Are Safety-Obsessed Playgrounds Spoiling Our Children?

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Cushioning the Blow of Childhood Play

The gradual bubble-wrapping of public playgrounds occurred in response to growing evidence that a substantial number of injuries, some serious or fatal, were occurring on kid's playgrounds. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that more 200,000 children a year go to the emergency room with playground-related injuries. Between 1990 and 2000, 147 such visits resulted in fatalities.

Further research has looked into how kids were getting hurt and what could be done to prevent it. A 2008 study published in the journal of Clinical Pediatrics found that 75 percent of injuries resulted from falls, hence current guidelines in some cities that require climbing equipment and slides be a maximum of 7 feet high to reduce the chance of falling injuries.

Seesaws and merry-go-rounds were concerns for pinching injuries when children got caught underneath them and ropes posed strangulation risks, so these playthings became scarce.

So where do we draw the line between allowing children to get messy -- and perhaps a bit scuffed up -- for the sake of life experience, and protecting them from serious injuries like head trauma and broken bones?

Ironically, Sandseter and Kennair note in their paper that playground injuries may have more to do with the risk-taking behavior of the child than with the equipment itself.

"No matter how safe the equipment, the children's need for excitement seems to make them use it dangerously," they write.

In other words, the Evel Knievel kids that try to do backflips off the slide are going to hurt themselves no matter how much shock-absorbent padding we put down.

But this doesn't mean that that we shouldn't try to reduce the risk of serious injury, Smith says.

One of the best ways to strike the balance between safety and fun is to improve the grounds of playgrounds, he says. Making sure that surfacing under playthings is maintained and cushions the fall is a way to reduce injury severity without lessening how fun or challenging the equipment is, he says.

That way, the daredevils will at least have a softer landing pad.

For more information on playground injury go to www.injurycenter.org

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