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Doctors Advise Against Swing Sets, Back Yards
NEW YORK (CAP) - The American Academy of Pediatrics has issued a warning for parents, calling attention to the dangers inherent in outdoor swing sets, jungle gyms, and back yard use in general. The statement notes that limiting or eliminating use of these items can drastically reduce the rate of injury to children and inconvenience to parents.
"Every year we see an increase in the number of scraped knees, twisted ankles, grass stains - you name it," said Dr. Barbara Smathers, who helped draft the new statement. "If I told you the number of children who stepped in dog poo in their back yards last year, you would be astounded - simply astounded."
The new statement updates recommendations from 1999, which caused parents to begin micromanaging their children's outdoor activities and in some cases remove unstructured play entirely. Smathers says for the past decade, parents have done a fantastic job instilling the fear of God in their children when they step outside the front door, but need to do a better job at the back of the house as well.
"These days we wouldn't dream of letting our children get on a bicycle without a helmet, elbow pads, knee pads, wrist guards, shin protectors, and a cell phone," researcher Dr. Jeff Manningham noted. "So why are we so lax when our kids are sitting on a cracked piece of plastic dangling from a wooden structure by two rusty chains, swinging five feet in the air?"
The study investigated dozens of items commonly found in back yards that were once considered acceptable for children to use or be in the general vicinity of and found hidden dangers ranging from unlevel yards that could result in kids running too fast downhill to age-appropriate toys that get left in the rain and become dirty to flowers and leaves and grass that would make someone sick if ingested.
"Not only that, but the chances of possible injury go through the roof when children venture into wooded areas even if those areas are part of or adjacent to their own properties," said Smathers. "Follow-up studies have shown that woods contain sticks, a full 80% of which can be pointy. And pointy things can jab and/or poke.
"Nobody thinks twice about covering their kids with bug spray to protect against mosquitoes you can't even see," added Smathers. "So why wouldn't you cover them with layers of padding to protect against jabby pokey things that are easily visible to the naked eye?"
While the study fell short of condemning back yards altogether, it did recommend filling children's spare time with organized activities and team sports, thus removing the need for a back yard and the dangers associated with it. The study also pointed out the advancements in virtual technology that allow children to take part in numerous outdoor activities from the safety of their own living rooms.
"With something like the Wii, for example, you can ski jump, wind surf and race a Mario Kart through Coconut Mall all in one afternoon," said Manningham. "Can your back yard do that?"
The AAP will also be releasing an addendum in a few weeks that addresses the rash of hamstring injuries resulting from children requesting and being given explicit permission to take one giant leap forward, along with mitigating actions to replace that with five baby steps.
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