Preventing playground injuries:

Many positive kids stand on red ropes and play together on playground in summer

When my children were little, their favorite thing to play on at the local playground was a big yellow climbing structure. There was a platform that was high off the ground, with various ladders to climb up as well as two slides (one straight and one curvy) and a pole to slide down or climb up. There were even some monkey bars leading up to it on one side. It could be a castle or a pirate ship or a space ship, and climbing it or mastering the monkey bars was a big, pride-filled milestone. It was awesome.

When they renovated the park, they took it down. “There’s nothing good there anymore,” said my youngest. “It’s all little kid stuff.” Everything in the playground now is close to the ground — and hard to get hurt on.

It made me sad.

Don’t get me wrong — as a parent and pediatrician, I want children to be safe on the playground. Between 1996 and 2005, US emergency rooms treated about 200,000 children a year for playground injuries, which is a lot. I worry especially about traumatic brain injuries (TBI) such as concussions, as they can have long-term consequences; a study just released in the journal Pediatrics showed that between 2001 and 2013, there were 21,000 emergency room visits a year for TBI’s in children 14 years old and younger.

The study showed that the number of playground TBIs seen in emergency rooms rose between 2005 and 2013 — but it’s not clear whether that’s because there were truly more of them or whether both parents and doctors were becoming more aware of and concerned about concussions. The fact that more than 95% of the children were treated and released, meaning that the injuries were minor, supports this explanation. Until relatively recently, most parents wouldn’t have brought their child to the emergency room for a head bump unless the child lost consciousness, needed stitches or otherwise seemed very unwell; head bumps were considered a normal part of childhood.

We now understand that head bumps can be more dangerous than we realized, and we are more careful at playgrounds (and in sports). That’s why the yellow climbing structure came down, I’m sure; the study found that playing on those, and swings, was the biggest cause of TBI. But as a parent and pediatrician, I think we need to be careful with being careful.

Concussions shouldn’t be a normal part of childhood, and playgrounds should be safe. But being safe isn’t just an environment thing; it’s also a learned skill. Children need to learn what and where the dangers are, and how to avoid them. They need to learn their limitations — and learn when to respect them, and when to push them.

These aren’t just safety lessons, they are life lessons. Life is full of challenge and risk. And whether it’s a broken arm or a broken heart, sometimes we get hurt as we learn to meet those challenges and risks.

So of course, let’s make our playgrounds safe. Let’s make sure there are soft surfaces beneath climbing structures and swings. Let’s make sure that equipment is maintained properly. Let’s make sure that caregivers supervise children. Let’s educate people on the signs of concussion, and on what to do if they see those signs.

But let’s not get overprotective in the process. Let’s not take down all the high climbing structures or big swings — and especially, let’s not stop our children from doing anything that might be risky. Because the risks will always be there — and we won’t always be there to watch them. It’s better they practice now, on a playground, with us nearby.

Bible verses for today’s meditation and inspiration: Matthew E. McLaren

1 Corinthians 13:4-8  Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away.

1 Corinthians 16:14  Let all that you do be done in love.

1 John 4:8  Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.

Mark 12:29-31  Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Matthew 22:36-40  “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

John 13:34-35  A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Colossians 3:14  And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.

John 3:16  “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

John 15:13  Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.

1 Peter 4:8  Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.

1 John 4:19  We love because he first loved us.

1 John 4:7  Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.

1 John 4:18  There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.

John 14:15  “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.

1 Corinthians 13:1-13  If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; …

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