Safety concerns on playground apparatus

Guest post by Jenny Heitz

Playground safety has been a big news topic lately, and today reader Jenny is weighing in with her opinion.

Thankful November - Day 24 - Playtime!

The other day, a Facebook friend and high school acquaintance posted that her child had broken her arm in five places and was undergoing surgery. Her child had injured herself on the monkey bars at a local park.

Naturally, the mom was freaked about the surgery, upset about the pins that would have to be placed in her child’s arm, traumatized by the emergency room. I understand that completely. What I couldn’t understand was her next statement, which was along the lines of “I will be campaigning to have monkey bars removed from local schools and parks.”

My mind reeled. Children have broken bones and injured themselves since time began. It used to be a sort of rite of passage for children. But, as playground equipment has become more sanitized because of so-called safety (read: liability) issues, I hear about injuries less and less. On the face of it, less injury sounds like a good thing, right? But less injury actually might mean less meaningful play and comprehensive exercise. The United States is a nation of overweight children. Do we really need to remove apparatus from playgrounds because of the mere chance of an injury?

Here’s a grown-up example for you: my hobby is aerial static trapeze. I’m totally obsessed with it, have been training for about a year and a half, and recently performed at an open air street fair in Los Angeles. My performance was great, but when I came down for a landing, I blew out my ACL in my left knee. The rehab has been annoying, but I’m back at class after a month off.

Now, when this unfortunate injury occurred, did I blame the event? Did I blame the apparatus, or my aerial arts school? Did I declare the trapeze unsafe for everyone because of a freak injury I suffered? Of course not. Injuries happen, and the possibility of an injury is there every time you do anything physical, from walking down the street to swinging from a trapeze to standing in the shower.

This same logic applies to children. They are physical beings. They will do risky things. Most of the time, they’ll be fine. Every so often, though, they get injured. And so it goes with the monkey bars.

I am not trivializing my Facebook friend’s anxiety over her child. Surgery is no joke. She has every right to be upset and ask for support from friends and family. And she certainly can demand that her child, from this day forward, refrain from swinging from the monkey bars. But… that’s a rule for her child. It shouldn’t be a policy for everyone else’s child.

Comments on Safety concerns on playground apparatus

  1. Not that I’m being vindictive or nasty or aiming this at the woman whose child fell but lets spin this around a little.

    If the makers of monkey bars held the same logic they’d be campaigning for mandatory calcium intakes to help prevent broken bones

    Its always everybody else’s fault (even if its just an instant reaction and not one long held or acted upon), it’s never just kids being kids or accidents can happen

  2. Ha. When I was a kid, my best friend and I had a “break a leg” club – the stated goal was to try to break a bone so one of us could get a cool cast. In reality, it was just a way to challenge each other to jump off the swings at higher and higher points, and to make up more inventive ways to flip off the (homemade, backyard) monkey bars. It was a blast… until I fell off a horse and actually broke my arm (but only got a splint, not a cast – boo). Once that healed, we dropped the moniker and kept doing the same stuff.

    Kids dare each other. They explore. They push limits. It’s part of life. And broken bones (usually) heal.

  3. as far as i see it (hi, i´m german, living in the awesome-playground-land ^^) the thing is that it´s more important to let the (small!)kids learn how to fall right, to use their own stengh, to climb safely etc.

    for example – don´t lift them up the ladder to the slide but let them climb up on their own, standing behind, ready to catch or pointing out good places to hold on to.
    when they know what they´re doing some accidents can be prevented.

  4. Arg, I’m all for safety (I’m not much of a risk taker, myself), but a reaction like that bugs me. It’s like one step from “I’m suing the town for having a monkey bar at the local park which is clearly a death trap”. *sigh*

  5. Kids break their elbows ALL THE TIME. Often on monkey bars. I’m an anesthesiologist and when I did my pediatric anesthesia rotations in residency, I cannot tell you how many kids with broken elbows we had. It was usually from the monkey bars but also from things like jumping off logs and picnic tables. I will probably ask my daughter not to play on monkey bars when she’s old enough. But taking them out of play grounds I think is a bit ridiculous.

  6. I’m trying to find the source, but I did recently read an article about a PhD student’s rec research that showed that play structures actually can hinder activity and play, for various reasons (big kids hogging the good stuff, sitting in the tree house instead of running around it, etc). She interviewed kids and also had them wear GPS necklaces during recess and found that they got way more exercise when their playgrounds were more natural, with paths, groves of trees, and free-form additions like stumps of varying heights and logs laid out on the ground.

    Of course, I think that banning all monkey bars because one kid broke her arm is ridiculous, but it’s worth considering that funky play structures are not necessarily the best way for kids to get exercise. As a shy and chubby kid, I sure as hell never burned off much on the playground, but I LOVED playing at the edge of the woods behind our soccer field (not that that would be allowed nowadays, either…).

  7. I think there will be a backlash to these sad sanitized playgrounds. As an adult, I am among many who do Mud Runs adventure challanges and, when we finally have a yard, will have a fitness obstacle course for us and abso-fuckinloutely will have monkey bars for our babes. They were my favorites!!!

  8. Hear Hear!

    A friend of mine gave me some good advice, and I think it applies here: make rules to accomodate the every day stuff, not the edge cases.

    In this case, a child breaking 5 bones and needing surgery from a tumble off the monkey bars is certainly an edge case, not an every day occurrence. Conversely, they did away with wooden playgrounds in my area because the school nurse was tired of pulling splinters every day.

    If you cater everything to the outliers, you ruin it for everyone else. It rings true in so many situations.

  9. This makes me think, strangely enough, of a friend of mine who used to work at Build-A-Bear. She said that it was a horrible job because she had to keep calling the police when parents left their children there alone and went shopping in another part of the mall. What did the parents say when they came back to find an officer taking a report? “But it’s fine, this is a place for kids!” (Newsflash: it’s a STORE. No babysitting included.) I mention this because I think that this mindset might be the cause of at least some accidents on playgrounds. Obviously, people occasionally hurt themselves, and kids all the more so. But if a parent brings a child to any space, be it playground or their own living room, with the attitude that this is a “kid’s space”, and therefore they as parents don’t have to be engaged, that increases risk. And again, CLEARLY it is totally possible to be standing RIGHT THERE when your child slips and injures themselves – it happens. But I would be interested to know the statistics on playground accidents regarding whether the parent or caregiver accompanying the child was on a bench watching from several yards away, or whether they were actively participating in their child’s play.

    • oh, now see – I don’t agree with this at all. I think parents are far too involved with their kids’ playing time. I don’t remember a day in my life that my mom was on the playground with me. Yes I was a child of the 70’s and playgrounds had sharp bits and rusted parts and merry-go-rounds where the point was to spin it so fast that kids literally flew off it. Kids got hurt all the time and usually parents were MAD about it, because it meant the kid was doing something stupid. We were expected to run off and play with our friends. To make up games with intricate insane rules and to interact with each other, not our parents. Of course parents should play with their kids, and my 2.5 year old is just getting big enough to do playground things on her own. Which I encourage. I am watching her, but not like a hawk. Sometimes she plays alone. That’s okay too. I think somewhere we got some notion that our kids need to be engaged by us or other people all the time. Let them do their own thing. That’s not negligence, that’s childhood.

      • So true (except I was born the 80s ^_^)! I remember running around playgrounds by myself and my friends. Sometimes my mom was there, but she was always sitting on a bench nearby drinking a coffee, reading a book or chatting to other parents. At no time did my mom ever come over and “help” me play. She said, “Have fun, and be careful” and then we’d tear off.

        We preferred it that way because it was always a matter of “LOOKIT ME MOM!” We didn’t want parents to help us on the monkey bars. We wanted them to watch us on the monkey bars.

  10. I don’t think it’s just a case of responsibility or irresponsibility accidents happen and we need to own that. Shit happens I didn’t break my bones but I certainly recieved my fair share of nasty splinters, the last incident left me with a 4 inch splinter in my hand, that’s when I learned to stop climbing all over shadey wooden decks. I learned, just like other kids did and do learn from their oppsies. I wish I had the link to an article about this on babycenter. It was recently and the article was about how too close a parent is to kid playing stunts playing etc… It was neat the responses to it varied from mildly idiotic to incredibly thoughtful.

  11. I broke my pinky toe on a vacuum (TWICE) as a child while being chased by my older brother. Let’s ban vacuums AND big brothers! Who needs them? They’re too loud and they break you’re toes!

    Seriously though, I recently went back to my old neighborhood park, and I was so disappointed! All the giant slides were gone! My daughter is lucky that we live in a very community oriented town. The moms here started a campaign to make Frontierland Park! It’s amazing! : ) There’s a climbing wall, and a weird beehive thing, and hidden hidey holes, and monkey bars galore. It even has a button that when pushed let’s out mist. OOOO!

  12. What great timing. I was doing relief work in a Pre Primary class (5yrs old) and new play equipment was being “tested” under the supervision of myself and the principal. Well what do you know, one of the girls fell off and broke her arm!!

    I lose my patience a bit when kids come up and are all “miss, I hurt my finger, it’s bleeding”, “no it’s not Johnny, go wash your face”. But seeing the pain and distress on this girl’s face was HEARTBREAKING!! I was trying to keep myself together for the kids’ sake.

    But the general attitude among staff was that now it’d happened, it’d be at least a few years before the next accident. These things happen and the girl will have a cool story to tell her friends.

    I didn’t get my first broken bone till I was 19 and I LOVE telling that story! Scars are cool, man!!

  13. I broke my foot falling off the monkey bars in the 3rd grade but no one even considered telling me to stay off them, let alone trying to get the monkey bars removed. On the contrary, my mom decided my bones were weak and started making me drink a big glass of milk every night. Of course, as a nutritionist, that also seems absurd to me, but I think it highlights the contrast between expecting the world to change to keep your kid safe vs. doing your part as a parent to keep your kid (reasonably) safe. In America, it’s always someone else’s fault.

  14. My worst childhood injury happened in my own backyard, and I grew up frequenting Dennis the Menace Park in Monterrey. (For non-locals, it’s a park that has been known for some of the riskiest, and wildest playground equipment around. There is actually an “I survived Dennis the Menace Park” page on FB).

    Kids are going to get hurt, even if we rubberize and sanitize every piece of equipment they come across. It’s a gift of childhood that you can find a way to hurt yourself on seemly innocuous things.

  15. There are some playgrounds in Switzerland – NEW ones – that give me a little heart attack. We often nervously laugh and say, wow this would never fly in the U.S.! I do have to keep a close eye on my toddler, as she can sometimes be a bit bolder than her skill set allows. I have to help her along and up ladders and such. But as a kid, I wasn’t afraid of squat and yet I was pretty cautious with how far I tested my limits, unlike my brothers who broke various parts of their bodies over the years. My mom was the “eh, shit happens” kind of 1970’s mom and had our doctor’s phone number listed first on her important numbers. I try to be like that as well and “up you get, you’re okay” is what I say when my kid falls down or gets a scrape on her knee. I would be very sad if she broke a bone, but it’s likely she will at some point. People would look at me like I was insane if I suggested the playground was at fault for hurting my kid.

  16. I try to explain this to my husband. He stays at home with our son, so he gets a little paranoid that something horrible will happen on his watch, but when I’m home, I usually let the little one run around and do what he likes as long it’s not inherently dangerous, like playing with knives, fire, or going down stairs unassisted.

    That being said, I broke my arm in two places TWICE when I was his age and a little older, once from a freak roller skating accident, and once while sky diving off of a motorized horse at a department store. Neither made me swear off horses or roller skates, but it did teach me to be careful. The same way that running across uneven ground with an armload of sand toys and falling teaches a valuable lesson to my son. I don’t want to see him get hurt, but at the same time, he will never learn or experience life if you keep him from doing things that MIGHT get him hurt, like climbing on monkey bars, or running with his arms full, or going down slides.

  17. When I was six I was preparing for a dentist appointment by brushing my teeth when I sneezed and broke my nose on the edge of the sink. I wish my mom had petitioned to put an end to brushing or dentist appointments. To this day the broken nose at six and a broken toe at 23 (racing the husband to the bedroom) are my only broken bones. I think there are far more dangerous things in life than playgrounds.

  18. My sister was 3 and fell off a slide at the neighborhood park. I was allowed to play on it when I was 3 and nothing happened to me.
    Lets ban Bikes while we are at it. When my mother was 55 she was riding her bike in the fall and it got chilly so while she was riding the bike she tried to put on her gloves and ended up tipping over! People of any age on any thing can get injured.

  19. I live in Norway and work in pre-school (with children that are 3-5 years old) and what you are saying about that USA are removing swings or carousels and stuff are completely foreign to me. We have big rock, trees, swings over small cliffs, take our children mountain climbing etc on our playgrounds at pre-school. Maybe it’s because Norway do have nature (mountains, deep snow, and stuff) that CAN be dangerous and the children have to learn how to calculate what is dangerous or not, from a young age, but still. I actually get teased by my husband that I don’t have any scars from my childhood (not for lack of trying). If people pad sharp corners and have “kid safeties” attached so they can’t open kitchen shelves, the children won’t ever learn to calculate risks or see what really is dangerous and not allowed. Of course, no children should actually get harmed, but a little pain and a scraped knee only builds character and a good story later on.

  20. I don’t really get it, I suppose. As a kid of the 80s, I saw the beginnings of the playground make-overs, and hated them with all the vigor of a 6 year old…I liked our big metal slides!

    Big brothers are probably more dangerous than monkey bars – I got put in a refrigerator box (with the football helmet and pads of mine, 5.5 years older) and pushed down the stairs by him and my cousin, among other torments, and still…no broken bones.

    My worst childhood injury? I split my head open TWICE, the exact same way…tripping when I was running too fast and going scalp first into the corner of a door (number one) and a neighbour’s table (number two) – if I remember correctly, within a couple of months of each other. Somehow, my mother (an RN) dealt with it sanely.

    Actually, I did a very similar thing at age 23 working in a restaurant – smacked my 6’1″ in heels head on the pass picking up an order and split the skin almost exactly on the old scar. My chef, already threatening to wrap me in bubble wrap due to my shin-to-dishwasher issues, rolled his eyes and gave me ice…much like my mom two decades before. Hurt like a mother.

    Moral of the story – kids get hurt, but they tend to both heal faster and bitch less than adults. If they do it as kids, they learn boundaries and limits while they’re still young and resilient…unless they’re me, who probably should be wrapped in bubble wrap for life.

  21. Totally agree! no one learns if they dont learn the consequences as well.. people fall.. kids fall more.. Its life!!!.. if its not the monkey bars its climbing trees ‘natures monkey bars’… personally i’d prefer playgrounds as apposed to trees with sticks sticking out everywhere!

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