Rethinking trampoline mania

When I was a kid, I would spend my summers engaged in a variety of outdoor recreational activities with my family and friends. We’d swim, bike, golf, play kickball, jump rope, climb on rocks, and do just about everything under the sun—except bounce on trampolines. I’m sure they were invented by then, but it was rare to see one in the wild.

Fast forward to my life as a parent, when everyone and their neighbor seems to have a backyard trampoline. Everyone, it seems, except us—much to the dismay of our three children. This is one unpopular parental decision that I could easily blame on my husband, the family practice doctor who’s seen plenty of trampoline injuries in the clinic. But I’m happy to play the bad guy, too. Although I occasionally allow the kids to jump on trampolines at friends’ houses, I hold my breath every time and brace myself for an injury report. So far, we’ve been lucky. I’d prefer not to tempt fate, though, and the more I read about the dangers of trampolines, the more convinced I am of the wisdom in keeping our backyard trampoline-free.

Injuries have increased

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) estimates that more than 180,000 kids are injured on trampolines every year. Most injuries occur to kids between the ages of five and 14 and include broken bones, concussions, head, neck and spinal cord injuries, sprains, and bruises. These injuries can occur when kids fall off the trampoline, land wrong while jumping or attempting stunts, or collide with someone else on the trampoline.

The number of these injuries has been increasing. A study published in the Academic Emergency Medicine journal in 2007 noted that emergency department visits for trampoline-related injuries totaled 88,563 from 2000 to 2005, compared with 41,600 from 1990 to 1995—a 113 percent increase. Since 1990, at least six children under age 15 have died from a trampoline injury.

Despite the number of injuries, trampoline sales remain robust; more than 500,000 backyard trampolines are sold in the United States every year, according to the journal Pediatrics.

Dr. Walter J. Cook, a pediatrician at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, says national medical organizations have responded to the increasing number of injuries, some of which are life-changing, by developing rules and regulations regarding trampoline use. 

“The rules are to try to help children be safe—not to eliminate fun and exercise—and to make parents aware,” he says.

Noting that parental supervision and protective netting can’t adequately prevent these injuries, the American Academy of Pediatrics takes a hard line against trampoline use: it recommends that children never use them at home, a friend’s house, the playground, or in a regular gym class. It recommends that older children use trampolines only in training programs for sports like gymnastics, and only under the supervision of professionals trained in trampoline safety.

Precautions

No parent wants to spend eight to 12 hours in an emergency room with a hurt child, Cook says. To reduce the risk of injuries, parents who allow their children to jump on trampolines should consider safety tips like these from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission:

• Always supervise children who use a trampoline.

• Allow only one person on the trampoline at a time.

• No child under six should use a full-size trampoline.

• Do not attempt or allow somersaults because landing on the head or neck can cause paralysis.

• Do not use the trampoline without shock-absorbing pads that completely cover its springs, hooks, and frame.

• Place the trampoline away from structures, trees, and other play areas.

• Do not use a ladder with the trampoline because it provides unsupervised access by small children.

• Trampoline net enclosures can prevent falls off trampolines (but also can create a false sense of security).

Cook says it’s easy to understand the allure, for busy and stressed out parents, of spending $300 to $500 on a trampoline for the backyard. It keeps the kids happy, it gives them some exercise, and it gives parents a chance to pursue their own activities. But in the long run, he says, having a trampoline is not going to make a child healthier. 

“What’s probably more helpful for children is if you pack a picnic lunch, go to a state park, hike, explore, talk with your kids about all kinds of things, and spend time together as a family,” he says. “I think that’s far more beneficial for things like preventing obesity—and for teaching your kids about nature, and about life.”