The risk of injury from trampolines is so great that the American Academy of Pediatrics discourages their use. Even safety measures like padding and netting don’t help. “Most trampoline injuries happen on the trampoline itself, not from falling off it,” says Mary McAteer, M.D., a pediatrician at Indiana University Heath. That’s partly because of the risk of collision. “The impact of one child crashing into another, particularly if one is bigger than the other, can be significant,” she explains. Plus, the surface of a trampoline is much harder and tauter when, for example, a child lands on it at the same time as another child or the trampoline is rebounding from another child’s jump. Collisions and rough or awkward landings can lead to broken bones and severe head, neck, and spine injuries. “You even see injuries to the eye orbit because children can get hit in the eye by another child’s elbow or knee,” says Dr. McAteer. “People have lost their vision that way.” Your best bet is to avoid trampolines altogether. “Yes, it’s a fun way for kids to be active, but when your child could possibly break his neck, it’s just not worth it,” she says.
While these venues might seem safe, a 2012 study of bounce house injuries published in Pediatrics suggests otherwise. Researchers found that there was a 15-fold increase in injuries from 1995 to 2010, when 31 children per day were seen in emergency departments for “an inflatable bouncer-related injury.” Kids usually get hurt when they fall, often onto another child of a different size. “Some play areas will separate kids by age and size to reduce the risk, but not always,” says Dr. McAteer. Though she doesn’t discourage using them, Dr. McAteer does recommend taking precautions. “It’s safer to let your child play in them if all the kids are roughly the same size and the bounce house isn’t crowded,” she says.
Collision injuries can also occur in ball pits, typically when a child buries herself in the balls and another child jumps on top of her. The other hazard is that ball pits are teeming with bacteria. “Even if the balls are cleaned every night, they’re still accumulating a lot of germs throughout the day,” says Elaine Cox, M.D., a specialist in pediatric infectious disease at Indiana University Health. And some of those germs are fairly resistant to antibiotics, such as MRSA, and are easily transmitted. “All it takes is a microscopic wound for these infections to enter the body, and kids often have cuts and scrapes,” says Dr. Cox. If you do let your child play in a ball pit, Dr. Cox recommends thoroughly washing their hands afterwards and having them shower with an antibacterial soap such as Level 2000 after they get home.