Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Jumping for Freedom

We are among those awful parents that abuse their kids by having a trampoline in the backyard. At least it’s abuse according to the safety Nazis that are professionals at wagging their fingers, saying, “Tsk, tsk,” and generally sticking their noses into everyone else’s business — all for the good of “the children,” mind you.

Children have become the perpetual tool for broadly restricting freedoms. Any limitation that can be conceived in the name of child safety is purveyed as a necessary public good. The basic idea is that children are de facto wards of the state and that families have steadily decreasing ability to determine their own destinies.

The American Academy of Pediatrics is a fine example of well-meaning organizations that go overboard for safety in the name of the children. The AAP asks its members to support a total ban on trampolines, as do other safety Nazis.

We made the decision to purchase a trampoline nearly a decade ago. It’s not that we were blind to the potential for injury. But there were many trampolines in our neighborhood and their owners had a variety of safety rules ranging from quite strict to none at all.

Kids will be kids. Regardless of how much we might instruct our kids to stay off neighbors’ trampolines, their desire to join their friends overcame these warnings. While we might have been stricter disciplinarians, neither my wife nor I were completely convinced that the risk was unacceptable. Both of us had used trampolines as children without significant injury.

Ultimately we determined that it would be better to have our own trampoline. At least the children would be close to home in the event of an injury. Also, it is a more controlled environment. Our backyard is surrounded by a six-foot fence, so additional jumpers generally come by invitation only.

Things to think about when considering a trampoline
My wife did the research and insisted that we get a higher quality model rather than a standard discount store cheapie. Sundance Trampolines claims that rectangular models are safest due to bounce distribution. Octagonal models are also relatively safe. Square models are less so. Round models are the least safe because they work like a funnel, channeling everything to the center.

While net trampoline enclosures have become popular, there is some question as to how much they improve trampoline safety. Most trampoline injuries result from collisions rather than by falling off. Net enclosures on round trampolines tend to enhance the funnel effect. Falling between the springs or impact with the frame causes more injuries than falling off. You get more safety improvement from having good quality pads than you do from having a net enclosure.

Safety experts advise allowing only one jumper at a time. But we have found that using the trampoline is frequently a social event for our children. Therefore, I suggest that it is better to get a trampoline that more safely serves that purpose.

One of my family’s worst trampoline injuries occurred at my brother’s home when my nephew was sitting calmly on the edge of the trampoline and lost his balance. He landed on his arm at a bad angle and sustained a serious fracture. He wasn’t even jumping. My brother subsequently had his trampoline put in a pit so that the surface is at ground level.

Over the years we have had the garden variety of minor injuries from trampoline use at our home. We have had only two somewhat serious injuries. One son broke his arm eight years ago when his brother leaped from the swing set (yes, we also have one of those evil devices, along with a variety of bikes, scooters, skates, skateboards, etc) onto the trampoline. That activity was subsequently prohibited at our home. A teenage son miscalculated a back flip (a trick he had successfully completed thousands of times previously) and hit his shin very hard on the frame last year. That resulted in a serious edema and some physical therapy.

The orthopedist that set my son’s broken arm said that it is important to provide children with constructive and controlled ways for them to take risks, experience adventure, and explore their physical limitations. He warned that they will otherwise find other less safe methods to satisfy these inner needs.

Despite the occasional injury, our overall trampoline experience has been quite positive. Our kids have had endless hours of outdoor exercise that they otherwise might not have had. This is important to us, especially with the increased rates of childhood obesity and inactivity that plague our society. The trampoline is one of the few recreational items that the kids never seem to outgrow. I also occasionally use the trampoline for a varied cardio workout.

One benefit of getting a higher quality trampoline is that the frame is still sound after years of regular use, while many neighbors’ cheaper models have long since met their demise. The frame is also rather heavy, which is sometimes problematic when it needs to be moved for lawn mowing purposes. We leave our trampoline up all year long. When it snows, we clear the snow from the mat with a broom. This makes for extra work, but our kids enjoy jumping on the trampoline even in the winter.

The trampoline pads fatigue with exposure. We have replaced them twice and will probably have to replace them again next year. Many people leave the pads off rather than replace them. To me this represents an unacceptable risk. It costs nearly as much to replace good pads as it costs to buy a cheap circular trampoline at a discount store, but I feel the cost is well worth it.

Trampoline mats also fatigue. They eventually rip out. We have replaced ours once and will likely need to replace it again in one to two years. Again, this isn’t cheap, but I think the cost of a high quality mat is worth it.

Lobbying to control your life
I frankly resent the anti-risk we-know-better-than-you safety advocates that try to tell me that it is bad for me to provide my kids with a trampoline. I believe that my wife and I are intelligent enough to weigh the risks and make that determination for ourselves and for our family. Our decision to obtain a trampoline was well informed and our years of experience have validated that decision.

That’s not good enough for the safety Nazis. You see, it isn’t sufficient for them to simply provide information to empower people to make better decisions on their own. To generate more revenue from donations, professional memberships, etc, activists have to show that they are ‘getting something done.’ That something often comes in the form of getting rule makers to adopt restrictive policies.

In other words, your donations and professional membership fees to these organizations not only help their executives buy nice cars and houses, they are spent on lobbying your government officials as well. I wish that rule makers and the public at large would see through the chimera of activists’ supposed pure intentions and regard each peddler of reducing freedoms for what they truly are.


Frank Staheli said...

On a similar note: Where's the last place you've seen a merry-go-round in Utah? They used to be everywhere. Ironically, a recent news story showed how BYU students used third-world kid-power to propel none other than a merry-go-round to generate electricity.

About 10 years ago, we though my 3-yr-old daughter had drunk antifreeze, so we called the poison control hotline. They said to get her to an emergency room pronto. When we pieced the puzzle together and realized that she couldn't have lifted the full gallon jug of antifreeze and that she had actually drunk some water out of her nearby play-kitchen sink, we didn't take her in. We were hounded for two days by call backs as though we were unfit parents for not having taken her to our local hospital. Interestingly, without asking us personally, they knew that we hadn't gone to the hospital.


That One Guy said...

Many years ago, in my own youth (though at an age I should have known better), I jumped onto a trampoline from a significantly higher spot, like, say, the peak of our split level house., for example. The result was a broken ankle as a result of my weight carrying me down, hitting my ankle underneath the trampoline. The sound and feeling of that was enough for me - I stopped using the trampoline thereafter. Oddly we have a trampoline at our house, but it has some pretty strict rules as regards its uses.

As for my ankle, it is still weak, and will turn over and sprain WAY too easily. Which was not fun later as I chose to play competitive volleyball. Let's just say there was MUCH sports tape used. Luckily it seems we will escape a serious trampoline related injury, as our kids are getting older and the trampoline will likely be gone in the next year or so. However, I note that my injury was at an older age, so I guess we'll see if the apple truly does not fall far from the tree, or if there has been significant evolution of my species to weed that event out of the fiber of my children's beings.

Jeremy said...

I would never make my kids grow up without a trampoline.

Great post.

Cameron said...

We had one growing up and loved it, and I just got one for my own family about 6 months ago and it's the hit of the neighborhood.

Trampolines are a blast, but they can cause injuries. Just like pretty much every other activity a kid does.

As to the larger point of safety Nazi's and organizations that have to prove they're "getting something done", it's some great food for thought.

Scott Hinrichs said...

Frank, I have fond memories of making myself very dizzy on many a playground merry-go-round. The last one I can remember seeing was in about 1990.

TOG, my backyard neighbors' kids used to frequently jump from the roof of their shed onto their trampoline, although, I couldn't fathom how this behavior could be acceptable. Unfortunately, one time when a visitor tried it, he ended up coming down on his head next to the shed instead. That boy will have lifelong problems. My neighbor's family finances were nearly ruined. Serious injuries of that nature can be avoided by insisting on a few simple rules.

All outdoor activities involve some risk. Informed people are capable of determining for themselves how much risk they can accept and how to mitigate unacceptable risks.

Or, I guess the kids could just play video games in the basement all day long instead.