Last weekend, I had to go down a steep slide that was part of a big, tree-house style maze while at a farm with my kids. My four-year-old son went down the slide first, so I had to follow or I'd risk losing him in the crowd. I (bravely, in my mind) went down and landed hard —and I was then in pain for the rest of the day. But I'm an adult going down a kid-sized slide, and I'm sure I'm not the only grown-up who got a little bruised that day. What if slides were associated with the risk of serious injury for the small kids they're actually designed for?
Turns out, they are — if you do something that probably every parent or grandparent who's ever gone to the playground has done: Put your kid on your lap while going down the slide together. Guilty as charged? Yep, me too.
New research, presented in September 2017 at the American Academy of Pediatrics National Conference & Exhibition in Chicago, has found that placing children (especially infants and toddlers) on adult laps to go down slides actually increases the risk of injury to the child's lower legs — and that risk includes broken bones.
Going down slide with child is dangerous.
"I've seen a lot of these injuries throughout my career, and I hadn't seen anybody talk about this issue," says Dr. Charles Jennissen, a clinical professor and pediatric emergency medicine staff physician at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine, who led the research and spoke to Popular Science. He and his colleagues scoured injury data from emergency departments across the United States and found that an estimated 352,698 children under the age of six were injured on slides in the U.S. from 2002 to 2015. Injuries were most common among kids from 12-23 months of age, and the most common injury (36 percent of them) were lower leg fractures.
Researchers also looked at the accompanying narrative (the hospital notes recounting the incident that led to the injury) from 600 of these cases — and of those, 94 percent involved lower leg injuries. This is important, because a kid falling off a slide by himself would most likely hurt his face, head, or arms (especially if the poor tot reached out to break his fall).
"We think a lot of these lower extremity injuries are because they're on the lap," says Jennissen. "We don't know that for sure, because the narrative doesn't say that. But from my experience, and the data that suggests it, we think almost all of these are kids are on the lap."
So why do many parents tend to go the lap route? Sides can seem especially dangerous for small children who aren't fully coordinated or in control of their bodies just yet. A toddler is less likely to topple from such heights (and boy, don't some of those slides seem super high?) if she’s within a loving parent or grandparent's firm grasp. Plus, we all know that slides can be wet from rain or can be hot — getting as hot as 200 degrees on a summer day — depending on what material they're made from. Much safer to let your bottom side take the brunt of that discomfort than a baby or toddler’s delicate skin, right? Now, we know better.
Going down a slide together? Use caution.
Jennissen thinks that the most likely way for a child to injure their legs on a slide is for them to catch their feet along the edge. Of course, this can happen when kids go down slides by themselves, but when they’re sitting on an adult’s lap and their foot gets caught, they have the added momentum of an adult body wrenching their tiny leg backwards.
While Jennissen isn’t arguing that you should never go down the slide with your kid (and admits he’s done it with his own kids) he says adults should be aware of the risks.
“The safest thing is not to go down the slide with an infant or toddler on your lap,” says Jennissen. “But if they do so, parents really need to use extreme caution. You really need to make sure that you're watching and controlling the child's lower extremities so they don't catch on the side of the slide.”