Trampolines: Backyard fun or menace?

In middle school, the only P.E. activity I enjoyed was the trampoline. Mrs. J would haul it out along with the balance beam and the uneven and parallel bars. These days, little girls growing up in suburbia tackle these apparatuses with glee. We West Virginia farm girls looked at the equipment with puzzlement and fear. None of us had a clue how to “ride” these critters—except for the trampoline. After all, anyone can bounce. Even Tiggers do it.

Now these school gym-approved bouncers were different than the bulls-eye shaped metal beasts you see squatting in people’s backyards today. For starters, the school’s was a large rectangle and before anyone was allowed on it, you had to adhere to strict safety rules. This meant a swarm of 20 girls hovering around each of its sides, hands raised high to save the bouncer from taking a painful swan dive onto the bone-crushingly-hard gym floor. Flips were banned unless you were harnessed to a system of pulleys and cables. There was never more than one bouncer at a time. The trampoline was an exercise tool: one that could snap you into shape as easily as it could snap bones. It was, Mrs. J stressed, “Not. A. Toy.”

Heh, try telling that to my neighbor whose backyard trampoline sits cockeyed and sagging. That trampoline has been my nemesis since I first laid eyes on it. The latest statistics released in 2007 by Rhode Island Hospital researchers indicate that trampoline injuries send more than 88,000 people (most of them children age 5 to 12) to the ER each year. This May, my 18-year-old niece joined those ranks when she shattered her schnoz while playing a popular trampoline game called “popcorn.” Like a lot of tramp-related bone breaks, this one required surgery. She’s lucky. According to BrainandSpinalCord.org, about 20 percent of all trampoline-related spinal cord injuries occur to the head and neck. Some people become permanently paralyzed. Nets, unfortunately, can give a false sense of safety. In 2006, 5-year-old Ryne Cleary watched as his father, Kevin, failed to land a backflip on the family’s safety-netted trampoline; he’s been paralyzed ever since. In 2010, 11-year-old Tristen Roach died from a trampoline accident at his Virginia home. (I’m not sure whether his trampoline had a net.)

Despite my misgivings (and despite the American Academy of Pediatrics’ stance that home trampolines are unsafe and shouldn’t be purchased), my kids did bounce on their friend’s trampoline. It’s shameful, but I allowed their need for fun to outweigh my parental instinct to protect them. Last week, one of my bouncing boys lost his balance. There was no gym class full of spotters to stop his fall. His landing was hard, the scream heart-stopping, and the relief when he stood, clutched his back and hobbled home, most welcome. It was a hard, scary lesson for us all, and I’m grateful that he (along with my niece) are not permanently injured. Their pain and bruising will subside, but our family’s trampoline ban is forever.

If your family owns a trampoline, do you ever worry about your child or one of their friends getting injured? If you’re a non-owner like me, do you allow your kids to bounce when they’re visiting a friend or relative?