You Mean We SHOULDN’T Mow the Lawn When Kids Are Playing On It?

Hi Readers — Here’s a note I liked, with a caveat. I actually don’t think it is all that dumb for the media to remind parents about basic safety, as they do in the story below: “Don’t mow the lawn with kids nearby.”  This is a fine thing to  point out from time time, just like, “Don’t let your kids play in the pool without adult supervision,” “Don’t speed through yellow lights,” and,  “Keep your space heater away from the drapes,” etc., etc.

What I object to is the way these otherwise possibly helpful tidbits are played out on TV:  We viewers are invariably shown, by dint of TV protocol,  an anguished relative.

Hey, media moguls! We understand the point WITHOUT you trotting out a family member in the throes of grief.  So why are they always part of the story? Simple!  They’re great for ratings! The person looks tormented, the anchor looks sympathetic, and somehow this is all considered quite proper.

Even though it’s really grief porn.

Anyway, here’s the letter that prompted my musings. Stay safe! — Lenore

Dear Free-Range Kids: I don’t really mean to watch Good Morning America, but I stop by an elderly neighbor’s every morning to check on her and drop off our joint-custody rescue mutt, and she is a morning TV fan, so I just can’t help myself. Anyway, today was yet another “The Kids Are All Gonna Die!” classic, as part of their Summer Safety series. The point: small children and lawnmowers are a bad combination.

Stop The Presses! The segment opened with George Stephanopoulos in a suburban yard in his white shirt and tie, looking for some reason like a  stuffed jackass penguin (that’s a real species) who somehow wandered off  a museum’s  diorama. George assured us that lawnmowers — especially riding lawnmowers that can mow in reverse — are very dangerous to children. Shift to female Twinkie, earnest blonde version, who breathlessly revealed that every year 37,000 children (much softer “and adults”) go to the emergency room with lawn-mowing related injuries.

Then they did video clips of two little boys who actually got run over by a riding lawnmower driven in reverse by a relative: “One of them made it but one of them didn’t.”

Short interviews with anguished relatives, one of whom is going to form some kind of foundation to push for laws and regulations to make sure this tragedy never happens again. (Oh, by the way, the Twinkie mentions as an aside, all riding mowers sold since 2004 can’t mow in reverse. But there are millions of old lawnmowers out there.)

Close segment with interview with child safety expert who advises that we shouldn’t really mow the yard when the kids are out there playing.

Gee, ya think? That never would have occurred to me — I operate dangerous power equipment around small children all the time and I’ve only had a few fatal accidents. (Well, actually, if the kids come out while I’m mowing my friend’s yard, I shut off the mower and take a break until their mom comes out, but that might be because I’m smarter than George Stephanopoulos.)

End of story. Tune in tomorrow for: MORE DANGERS. –Jim Sherman

Whoa! Oh no! Mow slow!

75 Responses

  1. Why stop mowing? Why not simply remind the children to keep a safe distance and maybe (and this is just a thought) look where you’re going??

  2. Next they are going to tell me my 3 year old shouldn’t help me with my running chainsaw, or you have to remove them from the house when you set off bug bombs. I don’t care what they say, she is still doing the 3rd floor gutters though, I’m scared of heights.

  3. Hee hee….I love stories like this. The sad part is though, there ARE some parents that need these reminders.

    On a separate but related note, my MIL is the queen of “captain obvious” little tidbits like these. She told me that I needed to watch my son while he’s in the backyard pool (because I was going to just leave him there and take a drive to Chicago?). My favorite though was when I told her I was planning on taking him to the zoo for his birthday (in November) and she told me that would depend on the weather. (Because, you know, I was going to take him during an ice storm.)

  4. Gee, just this weekend I mowed the lawn with my 2-year-old mere feet away. In fact, he helped push the mower. Oh and we were barefoot. OTOH we have a push reel mower which turns the stakes down a little bit.

  5. Why stop mowing?

    Anthony, my older riding lawn mower shoots things out the side at a pretty good clip. I’ve sent tennis balls that were hidden in the grass a good 60 feet or so. Rocks, sticks, lots of little things can be broken up and flung out the side discharge.

    But on a side note.. Never have your little ones ride on a riding lawn mower with you.. I’m all about free range, but a few weeks ago, I rolled our mower going up a hill with my 6m old girl on my lap. (transmission slipped out of gear, and I couldn’t move my weight forward with her on my lap when it went back in, and lurched a wheely).

    Scariest and longest 6-10 seconds of my life. I was still shaking a few hours later, even though neither of us got hurt seriously, I just got some nasty bruises and cuts where the mower fell onto me when I was covering her.. (thank goodness the blades were off, we were just going for a ride!)

  6. Hence keeping them at a safe distance, which may be >60′ in your case :-).

  7. There’s always the baby jail I received an ad for in my email the other day…ugh.

    I taught my 2 year old (without much work) to stay up on the porch when the lawn is being mowed…but I do love the idea of teaching him to clean the gutters. I also hate heights and he’s so suitably nimble and quick.

  8. Before Logan came home (he is adopted from Korea), I told my then-wife that he would get dirty and he may get hurt. We HAD to let him jump in puddles, roll in mud, pick up poop, climb things, etc. If he was in a situation that could injure him, even fairly seriously, we had to let him go. By “seriously,” I mean something like a broken arm, NOT anything life-threatening. If and when he got hurt, no matter how much our hearts wrenched, we had to respond coolly and calmly to the situation and treat him. (Of course, we would never let him into a situation that could get him maimed, permanently damaged, or killed!)

    You know what? He fell into water. He got filthy. He bonked himself in all kinds of ways. We never drowned him in antibacterial soap, we never screeched when he got hurt, none of it. He learned to wash his hands, take showers, etc. to cleam himself. He also NEVER broke down wailing when he got hurt.

    More importantly, he acquired the kind of common snese that only kinesthetic experience can provide. He takes risks, be it climbing, swimming, etc. but ALWAYS takes steps to protect himself and NEVER goes further than he is comfortable (which is always less than my own comfort level).

    In short, by protecting him from the deadly stuff while not trying to shelter him from the world, he has learned hwo to deal with the world on HIS terms and is one of the most happy, smart, funny, athletic, and all-around well-adjusted kids you will ever want to meet!

  9. Now is probably not the time to mention that my dogs’ favorite place to sleep is right under the circular saw table. Something about the gentle shower of sawdust he finds soothing… LOL I do draw a line at him sniffing the jigsaw when its running though.

    What age of kids are they talking about anyway? I was probably 8 when lawn mowing became one of my tasks, with a powered push mower. Of course my parents instructed me to always wear shoes and socks, keep my hands and feet away from the blades, disconnect the spark plug before doing any work on it etc. etc. etc. all the basic safety instructions that are usually listed in (gasp) the owners’ manual.

  10. So, the natural extension of this by the hyperparenting crowd will be that the children must be locked safely away before ANYONE mows the lawn. These parents will also be sure to tell their neighbors when THEY can mow their lawns. Naturally, children who are old enough will not be expected to mow the lawn anymore.

    Man, if some kid showed up at my door this afternoon wanting to mow or weed, that kid would make some bucks.

  11. Piper, look what happened to paper routes!

  12. The other side of these stories is that they are making baby products that replace common sense and supervision – I saw a floating bath thermometer with audible alarm marketed for parents of …infants!! Because you can’t turn down your water heater? Or – you know – feel the water before you put the plug/baby in? The next thing you know, lawnmowers will be equipped with mandatory motion sensors and proximity alarms…

  13. A child here recently was killed by a parent who accidentally ran them over by backing up in their driveway. Tragic, tragic accident. But I don’t think we’re going to stop cars from being able to back up. I don’t even think (although I could be wrong) that we’re going to install systems that beep on cars that are backing up. We need to teach kids to be safe and we need to check situations.

  14. I carefully explained to my children that when they bring me my beers while I am cutting the grass, that they are not to come up behind me. They should always approach from the side or front. Also, the beer should always be placed in a foam insulated holder.
    After the third delivery, they are advised to only approach from the side, avoiding the front and rear altogether.

  15. Funny thing is that those reports are more entertaining when they use inanimate objects instead of crying families.

    The poor reporter who gets put in the hot car with a thermometer and a burrito (so the heat from the sun can cook the burrito before the broadcast is over) is so much more entertaining (and more of a real lesson) than a crying family.

    I’d bet there’s some fantastic report they could do on lawnmowers with things like watermelons and flying rocks that could illustrate the concept without the crying family (and a lawnmower running over a watermelon would be kinda awesome)

  16. So when is it okay for kids to start mowing the lawn themselves?

  17. The kid is generally in the yard when I mow. Curse of being a single parent – nobody else to entertain her while I’m doing something “fun” like playing with loud power equipment. Mowing after she’s in bed doesn’t work now that she’s 4 – she doesn’t go to bed until dark. I’m not paying a babysitter to watch her while I mow and I enjoy mowing so I’m not that into paying someone else to do it.

    She’s told to stay away and I actually pay attention to what I’m doing and where she is – novel idea, I know. If she gets too close to the mower, I tell her to move away. I can also let go of the mower which will instantly shut it off.

  18. You know, some of this seems like common sense, but as we all know, common sense often isn’t. The other day I saw a parent mowing a lawn with a toddler:
    1. It was the 2′ strip of grass in between the sidewalk and a major (and busy!) arterial.
    2. Parent was using a power mower and wearing ear protection.
    3. Toddler was walking IN FRONT OF PARENT (who was actively mowing) in shorts and bare feet PUSHING A TOY MOWER.

    I didn’t stop because I spent so long processing what I’d seen that I was a mile away before I figured out why it had bothered me so much. WTF, people?

  19. “I saw a floating bath thermometer with audible alarm marketed for parents of …infants!! ”

    I actually had a floating thermometer when my kid was a babe (no audible alarm). It is probably one of the very few safety devices that I had. I like scorching hot baths so what feels cool to me is still too hot for the average baby. I couldn’t judge the temp well myself and I preferred a thermometer to turning down my hot water heater and taking away my scorching hot baths.

  20. When I was a kid, friends had a very large garden plot that they tilled with a tractor–actually an old mail jeep that he’d converted. When he hooked up the disc harrow (go to if you don’t know what that is–his was like that but with several rows of discs) we kids used to fight over who got to sit on it to weight it down. Whoever lost rode in the back of the jeep, sitting on the fuel tank.

    Ah, good times.

  21. @Secret Mommy

    I’ll admit, I did use one of these inside when the little ‘un was just starting to crawl and pull up, but it was as much for protection of the cats as for the baby. Now walking, I have a free-ranging child through most of the house, with the exception of the bathroom (again for the cats – it houses the litter tray, so they can go in peace).

  22. @dmd- Yes, yes, and yes.

    in a world with nearly 7 billion people, there will always be new and varied tragedies- it’s just varying combinations of bad luck and bad planning. You cannot foam pad the entire world, and if you did, someone would surely suffocate.

  23. @KristieWalker – so what was the problem? Were you afraid the kid was going to suddenly run out into the street? The parent wasn’t going to see what was directly in front of him? Or was it that the kid had no hearing protection (but the parent did)?

    I’d probably go with no 3 as the most stupid (obviously 1 wasn’t happening, and 2 is unlikely), but without knowing how loud the mower actually was and even then that’s not something to get dreadfully worked up about – so says the parent who did take a bit of TV advice and put electrical tape over the speakers on all her kids toys. Life is much calmer and quieter now.

  24. wow thats a high number of accidents! I laughed at first cause i thought it meant regular mowing with a push mower and our 7 year old loves to help, so I often push the mower with her together! I live in inner city, so ride ons aren’t so common here

  25. @ Suburban Man – ROTFLMAO!!!!

    Also, quite pleased that I finally have a phrase for it…GRIEF PORN.

    Yes. There it is. Thank you.

  26. Sound like a grown up that didn’t learn much when he was a kid, because his parents sheltered him. See what happens?

    It’s called learning common sense as a child, and using it every day for the rest of your life.

  27. Attack of the Dirty Shopping Bags

    Now we have to be afraid of our reusable grocery bags. Guess what! It has been discovered that if you don’t wash them once in a while, they……wait for it…….get DIRTY and spread bacteria.

    This Washington Post article wasn’t hysterical at all, but google the study and you will find plenty of OMG articles.

    …and guess who funded the study:

    “The study was funded by the American Chemistry Council amid debate over a California bill that would ban single-use plastic bags. The council is opposed to that measure. “

  28. @leah: My son started helping me last year. He turned 10 in March. He hasn’t done the whole lawn yet, but he’s started doing some of the tricker areas by himself. I’m always outside when he’s doing it, but I’m no longer always where I can see him.

  29. I’ll be sure to remind my 10 and 8 year-old sons not to mow over their 4yo brother.

  30. I’m more worried that
    a.) Yes, the kid might run out into the street. Toddlers are notoriously unpredicable, and even my very easy-going and obedient-tempered child might see “kitty” or something.
    b.) Ear-protectors on the parent might mean that parent doesn’t hear something that might be important when using a piece of gas-powered cutting machinery around a small child.
    c.) The lawn mower might shoot forward/parent might stumble and push it forward into the kid.
    d.) The lawn mower will shoot out the rocks/other debris mentioned by other posters directly into the bare legs/feet/face of the small child (as small child’s face is not even three feet off the ground instead of the 5-6″ of the parent’s face).

    I don’t worry about someone snatching my (20 month old) child. I’m not worried the guy at the next table at Starbucks is going to snatch her and molest her when I leave her alone to go grab more napkins. I have no problem with her eating mud, running with sticks, climbing any tree she can manage to scale herself, or burning her fingers on hot playground equipment. I don’t run under the playground equipment and wait for her to fall. She’s allowed to climb on the back of the couch or our tall queen bed because we taught her the safe way to get down. We don’t have a gate on our stairs because she’s known how to go up and down herself since before she could walk. If she gets hurt, she learns. But when it comes to anything that requires a power source, I prefer to use a little common sense. She knows to stay off the linoleum in the kitchen when the oven is open (the linoleum being the entrance to our galley kitchen). I would not mow a lawn using a power mower with her in front or in back of me, although I’d probably do it with her in a carrier on my back. This is kind of a moot point because we have neither a lawn nor a power mower, and when we did have a lawn, we had a push mower and no kid. But the point is still the same.

  31. Add another one to the teach-the-kids-how-to-be-safe-around-a-lawnmower camp.

    @ Brian – Yes that’s how they work alright, but I think most kids can be taught to avoid approaching within the angles of the discharge. “Never” is a big word, and I’m not opposed to using it when appropriate…which is never! Just kidding, never is sometimes just right.

    This post reminded me of the Onion clip “Boy’s Tragic Death Could Have Happened to Any Family with a 20-ft Python”? Even the “Today NOW!” intro makes me laugh.,17024/

  32. Growing up on a farm makes for wonderful reminisces of the smell of hay being cut, wandering through maize fields, learning to drive tractors and plough paddocks by the time we were 10, ‘skiing’ off the back of the planters, driving cattle on foot, and always a bit alert to brown snakes and taipans, a couple of the most deadly in the world. My father lost his foot in a farm machinery accident as a 19 year old and was particular about teaching us machinery safety – not to avoid it but to give a hand on the farm. We didn’t wear shoes at home or school and I could run over bindi burs in bare feet. Weekends were for climbing trees and wandering off until you got too hungry. My cousin and I could ‘tarzan’ from the top of 60 foot macracopa pines (being light has fabulous advantages in gravity based adventure.) The barefoot went into the workshop as well. We learnt to wear goggles against the flash of the welder, and not to jump around from the pinch of a small spark on the foot (because jumping around is dangerous, a spark from a welder just a little painful). Wore shoes regularly for the first time when I went to boarding school as a 12 year old and remember crying for many nights with the throbbing pain of my thick soles cracking as they broke down, and if I knew then, what I know now, I might have cried harder. But every job was planned and briefed, and many fears explored. Once, as a 15 year old, my horse bolted on me, others of the family who saw us fly past stopped to see what was happening. Eventually, I ended up riding the front of the horses neck as he galloped me through a barbed wire fence. Torn jeans and bloodied legs, I had to untangle the fool, and limped us both back to the house yard. When I eventually got back inside, everyone else was having a cuppa. I said, “The horse went through the fence.” They said, “Yeh, we saw that.” I noted, “You didn’t think to give a hand.” They said, “We watched, and when you got up, we decided it was time for a cuppa tea.” And I felt reassured.

  33. @Secret Mommy

    I’ve got one similar to that and we used it to keep the kiddo off the dog when he was learning to walk. Now we call it the daddy jail because most of it is used to section off my husband’s computer desk from prying hands into all the cords under it, other wise the kids have free range of the house & back yard.

    Or we use it to put the kids in when we’re tired of chasing them around our campsite when we go camping.

  34. Like Paul, we got a push reel mower and don’t have to worry about running anyone over or having projectiles shoot out the side. It’s nice to see my daughter pushing her toy mower right behind my husband pushing the reel.

  35. Grief porn is drowning us in a sea of inactivity. We’re so paralyzed by fear and conditioned to judge one another for safety slip ups that we wallow at home in front of TV sensation instead. Damn the lawn — do without it, there will be less arguments about mowing, GHG, and watering anyway.

  36. no kidding. amen to the common sense

  37. “Grief porn” is a good idea. Not to mention the subtle implication that these parents/carers are to blame and it could have been prevented. Accidents do happen and they’re just that: accidents. It could happen to anyone and it’s just a sad thing.

  38. My husband owned a lawn service for years and it was always amazing how many people would SEND their kids out to play in the yard while he was cutting with a mower that could send a rock through a plate glass window 30 yards away. Worse, when he would tell them to keep the kids inside for the 10 minutes it took to cut their lawn they would get upset at him!

    It takes all kinds I guess.

  39. Whoops, I mean to write, “Grief porn is a good phrase”, in that Lenore has coined a great phrase.

  40. I just today saw health advice for men that said (among many other things) something like “learn that sunscreen can be macho, and avoid the sun.”

    Avoid. The. Sun.

    “Never.” “Avoid.” “Don’t.”

    No common sense anymore.

    BTW, I think “never” is a good rule for kids and lawnmowing, up to a certain age. That’s not 12, but it’s not two, either. Stuff flies, kids are unpredictable, and for most people, working in a high noise environment is isolating and tends to make you not notice things around you. It’s possible to be safe around very young kids while mowing, but it’s one of those things that, for half an hour a week, why not just find something else for the (very young) kid to do?

  41. I don’t see much opportuntiy cost to keeping little kids far away from running lawn mowers. However, I agree with your point – it is obscene how they use these “horrific” things to sell ratings. “Grief porn” is right.

    I have recently discovered a parenting website where some blogger or other posts a hysterical “OMG” post at least once a day. “OMG, here’s something we all need to be worried about! You would never believe how much danger there is! What are we gonna do now? It’s no longer safe to walk down the street!” I’m not even exaggerating. It’s disgusting. Let’s boycott.

  42. I don’t think we need these kinds of hysterical stories, but I do think it’s a good idea to remind/teach parents of the dangers of lawn mowers. I see plenty of parents letting their kids ride on mowers, push them, etc., and it IS dangerous. We were raised fairly free-range, but because my mom was an emergency room nurse, we were not allowed to mow the lawn with a power mower until well into our teens. In the summertime she had several children each week in the emergency room with serious injuries due to lawn mowers. There are definitley more safety features on mowers nowadays, but I still can’t be too blase about them. (We have a tiny yard, so we just have a manual reel mover.)

  43. OK…i’m feeling a tad bit irresponsible after reading all of this. My son, who is now 4, has been ‘helping’ my husband mow the lawn for like 2 years. We have a small lawn and a gas powered push mower. He rode in the backpack when he was like 14 months. Then he got one of those toy bubble mowers and started following my husband when he was 2’ish. He wears ear and eye protection an walks like 10′ or more behind him. My husband even made him a little pretend blower out of wood and PVC that he uses to follow my husband around a blow off the patio after they mow. Thankfully, we haven’t had any issues. Of course, my husband is very cautious, but I understand that accidents are accidents. I’ve always thought it was kind of cute. But now I feel a little foolish. The flying rock/debris thing has crossed my mind. Have I been so irresponsible? He has always helped my husband with projects in the garage and around the house, watching him use power tools, helping with the demolition of a mudroom, helping build a chicken coop, etc. I’m questioning my judgment….

  44. I hate the media. Watch shows aimed at kids on Nickleodian or Disney- they show kids with amazing imagination, doing things with unbelievable freedom, having exciting adventures and almost always being smarter than the adults. When parents are shown, they are ussually genial characters with vague, but obeyed, authority. Compare that to the network news aimed at adults- kids are stupid and need to be watched 24/7 or they will stick all ten fingers in electrical sockets. No wonder society is so screwed up- we tell the kids one thing and the parents something else.

  45. “all riding mowers sold since 2004 can’t mow in reverse”

    I did not know about that. There are many situations where it is helpful to be able to mow in reverse. Usually this involves rough terrain and/or subduing the wilderness and deep growth areas.

    I guess I will have to keep my current mower running as long as possible, or turn to the presumed illegal aftermarket modifications realm that must now exist.

    The nanny state strikes again.

  46. I bet most of the injuries are projectile related. I give me kids rides on the mower. b/c of the noise I turn off the blade part, and it’s just a ride around the flat yard.

  47. I love baby jails.

    And we have a push mower. (Nice and quiet for our tiny patch of grass.) I’d imagine that a driving mower would have similar rules to using the car.

  48. Grief Porn – brilliant!!! I’m going to use that in my articles about how the media glorifies fear of crime in South Africa (credit to you of course!). That’s exactly what it is…glorifying grief/fear from every possible angle, especially unflattering ones. It cheapens people’s personal experiences with it, and desensitizes us to the real thing. And the bigger the ‘money shot’ (outpouring of tragic emotion/paranoia), the more money that ends up in the hands of the producers. Sick…

  49. @seamama75 – Kind of interesting that the free-range kids website makes you feel irresponsible despite that fact that you and your husband make a real, conscious effort to mitigate risks of which you are clearly aware. Could something bad happen? Yes. But that’s where the calculation begins not ends.

    You’re the parent. It’s your child, use your judgment. The rest of us be danged. 😉

  50. I was working in the emergency room one day when a five year old boy came in. (I was a nurse before being a stay at home mom full-time) He was sitting on his dad’s lap while they were mowing the lawn. He fell off. His dad ran him over and amputated his foot.

    It is amazing what being a nurse will make you really blase about with your kids, (I don’t treat low grade fevers, kids are totally allowed to fall of swingsets around here, Puke? meh.) but then there are other things I am very, very paranoid about. Lawnmowers and trampolines are my paranoid places.

    That being said, I hate these kinds of news stories. Why must they exploit grieving parents and make the rest of us feel so bad?

  51. Lenore, I usually agree with you, but I think you’re wrong on this one.

    As much as I hate these news stories, I think they ARE necessary when there is a genuine danger. Folks will remember a grieving parent when making decisions, because it is just SO tragic and should not have to happen to anyone else. I knew a boy growing up who’d received a head injury from a lawn mower while growing up. The repeated surgeries and resulting trauma colored his whole life.

    These news stories don’t exploit. The parents stand up to say, “This is what happened to our family” in order to ‘make the rest of us feel so bad,’ so we won’t share their grief.

  52. I worry about projectiles, a friend is an ER doctor and regularly treats kids that have been injured by flying debri. This sort of message SHOULDN”T be necessary, we just need to place a higher priority on everyone using better judgement. And, that won’t prevent accidents, because (duh) they are accidental.

    Now, I’ll digress a bit.

    On the other hand, they are unlikely to get hit if they are on a small tractor, potentially operating it.

    My husband was a farm kid. At six he had already graduated to the big tractors. By ten, he worked alone in distant fields through planting and harvest. He’d drive himself there in the farm truck. By twelve, he was driving grain trucks too. By sixteen he was using machinery to pull single and double grain wagons – his first drivers’ license was a commercial license (allowing trucks). Farm kids are amazing – and have a work ethic rarely seen elsewhere today. I see that in my husband, and also in my college kids that come from a working background (several farm kids and the kid of a commercial lobsterman).

    Not that i want our kids to work THAT hard (little childhood)… but, kids are capable of much more responsibility than we give them credit for.

    But, you say “Psychologist have proven that the impulse control centers of the brain don’t mature until age 20″… All of these psychological reports haven’t ironed out whether the impulse-control centers lag in development because that is a developmental constraint, or if it reflects little development due to underuse. Does this reflect the coddling and lack of responsibility they’be been given to that point? A century ago, 18-year-olds would be married homeowners, raising their own kids.

    Back to today, our kids will start mowing so they are comfortable handling machinery before they are handling our cars. Our four-year-old is an accomplished kayaker on our pond (yes, he wears a vest and we are nearby).

    Kids that are empowered with some responsibilities can do remarkable things. You can see that in the face of our youngest as he handles the boat.

  53. Psychologists have proven?

    Come on.

  54. At least some newer riding mowers (I bought mine in 2005) DO have the ability to mow in reverse, but if they do retain that ability, they have to have a safety interlock so you can’t just put the transmission into reverse quickly or accidentally. On my John Deere, I have to push and hold a button down on the dash in order to mow in reverse… if I don’t, the engine is cut off and the whole mower stops.

    It took a little while to get used to after my previous rider didn’t have any such restrictions, but it does seem a reasonable compromise between no reverse mowing and the ability to just blindly back up and cut things willy nilly. I wish we didn’t have to have this – that all operators of riding mowers would use them safely, but that’s not the case, and at least – so far- the safety nuts haven’t taken the functionality away totally.

    As for us, our girls were 2.5 years old and in-utero when we moved into this house and went from townhome and no maintenance to 1 acre to cut. From the start, I’ve been careful not to be too close to them when cutting the grass, but I’m not going to require them to stay inside. They know to only approach me from the front or side where I can see them. I mulch the grass clippings, so there’s no discharge on my mower – much less chance of injuring or damaging anything by sending projectiles out.

    I understand that there are dangers to cutting the grass (or being a bystander when someone is cutting the grass), but this is no less a free-range issue than any other choice we make as parents – there are more safe and less-safe ways to have kids around when you are cutting the grass… I choose to go with the more safe route of educating them on what I am doing, why I’m doing it and what could be dangerous… I’m not going to tell them to stay inside when I’m cutting the grass… they need the outside time in the summer, because they don’t get a lot of it in winter.

    The girls are 8 and 5.5 now, still have all their limbs and I’m starting to think about whether I’ll have the (then) 9 year old start helping me with the outdoor power equipment next year.

  55. If it was common sense, then I would never have to take care of another toddler who a) fell off the riding mower or b) “suddenly darted” into the path of the mower.
    I f*#%&n hate those cases.
    I don’t think making mowers not able to reverse is the answer– sadly I think the answer may be annoying PSAs like this one (a little less “grief porn” and a little more suggestions)
    Treat the mower like a car! If your kid is too young to understand not to run in front of it, they need supervised when you’re “driving” on the lawn. DO NOT PUT YOUR KID ON THE MOWER WITH YOU!
    Can a 6 yo mow the lawn? An 8yo? I don’t know– I just know that the kids I see are toddlers that were riding with PapPap on the mower when they fell off and got their foot amputated.

  56. I don’t remember how young I was when I started helping Dad mow. But I wasn’t in school yet. It started with patrolling the yard. We would walk the yard picking up toys, sticks (we had large old trees), and rocks.If we left a toy out and Dad found it – it went in the trash.

    I mowed for a couple of weeks around 5th or 6th grade. IT was decided that it wasn’t worth the $$$$ in cost to have me treated for the sinus infections. (Yes I was wearing a pollution mask. I still ended up sick).

  57. Thanks for all the great comments, especially the farm memories. (I remember being five or so with both elbows hooked thru the tractor’s steering wheel so I could put all my weight (probably about 40 pounds) and both feet on the clutch so my dad could hop off the hay wagon. And yes, having grown up out where the cows are, I’ve known of lots of tragic accidents (deaths and amputations) involving both adults and kids who were helping Mom or Dad do the chores. The alternative is a world without corn, wheat, soy, beef or (shudder) BACON.

    Yeah, as several pointed out, common-sense warnings can be a good idea if they can be presented in an intelligent manner. I use a powered push-mower that either mulches down onto the yard or sends the clippings into a bag for compost, so there isn’t really a projectile damage if the kids are 3 or four feet away. Still, I let go of the handle (which shuts off the blade) the minute I see one of the kids in the yard. But what got me is the hysteria-porn that permeates TV news. Right now it’s the beginning of the storm season down here on the Gulf (what’s left of it, thanks to BP) and of course a cloud anywhere between Yucatan and Africa has all the stations competing to see who can most loudly advise us to stock up on bottled water and batteries and bleach and small-arms ammuniton ’cause Houston is sure to take a direct hit and anarchy will result as soon as the levees break. (Oh, wait, Houston is 50-some feet above sea level and 60 miles inland – we don’t even have levees and the aftermath of Ike was a two-week help-the-neighbors party involving chain saws and MREs and warm beer.)

    Speaking of beer, a big shout-out to Suburban Man. Our local microbrewery St. Arnold’s even markets its light pilsner under the name “Lawnmower” which is the generic name used by beer snobs to describe standard American beers, which ain’t a good stout or porter but sure taste good when you are mowing the lawn.

  58. I definitely see mowers as a danger but the real moral of the story isn’t to lock kids away from them until they are 16 but to teach them to be safe.

    We don’t have much a lawn living in the city. We have an electric mower and when my kids were toddler age they stayed inside or on the porch when I mowed (simply because it was a logistical nightmare to keep track of 3 toddlers while also trying not to run over the freaking cord).
    As they got older they were allowed out or off the porch but were taught to stay so many feet from the mower. Flying debris isn’t too much of an issue. I make the kids check the grass for rocks and toys first but it’s still something I worry about in our backyard (since our pool is surrounded by little rocks and I’ve had a few come shooting out, ricochet and smack my leg…ouch).
    Now they are older (10, 8, 7 and 4) and expected to help. My son (the 8yo) dumps the grass clippings and him and the 7yo help keep the cord out of the way. If the 4yo gets to close or isn’t listening I shut the mower off and make her sit on the stairs. I’m always aware of where all the kids are (even the neighbor kids).
    I think next year my son will be ready to start cutting on his own. He’ll be 9 and he’s big enough to easily work the mower. He’s been begging me for years but I didn’t feel he was ready until recently (but we now have a service to do our front lawn because I’m 9 months pregnant and can’t be out pushing a mower in this heat).

  59. ER doctors and nurses have a very important job to do – they fix up all the people who lack common sense. BUT. And this is the important but, they don’t fix up MOST PEOPLE. Only a very small subset.

    It’s well known that police officers and prosecutors get very jaded dealing with the bad guys every day, and they start suspecting everyone is capable of being the bad guy. Maybe they’re right. Maybe we should all be locked up from early childhood so we don’t do bad things. Or maybe not. ER workers can have the same bias problems. It’s part of the job, but it’s also why they aren’t the policy makers and we should be vary wary if they were.

    @seamama75 – Taylors’ response was dead on. My kids are out in the yard when mowing occurs, they stay away from the mower. If they didn’t, then they would not be out in the yard. Even the dogs learned that.

  60. I should add for the benefit of those of us who do have common sense and still wind up in the ER that not just people lacking in common sense go there 😉 My dd wound up there after she fell in a big box store and bonked her head on the floor. She was just running, as kids will do sometimes, and slipped.

  61. Lucy,
    Yikes if going to the ER = no common sense my family would be in trouble.

    Me – 1 trip for x-ray of wrist (fell at work)
    – 1 trip for asthma attack + chest pains
    – somewhere between 15 – 20 trips for life threatening reactions to peanuts. Reasons until mid 70’s labeling laws required listing types of oil just veg oil. 80’s no cholesterol craze before the non trans fat craze + restaurant people lying. A couple of “I’ll prove to you that you aren’t really allergic jackass jerks.

    Sis – Broken Wrist age 5 (pushed from a tree)
    – Dislocated knee elementary school (soccer)
    – Possible broken collar-bone (fall from jumping horse)
    – Broken wrist University slipped in university shower
    – broken leg tripped over a dog
    – broken foot stepped wrong sharp edge of step in exactly the wrong part of her foot snapped the bone
    – We have to check you out. She stopped her then 8 yo stepdaughter who lost control skiing and was heading towards a cliff. Bruises nothing serious
    – Broke both knees Skiing Then 11 yo stepdaughter went got the ski patrol, took them to sis, went back down the mountain, left that mountain, talked the tram guy into letting her go for free to another mountain, and found her father who was snowboarding on that mountain told him Sis was in the hospital.

  62. I do hate the fear-mongering news and think we put too many warning labels on things that people should just have common sense about, but…

    When my second cousin was two years old, he was staying with his grandmother. She took him out on the porch while she moved the lawn on the riding lawn mower. She told him to stay there and for a while, he did. Then she put the mower in reverse and ran over him. He’d left the porch and came up behind her. She mangled his legs so badly that they were both amputated above the knee.

    Kids, especially toddlers, are unpredictable. You can tell them to stay and some of them will, but some of them won’t. Some parents really are too stupid to realize that they can hurt their children. And some parents cop the “that’ll learn ’em” attitude, not realizing that ‘learning’ goes beyond a bump on the head or a scraped knee.

  63. And some people believe that their sincere intentions are more powerful than the laws of physics. “I trust my Dad to mow the lawn while my child’s around. He would NEVER do something that might hurt his grandchild.” Well, of course he’d never do something ON PURPOSE, but if a thing is risky, it doesn’t matter how kind-hearted the risk-taker is, the risk still exists. The risk has to be assessed for what it is, not for how devoted a parent or grandparent is.

  64. What really sent me over the edge regarding this particular GMA was when the Twinkie (and thanks to fellow Houstonian Linda Ellerbee for that great description of TV-news talking airheads) said “SEVENTY FIVE THOUSAND KIDS (sotto voce: ‘and adults’) go to the emergency room every year with mowing accidents.” This moved what could have been a useful and timely news story into the realm of Really Bad Journalism. As a newsroom veteran, I know any ethical reporter or editor would have phrased that “75,000 people, some of them children….” I seriously doubt if over half of that 75K are kids, so giving them top billing was alarmist and misleading. Also, I don’t know (and certainly didn’t get a clue from GMA) how many of those accidents were traumatic amputations and how many (the vast majority, I would bet) were a few stitchs to the ankle from a mower-hurled rock. Oh well, it’s raining out in the Gulf, so I need to go stock up on bottled water and batteries. The TV told me so…..

  65. Oh my lord. Honestly, isn’t this the same sort of deal as with anything else. Teach your kids the dangers, their responsibilities, your responsibilities and go forth. My kids all have turns at mowing the lawns, with gas powered push mower. Our routine is, all kids help pick up anything that can be seen on the lawn. All kids wear shoes. Kid who is mowing wears boots, eye and ear protection. All others stay away from where the mower is and assist in moving the outdoor equipment so it can be mowed under. Not too terrifying. Kids involved are 5, 7 and 9. The 2 year old doesn’t mow yet, but helps with the rest. Dad’s normally on the edger at the same time.
    I mowed lawns at commercial buildings as an 8 year old kid to earn some pocket money.
    Toddlers can be unpredictable and some wouldn’t be good lawn buddies while mowing. Judgement call based on your own kids, their familiarities etc.

  66. Yet another fantastic reason to go with the old-fashioned push reel mowers. My 7 yr old mowed the lawn last week (with dad supervising) with one. Admittedly, it’s quite a chore if your lawn is bigger than a postage stamp (our isn’t), but it does crack me up getting a big fancy mower or ride-on mower (or paying someone else to do it) and then going to the gym afterwards to work out. Making our chores our workouts makes sense on so many levels. I wish more people would get back to doing that! THAT’s what we should be teaching our kids!

  67. Farm kids (my husband being one of them) DO work hard. But don’t forget that farming is one of the most dangerous jobs in the US today. And kids getting injured, often critically injured, during farm work is a serious problem that various agencies are trying to figure out how to address. Growing up on a farm can be idyllic, but I also cringe when people over-romanticize it.

  68. We live on a small farm. I have a small diesel farm tractor with a rear mounted mower on a three point hitch. We keep our kids away from it unless it is off and I have the key in my pocket. They are 7, 10 and 11.

    That said, my kids have been in the barn with me for years “helping” me grease it, change the oil, sharpen the blades, replace a belt, and so on. I show them the controls, the clutch, the PTO gears, the tractor gears, three point hitch lift hydraulics and so on.

    Our lawn is not simple or easy to mow. It will be a while longer before our kids help out with the mowing. Furthermore our farm tractor is a bit heavier at the top than most lawn tractors. They won’t be driving that thing for another couple years at least.

    That said, I don’t want this stuff to be unknown to them. I show them where I have made mistakes and what the mower did. Even small diesel tractors have LOTS of torque One can tear things up pretty badly before realizing something is wrong.

    Some day, I will have to stand back and watch them make those mistakes too. And they will learn to deal with them. Better that they should learn on a tractor at three MPH than in a car at 65 MPH.

  69. What is going to happen? The kid is going to get hit with a rock. Oh no. Then what? Its called learning to deal with some discomfort and learning to be tough.

    Eye and ear protection??? This is crazy. How many people have ever gone deaf from listening to a household lawn mower once a week?

  70. It’s a good idea to hand sanitizer to carry with you at all times. When you meet someone who wants to keep the baby, you can always ask to use the first vacuum cleaner. Most people will understand and enjoyable. Take baby wipes with you so you can wipe the baby’s face and hands after someone touches him.
    Be aware of anyone who sounds like a cold or sniffles. You are only to protect your toddler.

  71. @hsanenewsletter, forget baby wipes. There is a whole new invention that promises to outdo them. It’s called the HUMAN IMMUNE SYSTEM, which has been designed to perfection over untold millions of years.

    The HUMAN IMMUNE SYSTEM is vastly superior to ANY manmade sanitation device under ordinary circumstances, unless one ruins it by getting happy with the sanitizer.


    Because sanitzers kill “99.9%” of germs… meaning that they leave the toughest 0.1% behind. Over time, this weeds out the weak bacteria, making the entire species orders of magnitude stronger and more harmful in a very short time than it would have been if left to its own devices. I can give you a quick experiment to prove how quickly bugs can evolve, if you like.

    So now you have A) weakened the immune system by not giving it germs to fight off, and B) ensured that this weakened immune system will get to fight off only the Special Forces of the bacterial world that have resisted your feeble attempts at “protection.”

    Soap and water is perfectly fine, and no, people don’t need to scrub themselves to hold your Little Poopsie (who may well be carrying a poopsie of his/her own). This is why you give your kid a bath with plain soap and water at the end of the day.

    Or let them fight off superbugs with hamstrung immune systems because you think you know better.

    Up to you.

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  73. great post

  74. I just stumbled across this post. The funny thing is that on June 22, 2010 (a week before this was posted) my ex-wife ran over my 3-year old boy with a riding mower while she mowed the lawn. Of course, she had an 18-month old in her lap at the time of the accident, so she had a kid playing in the yard AND she was distracted by an 18-month old… Long story short, his lower left leg was “traumatically de-gloved” and, when he was airlifted to the trauma center, they had to transfuse 1.75 times his body’s blood quantity en route. They estimate that he lost 90% of his blood at the scene. Another fun thing? 2 months prior to the accident another child locally was killed by a riding mower. I e-mailed the news article to my wife.

    You can make fun of the story all you want, but the sad truth is that the majority (yes, I dare say it, majority) of Americans are clueless, ignorant mouth-breathers who NEED constant reminders. My son is alive, but he will spend the rest of his life maimed because one parent didn’t think that a 2-year old boy getting killed in our own neighborhood was ‘red flag’ enough to get her to stop having her kids on the mower with her.

  75. Lol… this makes me think of a time my kids and I were watching a show called ‘Time Warp’ (all recovering from some bug…no energy= more tv:(). The show was about how a mower works, as a ‘visual’ they showed it cutting up a ham… chunks flying everywhere, simulating (apparently) what would happen should mower meet body. I used that visual as a teaching moment to point out why they weren’t allowed to play on the lawn while it was being mowed. My then 5 year old commented “yeah, cause you’ll get ham all over the lawn”.*sigh*

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