Playgrounds are supposed to be safer than ever. So why are more injuries being reported? A study shows the number of playground-related brain injuries has risen steadily over the past decade, from 18,000 in 2001 to 29,000 in 2013.
"I think part of the increase is an increased parental awareness of concussions and other brain injuries," says Cindy Gellner, MD, a pediatrician with University of Utah Health. "Of course, there also are more kids playing on playgrounds, and sometimes there is a bit more roughness."
Monkey bars are one of the pieces of playground equipment cited in a number of injuries. That doesn't surprise Gellner. "Monkey bars are notorious for causing all sorts of injuries," she says. "Kids will fall off of them and break bones or land on their heads and cause concussions." Swings and jungle gyms also are on the list of the equipment causing the most injuries.
Does this mean kids should skip the playground when it comes to being outside? After all, the rise in injuries comes as safety standards for playgrounds have greatly improved. Gellner says absolutely not. "Kids don't get enough exercise nowadays because of cutting PE and recess time in schools," she says. "Kids need to be able to play, work on socialization, work on motor skills, and work on coordination—all of which can be done at playgrounds."
The key, she says, is for parents to not only be on the lookout for any injuries, but to be aware of any potential dangers, and make sure children are involved in play appropriate for their age. "Make sure they are playing with other children their age. Don't put toddlers in the same play area as teenagers," says Gellner. "Stick to playground items that are age appropriate for your child, and if they aren't ready for a particular activity yet, don't let them do it."