It’s summer, and that means kids everywhere are bouncing their boundless energy away on backyard trampolines.
And on rainy days, or days when families are looking to escape the heat and humidity, indoor trampoline parks are an increasingly popular option.
So, what can parents do to keep their kids safe as they jump?
“People cannot agree whether trampolines are safe or unsafe,” said Jennifer Hoekstra, injury prevention coordinator at Spectrum Health Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital. “It’s a trade-off between kids having fun, learning balance and getting exercise—and the risks that are inherent with a trampoline. That’s why having rules and following the rules is really important.”
For its part, the American Academy of Pediatrics is on record advising against the use of trampolines for children younger than 6 due to their fragile bones. The academy also “strongly discourages” the home use of trampolines.
Hoekstra said in an average year in the U.S., 80,000 kids visit the emergency room with injuries from trampolines.
“That’s out of control,” she said.
But, she knows that many families have opted to embrace backyard trampolines and trampoline parks.
“I do think there’s a place for them,” Hoekstra said.
If you’re a pro-trampoline family, she encourages using the following safety guidelines.
Tips for backyard trampolines:
1. Set an age limit.
Hoekstra said she believes kids should be older than 6 before jumping on a trampoline.
“That can be hard for parents to hear,” she said.
2. One jumper at a time.
This is another one that’s sometimes hard to digest.
“My rule is one at a time,” she said. “If we are at someone’s house where there’s a trampoline, I never let my kids jump with anyone else. When you get into a multiple bouncer situation, then a lot of injuries come from them banging into each other.”
She added, “If you decide that multiple bouncers is unavoidable, or that ‘this is going to be the worst summer of my life if only one kid bounces at a time,’ make sure they are evenly matched in weight and height.”
3. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully.
Many trampoline manufacturer instructions for assembly and use include details such as maximum weight limits, installing screws facing out versus in, and how to properly install and pad the nets, bars and springs around the trampoline.
“Read the manual of your trampoline,” she said.
4. Pad it and lower it.
“The bars around the trampoline should be padded and all surfaces should be cushioned,” she said.
Most people put their trampolines on grass, which is not an absorbent material. Mulch or rubberized material like you would find on a playground is a better base, she said.
Also, lowering the trampoline closer to the ground is better, assuming there’s still the manufacturer’s recommended clearance for safe jumping.
Some trampoline owners choose to dig out the ground under a trampoline to create a hole for it to sit in. Hoekstra said that lowers one risk, but it can create another risk that parents rarely think about.
“I love the concept for reducing falls, but there’s another great danger that comes from that,” she said. “The hole under that trampoline will fill with water any time there’s rain. For a young child who falls under that trampoline, the risk of drowning is really high. Be really aware of what is filling that space and have rigid rules on when it’s useable after a rain.”
5. Always supervise.
Hoekstra said parents must be prepared to supervise when children are using the trampoline. That way, they can make the rules clear and enforce them.
“The rules are the rules and they have to be followed,” she said.
She even advocates having a fence around a trampoline, just like a pool, so children’s access to it is controlled.
“For some reason, trampolines tend to lead to horseplay,” she said.
Tips for indoor trampoline parks:
1. Make sure your kids understand the rules and follow them.
Indoor trampoline parks have rules posted, Hoekstra said, but many people don’t review or follow them.
“I emphasize that parents must take the lead in helping their children read the rules before playing and follow the rules when they’re playing,” she said. “We as parents have to take ownership.”
Either before you go to the trampoline park or once you have arrived, go over the rules with your child and have them repeat them back to you.
2. Closely supervise your children.
“It’s like with all childhood activities, the more adult supervision or participation there is, the lower the risk of injury,” she said.
If you see a dangerous situation about to occur for your children, you can intervene and help prevent it.
“It’s an opportunity to engage in building family connection through a fun activity and at the same time, being able to monitor their safety,” Hoekstra said.
That might include advocating for your children by saying something to other children.
“If your children are being put in a dangerous situation because of other children not following the rules, it’s OK to respectfully say something to the other children,” Hoekstra said.
Make sure their behavior is directly impacting your children, though, and watch your body language and attitude.
Also be flexible with moving to another area of the park if one area becomes overcrowded or rowdy.
3. Respect your child’s boundaries.
While it can be OK to encourage children to take risks, be mindful that their fear can be saying something.
“Hesitant kids are hesitant for a reason,” she said. “Sometimes there’s a good reason for that hesitancy, so don’t force your child to do something they do not want to do.”
Their risk of injury can often be greater in those situations, because their fear causes their bodies to be more tense, Hoekstra noted.
“Know your kids and know their comfort zones,” she said.
Like with most childhood activities, proceed with awareness and caution, being sure to find the right balance between safety and fun.