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I recently watched a story on my local newscast addressing the dangers of trampolines. That’s right – trampolines, long the joy of children everywhere, are now considered too dangerous to be used by today’s youth. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended that kids and teens should never use trampolines at home or even in routine gym classes.

Now wait just a minute. Isn’t this the same American Academy of Pediatrics that’s been so very vocal about the epidemic of childhood obesity? Haven’t they been advocating that children and teens put down the video game controller, turn off the TV, log off the Internet and go outside for some vigorous physical activity?

Let’s face it: ALL physical activity carries risks. And childhood has never been without them anyway. Simply being born is itself dangerous, after all. And if you’re over thirty-five or forty, chances are you remember doing all sorts of things as a kid that didn’t even raise eyebrows back then, but would be considered unacceptable risks in today’s overprotective world. Things like riding bikes without a helmet, climbing trees, jumping off a rope swing into a swimming hole or pond (a favorite of my own rural childhood), rollerskating on the sidewalk, playing dodgeball (in gym class, no less, and without any sort of safety equipment) and yes, even jumping on trampolines.

I remember trampolines fondly. My next-door neighbors had one in their backyard. It wasn’t one of those slick, store-bought jobs you see today with padded edges and safety nets, either. This was a crude, homemade unit constructed by digging a shallow oval pit, surrounding it with a foot-high wooden enclosure topped by a six-inch-wide metal beam running all round its circumference, painting the whole thing white and then installing thick metal springs all the way around with a trampoline bed made of green, rubberized canvas. We simply stepped up onto the edge and then jumped onto the canvas, ready to bounce to our hearts’ content. This trampoline was large enough to accommodate two teenagers or three younger kids. One of our favorite games was the “seat-drop” contest, in which two of us would get onto the trampoline together and do seat-drops with no bounce between – simply feet-seat-feet-seat – for as long as we could. The first one to tire or miss a beat lost the contest. We also practiced forward and backward flips (only one allowed on the “tramp” at a time for those) and other tricks. A warm summer day would find up to a dozen or more kids of all ages in my neighbors’ backyard, all taking turns on the trampoline. Standing on the grass in our bare feet, without a mat in sight. It was glorious!

Now, I was definitely not the most athletic kid around. In fact, I was probably one of the clumsiest. Always picked last for teams, I abhorred gym class and was absolutely no good at sports. Except for one thing: that particular gym unit each year where we got to use gymnastics equipment, and even then, I found the uneven bars, the pommel horse and the vaulting box daunting. But when it came to the trampoline – that big white elastic square with padding all around and standing chest-high to many of us – I was finally in my element. Most of my classmates did not have access to a trampoline outside of these two or three short weeks, and had to work to master even the most basic of moves. But I could execute even double flips with an ease born of long practice, and I eagerly looked forward each year to the one time in gym class when I morphed, however briefly, from the klutziest student to one of the most graceful. Even my gym teacher was stumped by my transformation, until one year I finally explained my secret to her.

Of course, these days, people are so worried about protecting children from every childhood bump and scrape that it’s a wonder we don’t just pack them in Styrofoam and feed them strained peas until they’re eighteen. Good grief, here we are, worried about plus-size children who would rather spend all summer in the living room with the latest games for Playstation than take a walk around the block, and we’re complaining about the dangers of trampolines, skateboards, bicycles, rollerblades and swimming pools. Does anyone see the irony here?

In all the years my neighbors had their trampoline, I think there were only two injuries – a sprained ankle suffered when one boy stepped off onto the ground wrong and twisted his foot, and a swollen big toe on yours truly when I stepped off the trampoline and onto a yellowjacket that was sunning itself on the edge. Either of the above could have happened as a result of many other activities. Meanwhile, my friends and I were outdoors and engaging in healthy physical activity rather than inside eating chips and playing video games. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not advocating against things like bike helmets and protective gear for rollerblading and skateboarding, nor do I believe that parents should leave their kids unsupervised while engaging in certain activities. It’s a good idea to have someone keep an eye on them when they’re on a trampoline in the same way that it’s a good idea to have someone watching out for them while they’re in a swimming pool. But I don’t think it’s necessary to forbid kids to engage in an activity at all just because it’s possible that they could get hurt doing it. Otherwise, they shouldn’t even be allowed to get out of bed in the morning.

April 2017

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