On her way to the orthopedic clinic, April Jorgenson steeled herself for a lecture.
She was bringing in her 5-year-old son, Rusty Golaski, to see if he had broken his arm while jumping on the trampoline in the family’s Hugo backyard.
“I thought I’d get some backlash from the doctor when I told him what happened, but he didn’t say a thing,” said Jorgenson, 34. “He just told me not to let Rusty jump while his cast is on.”
In 1999, the American Academy of Pediatrics came out with a strongly worded recommendation against backyard trampolines. For almost two decades, the organization hasn’t softened its stance.
But today, trampolines are responsible for an estimated 90,000 emergency rooms visits a year. They’re considered so dangerous that many homeowner insurance policies prohibit them or come with exclusions for trampoline injuries.
So why are sales (estimated at 500,000 a year) still booming? And why are parents largely ignoring the advice of their pediatricians?
It could be a testament to just how fun trampolines are and, perhaps, the beginning of the end of the hypervigilant.
Dr. Jeff Louie doesn’t waffle when it comes to trampolines.
“I’ve seen fractures, sprains, concussions, ligament damage, kids with neck and spinal cord injuries,” said Louie, a staff physician and assistant professor of pediatrics in the division of emergency medicine at the University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital. “I remember a 4-year-old who came in with a hip dislocation.
“If you ask me,” he said, “parents should not get their kids a trampoline.”
But he and other pediatricians know that their recommendations are widely disregarded by parents.
“I get why parents ignore us,” said Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson, spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics. “Trampolines inspire immediate joy. You fly through the air, your hair looks crazy, your body feels different. They are so much fun they are hard to resist. The giggling, the excitement, the good exercise — parents want to give that to their kids and they want it for themselves.”
But Swanson, a mother of two, forbids her school-aged boys from jumping.
“I work with the giants in injury prevention and I’ve read all the data. It’s a no-brainer; we can’t recommend ever using them,” she said. “The risk outweighs the benefits, the joy isn’t big enough.”
This summer, 11-year-old Vivian Turino experienced the not-so-fun side of trampolines.
She was playing “popcorn” at a friend’s house. The fifth-grader curled into a tight ball — like a kernel — while other kids jumped, propelling Vivian into the air until her arms loosened, like a kernel of popcorn popping.
“I went up so high that my knee hit my nose,” said the St. Paul middle schooler. “It was bloody and it really hurt.”
Despite a visit to the ER and a surgical procedure to fix Vivian’s broken nose, her mother, Sarah, remains unfazed.
“It’s just one of those childhood injuries,” she said. “They happen.”
Turino, 49, a fitness instructor, said she wouldn’t hesitate to let Vivian or her daughter on a trampoline again.
“I want my girls to expand outward,” she said. “What I try to message and model is you can do anything, everything. I don’t want fear to get in their way of doing things.”
Every generation of moms and dads faces new rules and restrictions geared at keeping their kids safe.
Even before a baby is born, many contemporary moms-to-be avoid sushi, soft cheese and hot tubs, to say nothing of alcohol and nicotine. High-tech car and booster seats, biking and skiing helmets, even ear protection for little ones attending noisy events are considered a must.
But some see the widespread use of trampolines as a sign that millennial parents may be turning away from the helicopter model of parenting.
“Today, the predominant group of parents with younger kids are millennials, and their approach is different,” said Jack MacKinnon, senior research analyst at CEB Iconoculture, now part of Gartner.
“Our research shows they prioritize adventure and curiosity for their children, with unstructured play having high value. They’ve taken a lot of heat for being overprotected and they don’t want that for their kids.”
A growing body of scholarly study that stresses the importance of being outdoors, engaged in physical activity, also resonates with millennial moms and dads.
“A trampoline is not a screen, it’s not technology,” MacKinnon added. “These parents have a nostalgic connection to playing on backyard trampolines and those memories rise to top. The injuries don’t.”
Not on the radar
A champion gymnast and his coach at the University of Iowa created the first modern trampoline in 1936, patenting it in 1945. At first embraced by circus acrobats, the trampoline was incorporated into aviation training during World War II to desensitize pilots to the flips and spirals of aerial dogfights. Trampolines were later used to prepare astronauts by simulating the feeling of weightlessness.
In the postwar era, trampolines moved into physical education programs. But concern about injuries prompted the American Academy of Pediatrics to issue its first trampoline warning in 1977. Soon schools all but eliminated their use.
Around the time that trampolines stopped being part of gym class, warehouse and discount stores began selling them to the public. The first trampolines marketed for home use arrived in 1975. In subsequent decades, prices dropped and sales expanded.
But Dr. Greg Lervick’s kids won’t be getting one.
The orthopedic surgeon and his family are moving this summer. When Lervick and his wife took their two teenagers to see the new house, the kids were excited to see a trampoline in the yard.
“They said, ‘Can we keep it, Dad?’ and I told them, ‘Forget it,’ ” said Lervick, 49, of Minneapolis. “I’m OK being the bad cop. I’ve seen the complex injuries, performed surgery in young children injured on trampolines. Everyone has their own threshold, and I draw the line here. I’ve seen what a bounce can do.”
At the Fairview Health clinic in Eagan, pediatrician Dr. Sarah McIntire takes out stitches and does follow-up care for concussions, some of which are caused in trampoline injuries. But parents seldom ask her advice about whether to buy one.
“There’s a tug between knowing what is safe and experiencing what is fun,” said McIntire. “Parents don’t love bringing it up to us. No one wants to say we are doing a somewhat dangerous activity,” she said.
Many doctors don’t bring it up, either.
Other more frightening risks likely take precedence over the potential dangers posed by trampolines.
“If we had unlimited time with our patients, maybe we would bring this up,” said Dr. Swanson. “But at a well-child checkup today we’re talking about school shootings. Do they have firearms in the home? Trauma? Other things they’re scared about?
“This,” she said, “this just doesn’t come up.”
Kevyn Burger is a Minneapolis based freelance broadcaster and writer.