Why this pediatrician hates bouncy houses

I hate the bouncy houses. I mean, I really hate them; I get a sick, nervous stomach when the boys are inside them. And it’s created a parenting perplexity for me. See the photo? I bet my HR is about 160 and my BP 150/90 (translation: high). I’m not kidding, I have a visceral and then flight-type response when the boys jump … it’s one of those instinctive parenting responses I am dutifully trying to govern and rule.

See, I don’t want to hate bouncy houses. I want to be one of those moms who calms down, chats at the sideline, and chills out while my children enjoy the thrill of bounding around a primary-colored-over-sized balloon. Even this pediatric orthopedic surgeon at Stanfordsays she encourages families to have fun bouncing. And a pediatric ER doc I spoke to recently said she gleefully took her son to “the inflatables,” too. There was a calm in her voice when she told me. And then envy coming out of mine; I want to simply let my kids enjoy these houses without feeling tortured. But when F and O are bounding around in one of those houses, big kids flying, and limbs and heads rising about the horizon, I worry. And I can’t seem to rid myself of the response. When the birthday party invitation at the bouncy house comes with a waiver of fiscal responsibility for injury or death, you know something is up …

The problem behind the parenting perplexity, ultimately, is that the boys unquestionably love those things. But I’ve taken care of children injured on trampolines and bouncy houses. And I remember a mentor of mine in residency swearing off trampolines; he stated they were an absolute “NO.” The husband sees trampoline injuries and fractures all the time. On top of it, when my 2 and 4 year old boys jump in, they don’t don the judgment to steer clear of the big kids or pace/gauge their jumping. Or maybe they do and I’m selling them short. It’s not that I want them living in a bubble. “Let kids be kids; lay off, Mom.” Right?  I unfortunately stand my emotional ground: I don’t like them. Call me a helicopter parent…but know I have let them in; this past weekend was our 3rd bouncy house.

And although the data on bouncy house injuries may not back up my worry, the data on trampolines does.

Trampoline (and bouncy house?) injuries in children:

  • First off, remember, I can’t find isolated data and vetted information on bouncy houses. If you can, please paste it in the comments. When I didn’t find it in medical spaces, I googled about bouncy houses. That just made me more nervous–not entirely helpful. Therefore, I can’t ultimately substantiate my fears (with large data sets) with information specific to the inflatables. However, I am concerned about bouncy houses in the same corner of my brain that I am concerned about trampolines.
  • There are over 80,000 injuries in children yearly from trampoline and bouncy houses. The AAP recommends against using trampolines at home or in parks or schools. Because the majority of injuries happen on home trampolines and up to 50% happen with an adult present, the AAP recommends only using trampolines in gymnastic and diving programs with an expert trained in trampoline safety. This may not be an entirely workable solution for many children. I can count 3 trampolines in a 2 block radius of my house!
  • Most injuries sustained are fractures, concussions, and head/neck injuries from children flying off trampolines and landing awkwardly off of the trampoline. However, other injuries occur from collisions with other children or adults and/or when children attempt stunts.
  • Most injuries on trampolines occur in children age 5 to 14, with an median age of 10. Not a surprise, of course, as tramps/bouncy houses are most alluring to these school-aged children.

Ideas To maximize safety (and lower your BP) with kids in a bouncy house:

  • Make rules ahead of time. Be clear with your children that when they break the rules, they lose rights to bouncing.
  • Age? I recommend children under age 6 never use trampolines. I don’t know what age to tell you about bouncy houses. In my ideal world, I’d say I think preschoolers shouldn’t be in them but the realities are many preschool parties include these houses. And they tend to be a hit! However, young children may not have the coordination/skill or judgment to protect themselves. They need supervision and feedback about their choices while in the houses. Be there and let them know how you experience their choices. Take breaks if kids are getting wild.
  • Try to have children either bounce alone or with children of similar age and size.This may seem challenging in a public or large party bouncy house! But do your best to avoid having adults or large children bouncing with smaller ones. The weight differential can throw off the bounces and falls/collisions can be more worrisome.
  • Don’t bounce with your children (see point above). If you get into the bouncy house, observe from the sidelines. And remember, your standing at the side may not prevent injury (50% occur with parental supervision) but may be a great help to keep children following the rules and understanding the “why” behind them.
  • Use caution by doors and openings in bouncy houses where children could fall or be injured with the flow of traffic coming and going.

What’s your take? Do you freak out at the bouncy house or are you one of those parents can enjoy it? Have you rented a bouncy house for a party at your home? Were you worried about safety? Or liability? What have you done to maximize safety at the bouncy house?

Wendy Sue Swanson is a pediatrician who blogs at Seattle Mama Doc.

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  • Anonymous

    Rates of injury and death in children are at an all time low but obesity and diabetes at an all time high. There are multiple studies that show the safer you try to keep people (inc. and esp. kids) the harder they try to use supposedly safe things in a risky way.  “Better a broken arm than a broken spirit.” http://bpfp.org/PlaygroundDesign/WhenChildsPlay.php

  • http://www.practitionersolutions.com Niamh van Meines

    I have a trampoline for the last 6 years. I look out the window and at any given moment, there are 5 or 6 kids jumping in a wonderful social gathering. Our neighbors, with 2 kids also treat the trampoline like it’s theirs! My 7 year old is lean, fit and has strong core muscles as a result of jumping joyfully with all her buddies. I have yet to witness or hear about an injury on our trampoline and I manage my fears in favor of allowing kids to have fun….and they do….hours of it, without need for interference from an adult. The risk is low in my mind. We have an enclosure, inspected every year, parts replaced when needed and a couple of rules of engagement. Have you figured out what exactly is causing your fear? A prior experience? Your exposure to injuries and trauma as a physician?

  • Emily Gibson

    Wendy,

    the bouncy buildings came in vogue after my children were too big to be part of the fad, but their friends did have trampolines, and I set the rule that if they weren’t alone on the trampoline for jumping, they did not jump.  But then my children grew up on a farm where they climbed trees, dangled from swings in hay lofts and rode horses while wearing helmets, so I was used to having to stifle the mom/doc fear factor.

    I also work in a primary care setting where I see injuries from these contraptions (joint, back and neck sprains and the occasional concussion) but I don’t see injuries that are much worse than collisions of skiers, football, soccer, basketball and softball players. 

    In our gatherings like the big production birthday parties,  we have created the situation where our children no longer can just run around using their imaginations, but need props and contraptions to stay entertained and contained.   We need some new innovations (like hide and seek, kick the can and a few other old standards) to keep our children on the move.

  • Laura Sessum

    Trampolines and bounce houses do make me cringe, but not as much as seeing a child that can’t turn off the video game.  I’d rather take my chances with physical activity.

    I just think we’ve reached the point of absurdity and it has to stop.  This is an over-simplification; but parents are stressed, children are bored and becoming obese.  Years ago parents weren’t with their children 24/7 micromanaging every move they made.  When the kids are playing outside, they’re exercising their imagination (and bodies), engaged in problem solving, etc. and the parents actually get some quiet time.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_PSVHFGRJLGDB7DCMOWHS6UXQWU James

    Safety fanatacism is not leading to safer kids.  It’s only producing kids that are more stressed out, less active, and less capable of accurately assessing risk … not to mention, taking the fun out of childhood.

  • Close Call

    I hate bouncy houses because they remind me of my lost youth.

    Plus, they give you lead poisoning.  

    http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/lanow/2010/08/state-sues-bounce-house-makers-alleging-unsafe-lead-levels.html

  • Liz Tilt

    I have the same visceral reaction to latex balloons.