avoid getting ‘tagged’. Many get injured playing at undesignated locations, like in or around the home.
Some variants of tag have been associated with promoting deviant behavior among children and adolescents. One such variant is cops and robbers, where cops chase robbers, and when the robbers get tagged, they get sent to jail.
With active imaginations and the influence of TV, violent video games, and the internet, it’s easy to see how such a game can get out of hand. Amid a surge in school shootings, mimicking motions of shooting fellow students, however innocent, sets a bad precedent.
10. Eye Problems
Another variation of tag involves using flashlights or laser emitters to tag other players instead of physically tagging them. The FDA warns that such games have high risks of eye injury to children, especially when adult supervision or guidance is absent.
Like those used in business presentations, portable laser pointers have light intensities sufficient to cause permanent vision loss. In addition, high-powered LED flashlights can result in temporary blindness and put kids at risk of falls and other accidents.
11. Broken Legs
Tag variations like Red Rover have been criticized for being too violent and resulting in severe injuries like broken legs. For example, in 2011, a 7th-grade student broke his leg as he played a game of red rover on the playground of an elementary school.
After the incident, the child’s parents sued the school district. Reports show the student had to have X-rays, physical therapy, and casts to recover from the injury and was still experiencing pain two years later. The school district made a settlement of $15,000.
12. Spinal Injuries
Most of us survived the occasional broken limb in a recess game on the playground, but the danger is more appalling when it’s a spinal injury. British bulldog, a variation of tag, was described as “dangerous as rugby or football” by the British Medical Journal in 1985.
The Journal reported that a 13-year-old boy sustained a hyperflexion injury of his neck as he played the British bulldog game. Although he wasn’t paralyzed, he couldn’t get up. His neck was flexed forcibly with severe pain on his cervical spine and radiation on both shoulders.
You’ve likely never thought anyone could die from a simple chasing game on the playground. But accidents can happen anywhere, and sometimes they’re fatal. In April 2008, a 10-year-old Nebraskan boy died from a tragic accident during a game of tag.
He died of brain injuries in a local hospital after getting impaled in the temple on a metal rod sticking out of a playhouse in a neighbor’s yard. In 2013, an eight-year-old girl died after a boy chasing another ran into her. She fell onto a wooden railway sleeper, and her liver got lacerated.
14. Unhealthy Competition
The classic tag game and all its variations involve some form of competition. Children have to compete in a cutthroat environment and learn painful lessons on winning, losing, or getting singled out.
While some praise such games as a preparation for the dog-eat-dog adult world, others have described over-competition as a problem for children’s mental health.
With such risks, disadvantages, and downsides, it’s better to promote other games that nurture safety, enjoyment, passion, teamwork, and socializing.