Maybe You CAN be Too Safe

Hi Readers! Here’s a little piece from MSNBC some of you sent in (thank you!), about kids and slides. Turns out when mom slides down with Junior on her lap to make him safer…she doesn’t. That’s what Dr. John Gaffney, a pediatric orthopedist and professor at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, discovered, to his surprise:

After treating a spate of broken shinbones in toddlers who’d been riding on slides, Dr. John Gaffney decided to look for the cause. Gaffney, a pediatric orthopedist at Winthrop University Hospital in Mineola, N.Y., and a clinical professor at State University of New York Stony Brook, dug out all the medical records for kids he’d treated with fractured shinbones over the preceding 11 months.

Out of the 58 fractures in kids under the age of 18, he found that 13 were sustained on slides. And every one of those injuries occurred when a toddler was riding on the lap of an adult or an older sibling, Gaffney reported this month in a study published in the Journal of Pediatric Orthopedics.

It’s really sad that those little kids fractured their legs and I can only imagine the parents’ guilt!  But maybe we can all learn a little something from this Slide ‘n Slip parable: Overprotection can sometimes hurt children more than letting them try something on their own. Especially when that something used to be considered a normal, pretty safe childhood activity — like sliding! (Next up: The dangers of trying to pogo stick with your child?) — Lenore

50 Responses

  1. You make a really good point about letting kids try things on their own being SAFER in this instance (and many others I’m sure!)

  2. Adults: parenthood does not make you superhuman. Your bodies have mass and obey all the laws of physics. If you wouldn’t want a 150-lb weight going down the slide with your kid, then for goodness sake don’t be that weight. (Also, you can’t protect your kid from a car accident with your eyes.)

  3. I think it depends on the kid. Our issue wasn’t safety, but courage.

    When my toddler was around 18 months, she wanted to slide, but would not unless we went with her. It was several months before she had the courage to slide by herself. She was motivated by watching older kids slide by themselves. Now at 2.25 yrs. she has no problem sliding by herself.

    The exception was the spiral slide at one of the parks we go to. She wanted me to go with her. I did a couple of times but then refused because I’m too big for it and would break my own shins. Her only hope was if another bigger kid would volunteer to go down with her. Recently she went down the spiral slide by herself. Of course her first words at the bottom were “I did it!” 🙂

  4. I’m with urthlvr. I put him on my lap the first few times on various “scary” slides to help build up the courage to do it himself. It felt risky to me but I thought it was worth the slight extra risk (and I was careful!) in order to give him the confidence to try it himself.

  5. (that came out wrong … I felt going together was slightly more risky to HIM than alone, but worth it to help him build up the courage)

  6. I agree about the point that it wasn’t over-protection that had me go down the slide with my daughter, but her lack of courage. But after a few times down with her, she was up to going down by herself. I’ve also gone down the slide holding my baby boy. That certainly can’t be seen as overprotection… I’d imagine the overprotective type would yell at me to get my baby off the playground. 🙂

  7. I doubt the problem here is those kiddie slides that start 5 feet off the ground and go down at about a 40 degree angle — the kind you might go down with a fearful toddler the first couple of times. It’s probably slides that were meant for bigger kids going down by themselves. It’s like Q said about your eyes protecting them from cars; if they’re not big enough to be out unattended, don’t let them go near the street. If they’re not big enough to go down a big slide alone, stick to the little ones, then let them do it THEMSELVES when they are ready.

    The thing that drove me nuts the other day was watching moms help their little ones climb UP the slide. The #1 rule when I was a kid was you never go up the slide — not so much because it’s dangerous, as because it’s rude to someone who might want to come down (and dangerous if someone does come down.) I wonder if these parents thought their little darlings were the only ones on the playground who mattered (it was crowded that day), or if climbing up was “safer” than those scary “steps.”

  8. Add me to the crowd that went down slides with their children not because I feared for their safety, but because THEY wanted to slide but were afraid to go alone.

    I have to admit I worried it wasn’t as safe for them (which made me try and slow the ride). Now they do it on their own and i tell the kids mom’s aren’t allowed on rides made for little kids.

    Seriously? I think this fear stuff goes both ways. We can be afraid of doing or not doing anything, and how many people have gone down slides with their kids without incident? Probably more than have gone to the ER.

  9. I know a friend whose daughter’s leg got broken just that way. If my kids wanted to go down a slide, they needed to be able to climb it and go down themselves. I figured if they were too scared to go up and come down, they were probably too small for that particular slide.

  10. Just found your blog today. I’ve been a ‘free range mom’ for 31 years with 6 kids. The safety mom culture is hurting our kids, not just by the helicopters crushing them on slides. Look at all the fat kids whose parents are afraid to let them outside to explore and play. We have an obesity time bomb that will go off in 20-30 years and will bring our health care system to its knees.

  11. I too have taken my LO down a slide when he was too timid to do so (and I’m not unaware of the laws of physics), but this is a helpful reminder about the risks involved in doing so. Isn’t part of Lenore’s point that we need to make informed choices about risks? Also, BMS makes a good point about how the LO’s fear may also be an indicator that the slide (or whatever) isn’t an age-/ability-appropriate challenge.

  12. Kids will go down the slide when they’re ready. It used to be that kids just did things, it didn’t have to be a huge child development, age appropriate debate. People raised kids for all of the history of mankind without Dr
    Brazelton or some other know-it-all child development pundit telling them whats what.

  13. I let my 18-month-old daughter climb up slides. Why? Because why not? She loves it. She’s had plenty of stairs in our house; a slide is something new and fun.If there’s nobody else wanting to go down the slide, I don’t see the harm. There’s just as likely a kid wanting to go up behind her as down in front of her anyway. If she’s taking too long, I take her off and let her know the importance of sharing.

  14. This reminds me of when my son was four and we were at a water park. I insisted on catching him at the bottom of a slide (he was already wearing a life jacket). Well, he ended up kicking me right in the face with both feet, and he still fell in the water.

  15. I agree that kids should be allowed to do things when they’re ready and an adult’s “help” can cause more harm than good. So you’re toddler isn’t ready to slide the big slide on their own? Then find something they can do and stand back and let them do it.
    I’ll never forget the big scary spiral slide at the Mcdonald’s playground when I was 3 or 4. I spent several visits watching my older brother slide and trying to build up the courage. It never occurred to me to ask my mom to go with me. I can’t even imagine it. Mom’s just didn’t do that sort of thing 30 years ago. They sat on the benches and sipped coffee with their friends.
    To this day I can still remember the feeling of pride when I finally gathered the courage to ride down myself. I don’t even think anyone was watching when I came out the bottom, but that doesn’t matter to a free range kid. True self esteem is built from inside, not from the praise or assistance of others.

  16. I don’t know about you, but my rear end is too wide to go down the slide with my 2 year old daughter, so she’s on her own for technical reasons.

  17. Jen: Look at all the fat kids whose parents are afraid to let them outside to explore and play. We have an obesity time bomb that will go off in 20-30 years and will bring our health care system to its knees.

    I’m sorry but I found this hilarious; go educate yourself about the supposed obesity epidemic, especially concerning children, before you spout off something you probably heard on Fox News. Anyone, fat or thin, who lives a sedentary lifestyle and eats nutrient deficient food, is going to be less healthy than someone who’s active and eats well. Weight is not an accurate measurement of health, and neither is BMI.

    A) Not everyone who’s obese is unhealthy.

    B) Fatness is mostly an inherited condition-fat parents, fat kids. Knowing that, what would you do to make a kid thin? Put them in fat camp? Starve them? You can’t fight your own genetics.

    C) The War on Obesity is mostly hype, anyway.

    D) Children’s anti-obesity programs and special lunches at school do nothing to prevent fatness and may actually hurt some kids through lack of nutrients and calories they need to grow.

  18. My older son did it on his own. We helped him up the steps (he has special needs, so no one dare call me overprotective, he couldn’t physically do it without help) and he went down on his own. My younger needed us to go down with him to get over his fear. I would rather help my child get past a fear and be able to do the things he wants to do then to let him live with that fear when he so badly wants to move past it.

  19. *nod* My son is nearly 3 and suddenly stopped wanting to go down the slides by himself. I went down with him a couple of times but it doesn’t seem to have helped. Now that I’m away at school my husband and mom have been trying to help him get over it. He also refuses to take a bath unless we let him keep his shirt on. So much for loving to run around naked!

  20. So let him not go down slides and ignore the whole thing. If you feed into it, he’ll learn to manipulate you early on. As far as baths, all the latest research points to the fact that bathing kids too frequently weakens their immune system, and causes more autoimmune diseases and allergies. Americans are too obsessed with bathing all around.

  21. Obviously, the logical conclusion here is to BAN SLIDES.

  22. Good point, Brandon!
    I wonder how long it will take for someone to suggest that seriously in the mainstream media?

  23. My husband’s great aunt lived in a townhouse complex with circa 1960’s playground equipment. My eldest was maybe two when she went down this huge silver metal slide on her own initiative.

    I think the fact that she’d been freely climbing our steep staircase at home from about the time she could crawl — much to the consternation of some onlookers –more than prepared her.

    Whatever happened to that 100-piece staircase gate my husband refused to install…? Oh yeah, church garage sale.

  24. They’ve already banned teeter-totters in most places. Someone probably sued a park. A lot of this stuff is litigation driven. Insurance companies won’t give reasonable coverage unless the park takes out the ‘dangerous’ stuff.

  25. I tend to agree with the idea of letting a child conquer their fears on their own, and go down slides when they are ready. What’s the harm of waiting?

    I grew up in a fairly unstable home, with an ill mother and a moody stepfather. I didn’t learn to swim (or ride a bike) until I was 10, partly because we lived in an apartment with no good place to do either of those things, but mostly because I was quite timid about trying anything “scary”. No amount of cajoling, bullying, or offers of help were going to get me to try to learn. Finally, I decided one day I was going to try going underwater, which progressed to taking a few strokes, which then lead to swimming across the pool. I did this at a neighbors pool, with no help, no parents, and no one to “congratulate” me. I conquered my own fear, at my own time, and I’ve never looked back. Now I am considered one of the more adventurous of my friends and family, having taken extended trips to other counties, started my own business, etc.. All because I finally learned I could face my fears.

    So I think there is real value in letting kids challenge themselves (although I readily admit swimming is a safety issue, so it’s not the best example). I think kids should have stable. loving, supportive arms to rush back to if they get hurt, but they should also be allowed to “brave” things on their own too.

    Oh, and before you think I’m admonishing anyone, I want you to know that most of this is directed at myself, because this post made me realize that I’ve been doing exactly what I don’t agree with to my son! He is seven, and scared to ride on The Pirates of the Caribbean at Disneyland (we live nearby and have annual passes). I’ve been awful about trying to cajole him into going with me! I promise right here and now – no more wheedling!

  26. pentamom, I have never seen a slide that didn’t have just as many kids going up it as down. That’s part of the fun of slides.

  27. Why assume that parents are going down the slides because they are “overprotective”? Why even assume that all or most parents are doing it for the same reason? Was this examined specifically in the study?

    I become suspicious of people promoting an ideology when they start manipulating data to suit their whims. That goes for any point of view and any side of the debate.

  28. I’m terrified of slides cause I hurt myself badly and had to wait an hour at the school office till my mother could come and take me to the hospital. So my kids have gone down slides, on their own, since they were babies – and they loved it!

    On a side note – today is going to be the second day our 7yo son walks home from school. The irony? In two weeks, transit here is letting the kids ride buses for free for “walk home from school week.” ( ) Most parents aren’t going to be using this. They’ll keep the kids in cars and chauffeur them to and from.

    Saddest thing I saw yesterday – a mother carrying her infant (maybe 9 mo) walking across the street to the school to pick up her other 3 kids, turning around and walking back across the street to her home. Total distance for these kids? 30 metres.

  29. okay.. just followed a few links. (CENSORED)

    walking school bus?

  30. If they do not have the courage to go down the whole slide but still want to try, place them a few feet from the end and be there at the bottom. The slide should flatten out enough that you do not need to catch them. It will allow them to conquer the greatest aspect of fear-the landing. Do not take them down the slide with you for any reason. their bodies can handle stopping the momentum of 30-50 lbs. not 180-200lbs.

  31. With the exception of the big spiral slides, I’ve been able to stand next to the slide and PUT MY HAND on my child as they go down the slide to help them feel more secure. Seriously?!? How tall are these slides you are putting you 1yr old on?
    ** I’m 4’11” tall. Most 10yr olds are bigger than me and y’all can’t do it?!?

  32. My 18-month-old has just started climbing on the toddler jungle gym and sliding. The first time I was really nervous because he’s still wobbly on his feet and went up with him. It only took once for me to decide that adults do not belong up there. I felt much less safe being up there with him than standing beside him. So I decided to figure out a way for him to do it on his own and me not be nervous. I basically stand beside the slide and am ready to steady him in case he slips or goes down too fast.

    Guess what? In just 2 trips to the playground, he taught himself how to be safe, how to go up the steps safely using his hands to steady himself, how to scooch on his butt down the larger steps and how to approach the slide on his butt so he didn’t slip. My kid is smart! (I suspect they all are.)

  33. We actually had this happen to us. Our son was 14 months at the time, far too young (for him) to go down alone, as he just couldn’t stay in a seated position. Usually we would just hold him under the arms and slide him down, occasionally we’d go down with him just because it seemed like fun. He went down once on daddy’s lap and his foot (in a shoe) drifted between dads knees and ended up twisted under them. He cried a little, then just wouldn’t walk on it. It was a minor break, thankfully, so minor we didn’t even take him in until the next day (it was late afternoon) because there was no bump, no swelling or bruising, and no amount of prodding bothered him, only standing on it.

    Kids that little can break things just tripping in the living room. I hate to sound defensive, but it really wasn’t a safety issue for us, just a matter of what seemed like fun. And we kept on doing it from time to time, but were very careful to keep all little limbs on top of ours! Lol.

  34. My son first went down slides (and stairs) feet first, on his tummy, then sat down after watching older kids when he was ready. This was safer and less scary for all involved.

  35. KarenW, I read your comment and can’t stop giggling. I’m just picturing it in my head and it sounds like something off of Funny Home Videos.

  36. update on my son’s second walk home…

    He was “late” leaving and therefore “late” in arriving home. DH, bless him, was out driving around with our other kids in the car looking for him, came home and saw our “secret entrance” open.

    DS was safe and sound, sitting at the computer, playing his favorite video game and he was home 5 minutes later than what DH wanted him to come.

    And people accuse me of being the worried one.

  37. Know what I hate the most?

    On the “new-and-improved” plastic tube slides, anytime I’ve tried one while the kids chased me (they love to gang up on us parents when nobody at McDonald’s is out there and watching), I’ve shocked the CRAP out of myself on each of those stupid steel rivets that hold the whole thing together.

    I’d rather slide down ragged chipboard.

    I wonder if our kids will ever again know what it’s like to, you know, SLIDE down a slide, instead of scooting down a rubber tube a foot at a time.


  38. I let my kid go down one of those spiral slides when she was 2. Usually she went down it okay, but one time she flipped herself a little and fell righ off over the dise near the top, because the slide really didn’t have much of a lip. She cried a little and was ok. She didn’t break anything, fortunately. But I noticed that slide is gone now. Another kid probably did the same thing, broke something, and it was removed. Sometimes slides really can be dangerous. If it had just had a higher lip, there would have been no problem. In that case, it probably would have been safer for me to go down with my kid, but I’ve pretty much always let them do what they want to do on the playground, and my daughter has always wanted to do a lot a lot earlier than most kids, so sometimes I got the look. Sometimes she got hurt slightly. So far, fortuitously, knock on wood, thank you God, no trips to the ER for any reason though, and she is very agile/athletic now. My son has been much more timid, and I have never gone down slides with him; I just let him go by himself when he was ready.

    But I agree for a lot of these parents, it probably wasn’t overprotection but their kids WANTING or asking for them to go – either because they were scared, or they just wanted to be played with in that way.

  39. “I wonder if our kids will ever again know what it’s like to, you know, SLIDE down a slide, instead of scooting down a rubber tube a foot at a time.”

    Yeah, they’ll never get to experience hot burning metal in the summertime, like we did. Sigh.

  40. I remember reading somewhere that climbing up a slide actually promotes some particular necessary pieces of physical development in children. I tried to Google it, but found tons of safety precautions against it instead. This was the big gem (sarcasm here):

    That being said, I don’t advocate helping my kids climb up the slide (that negates the developmental effects) and I tell them not to climb up when it is crowded and kids are wanting to go down.

  41. my boys slide down slides by themselves – headfirst, feetfirst, backwards, together. Nobody’s broken anything yet. Maybe I’m dumb for letting them, but I can only control so much. I don’t choose to control their sliding activities.

  42. As soon as my son could walk(at 8 months and 16 days old) I took him to the park. It was too cold out (Goddamn Winnipeg winters!) so the park was more of an indoor play area for young children at our local mall. Right away, he went to the slide, climbed up the steps, and sat there wondering what to do. I pushed his ass. Wasn’t a big slide anyways, and he loved it. He tried to get up slide, I lead him around to the steps again, pushed him down. He started doing it himself not long after, and now at 17 months old he can regular sized slides, and apparently has more manners than older children because he’s learned already to wait his turn, use the steps, and not run up the slide.

    My only worry is older children, even in the infoor park meant for young children, parents let their friggin’ 8 year olds in and don’t even watch them. Yesterday, some little brat run up behind my tot then shouted ‘move” and another ran up the slide and almost rammed my son and another tot. I so wanted to bitchslap their parents. Like DUH! Everythings small and the sign right next to the entrance says “children under this height!”………sorry for the rant, LOL.

  43. Jan, I think there are a lot of worse things for a country to be known for so I will take it. Three cheers for clean Americans! I can’t imagine not bathing my children regularly.
    As for the slide thing – I think that parents need to be aware of safety if they go down with their kids and need to let them go on their own as soon as they can and will. I also don’t see the harm in walking up the slide as long as no one is waiting to come down.

  44. I sometimes go down the slide with my 18 month old because I like to, it’s fun! We have a laugh together.

    She generally goes by herself and if the slide is too big for her to climb (or has a ladder instead of steps) she can’t go without help so she doesn’t, unless her dad and are I both there and feel like whizzing down ourselves.

    I agree with the commenter who said that there is no reason to assume that parents do this because they are overprotective.

  45. Mae Mae, I’m not against bathing kids. I just never made a daily ritual of it. Once my kids hit middle school they totally took over the whole thing and would drain the hotwater tank every morning before school.

    I was just citing recent research that indicates that too much hygiene and germ-free living is not the healthiest way to live.

  46. Well, I can agree to disagree cheerfully with those of you who don’t mind your kids climbing up the slide (and I promise not to hold it against you or them), but I have a hard time believing there is some sort of developmental necessity to it in any case. What did kids do before there were slides? Were they all doomed to some sort of neurological deficit because the playground slide hadn’t been invented yet? (I think there were other things they could learn to climb….) 😉

    And I’m with Jan on the bathing thing — bathing as often as necessary is good. But if kids aren’t actually dirty or sweaty, there’s no absolute necessity to bathe them just because the clock’s spun around twice. We Americans DO go overboard on this; it goes beyond “clean” to some sort of magic ritual. Many Americans are horrified at the thought of not bathing daily, even if there’s no reason to suppose that a particular person who doesn’t do so is actually dirty.

  47. I agree that the research shows that too much hygiene is not good. I guess I just took that as using those disgusting hand sanitizers and doing obsessive hand washing and such. I never looked at regular bathing as a detriment of health. Of course, maybe the fact that I love history so much and have read extensively about the Middle Ages where bathing was minimal at best means that my view is a little distorted, lol. I can see your point but I was coming at it from a different perspective.

  48. “I wonder if our kids will ever again know what it’s like to, you know, SLIDE down a slide, instead of scooting down a rubber tube a foot at a time.”

    Yeah, they’ll never get to experience hot burning metal in the summertime, like we did. Sigh.

    The solution to both these problems is to bring something to sit on – a scrap of sheet or a ripped piece of box-cardboard should do the trick. Plus, then you get to go down EVEN FASTER (even on the metal slides)!

    It’s better than the solution children otherwise resort to – pouring sand or water down the slide. No way to manage that without getting a wet and/or sandy butt, grr.

  49. Hand sanitizer is a boon to busy healthcare workers, but can it’s a little overboard to wipe down the grocery cart before shopping, IMO. I guess the stores are catering to the OCD demographic, they have to cover all their bases to maximize their profits.

  50. I agree with those that say maybe parents go down slides with kids because it if fun. Half the joy of having kids is that it allows you to let loose a little without people giving you sideways glances.

    There is a playground near us that has a huge, wide slide built into a hill. Just last week we had a blast with the whole family going down together. And some of my only fun memories of my dad, who had to work long hours, is of him playing on the playground with us like this. So please don’t be so quick to judge everyone’s actions.

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