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Playground Safety Checklist: Basic Design and Maintenance

Playground Safety Checklist: Basic Design and Maintenance

If you’re a parent, you may have noticed that hard asphalt and sharp edges are on their way out at playgrounds around the country. In large part, these changes are due to concerns over injuries and law suits. Over 200,000 children in the US are treated each year in hospital emergency rooms for playground-related injuries. That’s a lot of opportunity for enterprising attorneys, especially in cases where parents or guardians lack health insurance.  

Accident and litigation concerns aside, it is important for children to get outside in the fresh air and exercise. This is particularly true considering the increasing rate of childhood obesity. Playgrounds can be ideal areas for kids to socialize while getting the exercise they need. By checking the playground for safety hazards and following some simple guidelines, there is no reason why your kids can’t take advantage of all a playground has to offer. 

The most important element to playground safety is adult supervision. Kids need to be supervised whenever they are using playground equipment so an adult can intervene when a child is not using the equipment properly or is acting in a dangerous fashion. Kids like to test their limits, and sometimes young children cannot properly judge distances and may try something that is likely to cause injury. 

The playground surface is important in reducing the number of injuries from falls. Asphalt and concrete are obvious surfaces to avoid, but so are grass and packed soil surfaces. None of these are able to cushion a child’s fall appropriately. Instead, look for playgrounds that have safety-tested rubber surfacing mats or areas of loose fill 12 inches deep made from wood chips, shredded rubber, mulch, sand or pea gravel. The cushioned surfacing should extend at least 6 feet from any equipment, and sometime farther, depending on the particular piece of equipment (such as a high slide or a long swing). 

Children should always play in areas of the playground that are age-appropriate. Playgrounds should have three different clearly designated areas for different age ranges of children: those younger than 2 years old, children 2 to 5, and children 5 to 12 years of age. Children under 2 should have spaces where they can crawl, stand and walk, and can safely explore. Kids age 2-5 should use equipment such as low platforms reached by ramps and ladders, flexible spring rockers, sand areas and low slides no higher than 4 feet. Kids age 5 to 12 can use rope climbers, horizontal bars, swings and slides, in addition to having open spaces to run around and play ball. 

Following are a few basic guidelines to ensure playground equipment safety: 

  • Seesaws, swings and any equipment with moving parts should be located separately from the rest of the playground. 
  • There should be no openings on equipment between 3.5 inches and 9 inches where parts of a child’s body may become trapped (such as rungs on a ladder). 
  • The top of a slide should have no open areas where strings on clothing can get caught and cause strangulation. 
  • There should be only two swings per bay, and should be placed 24 inches apart and 30 inches from any support. 
  • Equipment should not be cracked, splintered or rusty, and hardware should be secure. 
  • Sandboxes should be checked for loose debris such as broken glass and sharp sticks and should be covered overnight to prevent animals soiling it. 
Playground Safety Checklist: Basic Design and Maintenance

Playground Safety Checklist: Basic Design and Maintenance

IS078-019

If you’re a parent, you may have noticed that hard asphalt and sharp edges are on their way out at playgrounds around the country. In large part, these changes are due to concerns over injuries and law suits. Over 200,000 children in the US are treated each year in hospital emergency rooms for playground-related injuries. That’s a lot of opportunity for enterprising attorneys, especially in cases where parents or guardians lack health insurance.

Accident and litigation concerns aside, it is important for children to get outside in the fresh air and exercise. This is particularly true considering the increasing rate of childhood obesity. Playgrounds can be ideal areas for kids to socialize while getting the exercise they need. By checking the playground for safety hazards and following some simple guidelines, there is no reason why your kids can’t take advantage of all a playground has to offer.

The most important element to playground safety is adult supervision. Kids need to be supervised whenever they are using playground equipment so an adult can intervene when a child is not using the equipment properly or is acting in a dangerous fashion. Kids like to test their limits, and sometimes young children cannot properly judge distances and may try something that is likely to cause injury.

The playground surface is important in reducing the number of injuries from falls. Asphalt and concrete are obvious surfaces to avoid, but so are grass and packed soil surfaces. None of these are able to cushion a child’s fall appropriately. Instead, look for playgrounds that have safety-tested rubber surfacing mats or areas of loose fill 12 inches deep made from wood chips, shredded rubber, mulch, sand or pea gravel. The cushioned surfacing should extend at least 6 feet from any equipment, and sometime farther, depending on the particular piece of equipment (such as a high slide or a long swing).

Children should always play in areas of the playground that are age-appropriate. Playgrounds should have three different clearly designated areas for different age ranges of children: those younger than 2 years old, children 2 to 5, and children 5 to 12 years of age. Children under 2 should have spaces where they can crawl, stand and walk, and can safely explore. Kids age 2-5 should use equipment such as low platforms reached by ramps and ladders, flexible spring rockers, sand areas and low slides no higher than 4 feet. Kids age 5 to 12 can use rope climbers, horizontal bars, swings and slides, in addition to having open spaces to run around and play ball.

Following are a few basic guidelines to ensure playground equipment safety:

  • Seesaws, swings and any equipment with moving parts should be located separately from the rest of the playground.
  • There should be no openings on equipment between 3.5 inches and 9 inches where parts of a child’s body may become trapped (such as rungs on a ladder).
  • The top of a slide should have no open areas where strings on clothing can get caught and cause strangulation.
  • There should be only two swings per bay, and should be placed 24 inches apart and 30 inches from any support.
  • Equipment should not be cracked, splintered or rusty, and hardware should be secure.
  • Sandboxes should be checked for loose debris such as broken glass and sharp sticks and should be covered overnight to prevent animals soiling it.
Want Your Kids to Be Active? Here Is Why YOU Should Be their Lifestyle Role Model

Want Your Kids to Be Active? Here Is Why YOU Should Be their Lifestyle Role Model

family-bicycling
family-bicycling

It’s not news—obesity is a growing national epidemic among young people. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that obesity in children has doubled in the last 30 years and quadrupled in adolescents. Nearly 20% of children 6-11 years old are obese as are almost 23% of teenagers. This places them at increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease, diabetes, bone and joint problems, sleep apnea, type 2 diabetes, stroke, several types of cancer, and osteoarthritis. Finally—and even more concerning—studies have shown that people who are obese as children tend to be obese as adults.

What’s happening here?  In large part, it comes down to our lifestyle choices. Record numbers of both adults and children are succumbing to the temptations of TV, computers, and video games, and many of us simply don’t get the exercise our bodies need to stay healthy.

Naturally, parents who read statistics like these may be—and should be—concerned about their kids. More and more often, they ask themselves questions like “What can we do to help our kids be more active and physically fit?” One answer to this question is pretty simple: To get your kids to be more active, engage in more active pursuits with them. One of the keys to getting children to exercise more is to have them see their parents exercise more. That’s the finding from a new study published in the journal Pediatrics

In the study, researchers at the University of Cambridge School of Clinical Medicine in England fitted 554 mother-child pairs with equipment to measure how much exercise they were getting when they were together as well as when they were apart. Accelerometers tracked their exercise levels, and GPS devices measured how close they were to each other. Over the course of seven days, the findings were clear – the more physical activity the mother was engaged in while with the child, the more active the child was during the rest of the day. In fact, for every minute of moderate-to-vigorous activity the mother got, the child was likely to get ten percent more of the same activity. Conversely, for every minute the mother was sedentary, the child was 0.18 minutes more sedentary. Both of these effects were more pronounced in girls than in boys.

These findings seem to indicate that parents can be effective role models for their children by getting more active exercise themselves. But specialists emphasize that parents don’t have to drop their other priorities to do this. Physical therapist Teresa Beckman suggests, “Incorporate small changes into your daily life. For example, rather than playing a board game together, go outside and play hopscotch. Or if you’re planning a trip to your local playground, try walking instead of driving.”

Other suggestions for becoming more active with your children include playing more sports with them, walking more with them (if you take the bus, get off one or two stops early and walk the rest of the way), riding bikes together, and even playing Frisbee. Dancing is good exercise, so you can encourage your kids to take lessons in various forms of dance and then set a good example for them by attending the classes yourself. You can join exercise classes together, schedule regular pre-dinner walks or runs, or just play family games of basketball or soccer.

You are your child’s most important role model when it comes to teaching them about the importance of exercise. And exercising together is just as good for you as it is for them. So switch off that TV or computer and go out to play! You’ll both be doing something good for your health and having fun at the same time!

 

Youth Sports: Are Single-Sport Child Athletes Really More Likely to Succeed Later?

Youth Sports: Are Single-Sport Child Athletes Really More Likely to Succeed Later?

boys-with-sports-equipmen
boys-with-sports-equipmen

Especially if they’re athletes or sports fans themselves, it’s not unusual for mothers and fathers to have secret (or not-so-secret) hopes that their kids can become good enough in a sport to earn a college scholarship or go on to a professional career. Some parents believe that the best way to work toward this goal is to encourage their children—sometimes as young as 6 or 7 years old—to focus on a single sport as early as possible. The reasoning behind this early specialization is pretty simple: Kids who are not splitting their time among multiple sports will get better, faster (and be more competitive) than their “distracted” peers. In other words, the children who commit early get a developmental head start that will make them high-performers later.

While this idea may make intuitive sense, a new study from the University of California, Los Angeles (which has a reputation as a major power in collegiate athletics) suggests that the logic simply doesn’t hold true. In a study presented at the annual meeting of the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine (AMSSM) in San Diego, Dr. John DiFiori, chief of sports medicine at UCLA’s School of Medicine, says that researchers can find no evidence that athletes who focused early on a single sport rose to elite levels in that sport.

To the contrary, most of the collegiate athletes surveyed were more like their peers, kids who enjoyed a wide range of recreational sports growing up, waiting until well into their teens before specializing on one sport. As DiFiori says, “Most successful athletes participate in a number of sports when they’re 6, 8 or 10 years old. That way, kids learn different skills and have the chance to discover which sport they truly enjoy.”

The study surveyed 296 male and female NCAA Division I athletes and found that 88% of them had participated in an average of two or three sports as children. In addition, 70% of them did not specialize in any one sport until after the age of 12. In a similar study on Olympic athletes, researchers found that most had participated in two or more sports before specializing.

While there are famous athletes like Tiger Woods or Andre Agassi who focused on one sport early in their lives, the research suggests that they are the exception and not the rule. The vast majority of successful collegiate or pro athletes dabbled in a number of other sports before settling on the one that brought them success. The data seems to indicate that early specialization may not help and may, in fact, be detrimental. Previous research has indicated, for example, that kids who train extensively in one sport are more prone to overuse injuries than kids who had more varied athletic experience, and played other sports as well. There’s also a greater risk of premature disengagement or “burn-out” that can come with focusing exclusively on one activity.

Based on this research, Dr. DiFiori feels that parents of kids who seem talented in one sport at an early age should allow and encourage them to play other sports. They may, after all, discover another sport that they enjoy more and are even better at. And—even if they do not—they will be exposed to sports that train them in a wider variety of motor skills. “Physical activity contributes to a happy and healthy childhood,” says Dr. DiFiori, “however, parents, coaches and children should monitor and measure their involvement level in a singular sport against the overall well-being and future success of the participant.”

 

Benefits of Copper

Benefits of Copper

Grinding for Pennies - Wood mortar, pestle & pennies.Like some of the other essential dietary minerals, copper is needed only in trace amounts for your body to function properly. Nevertheless, copper is vital to many of the body’s functions, so it is important to ensure that you are not copper deficient (which is actually quite rare). Since the human body cannot synthesize copper on its own, it must be absorbed by the body from the food we eat.

Copper combines with protein to produce enzymes that spur a wide range of bodily functions. It plays a key role in energy production, supports the brain and central nervous system, and helps in the creation and metabolism of neurotransmitters. It also is important in the formation of connective tissue (including that of the heart and blood vessels) and plays a part in bone formation. It is necessary for proper iron metabolism and the healthy formation of red blood cells. It is also responsible for the production of melanin, the pigment that gives color to the skin, eyes and hair. Copper acts as an antioxidant and is important for a healthy immune system.

As mentioned earlier, copper deficiency is relatively uncommon. However, some people are more prone to a deficiency than others. This includes those who have cystic fibrosis, severely restricted diets, or problems with absorption through the gut (such as individuals with celiac disease). Infants and the elderly are also more prone to copper deficiency. Infants may be more at risk they have been fed only cow’s milk formula (cow’s milk is very low in copper).

The recommended daily intake of copper is as follows:

Infants, birth to 6 months: 200 mcg/day

Infants, 7 – 12 months: 220 mcg/day

Children, 1 – 3 years: 340 mcg/day

Children, 4 – 8 years: 440 mcg/day

Children, 9 – 13 years: 700 mcg/day

Adolescents, 14 – 18 years: 890 mcg/day

Adults, 19 years and older: 900 mcg/day

Pregnant women: 1,000 mcg/day

Breastfeeding women: 1,300 mcg/day

Being deficient in copper can contribute to anemia and osteoporosis as well as a variety of other health problems. However, having too much copper in your system can actually be toxic. Signs of copper toxicity include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain that can eventually lead to kidney and liver failure, coma and death. Taking high amounts of zinc can lower copper levels that have become too high.

Children should get the copper they need from their diet rather than from supplements. Adults who are considering taking a copper supplement should consult with their doctor before doing so, since it is important not to get too much copper, and it must have a proper balance with zinc. Foods rich in copper include liver, nuts (particularly cashews, almonds and Brazil nuts), seeds, legumes, clams and oysters.

 

Pets, Kids and Immune System Health

Pets, Kids and Immune System Health

young-girl-and-cat-200-300Over the past few years, health researchers around the world have become increasingly interested in exactly how our immune system develops. In particular, they want to understand how it might be shaped by the environment we live in—and especially by our interactions with microbes. One theory, known as the “hygiene hypothesis,” posits that reduced exposure to bacteria, symbiotic microorganisms (for instance, the flora that live in our digestive tract) and parasites makes us more susceptible to allergic diseases by suppressing the natural development of our immune system.

The basic idea is that modern standards of household and personal cleanliness, smaller family units and less outdoor time have all combined to limit the number and types of microbes many of us come into contact with, and that this has resulted in more people having immune systems that are over-sensitive or calibrated incorrectly. This line of thinking leads to an interesting question: Do people who have been exposed to more or different types of microbes actually have stronger immune systems?  One way researchers have approached this question is to study individuals who have spent more time with animals (pets) or in the company of lots of children.

The Pet Effect

A recent Finnish study performed by researchers at Kuopio University Hospital found that babies who grow up in a home that has a pet are less likely to get coughs and colds in their first year of life than their counterparts who live in pet-free homes. Lead author of the study, Dr. Eija Bergroth, a pediatrician at the university, said, “We think the exposure to pets somehow matures the immune system so when the child meets the microbes, he might be better prepared for them.” Researchers believe that the dander that pets shed and the microbes that they bring in from outdoors prime babies’ newly-forming immune systems, teaching them to fend off allergies, bacteria and viruses.

Previous studies had found a link between the presence of pets in a baby’s home and a lower risk of allergies. And in a study performed on mice, exposure to household dust from a home in which a dog lived prevented a common respiratory virus that has been linked to the development of childhood asthma.

Researchers from the Finnish study, published in the journal Pediatrics, followed the health of 397 Finnish children during their first year of life. Parents recorded the state of their child’s health on a weekly basis, including any runny noses, coughing and ear infections. They also noted if the child took any antibiotics. The results of the study found that children with pets in the home had a 44% lower risk of contracting an ear infection and were 29% less likely to be prescribed antibiotics, when compared with babies from pet-free homes.

The type of pet in the home did make a difference in how likely babies were to become ill during their first year. Dogs in the home were associated with a 31% lower risk of illness in the first year, whereas the presence of cats in the home was associated with only a 6% improvement in risk. The greatest benefit was from outdoor pets (those that were not restricted only to the indoors), as they brought in a wider array of microbes on their fur.

According to researchers, early exposure to pets seems to be the key in developing greater resistance to microbes, as it is the time that a child’s immune system is learning to differentiate friendly from unfriendly microbes, and by getting a wide array of these in small amounts, babies’ immune systems become well-trained early on.

The Kid Effect

Maybe it’s just wishful thinking, but many moms and dads (as well as teachers and childcare workers) believe that being around young children boosts their immune system.  It’s easy to see why this idea has some popular appeal.  After all, young children typically have lots of contact with other young children, often in environments where lots of germs can be spread. They then bring these same germs into contact with adults, whose immune systems need to fight them off over a sustained period of time. The thinking goes that this, in turn, helps make these adults more resistant to them.

But what does the science actually say about this? Rigorous research is hard to come by, but perhaps the best anecdotal evidence can be found in the “common wisdom” imparted to new kindergarten and elementary school teachers. When one woman started teaching in California, her school board warned her that she should probably plan her finances for the first year of teaching based on being out sick more than her allotted number of “sick days,” and thus not being paid for them. The woman, who had always been remarkably healthy, laughed at this advice, but then spent 25% of her first year at home sick, likely because of all the germs she picked up from kids in the classroom.

However, this same schoolteacher rarely ever got sick again. Her exposure to a wide variety of germs transmitted by the kids did seem to boost her immune system over time, and enhanced her ability to be exposed to them in the future without getting sick herself. We can possibly infer that the same thing happens with small children in the home—they pick up germs at school and bring them home where the parents are exposed to them. This exposure then builds immunity over time rather than diminishing it. Dr. Jordan S. Orange, chief of immunology, allergy and rheumatology at Texas Children’s Hospital explains the simple mechanics of this “early exposure” process this way: “When you get it [immunity], you have it. So, if you get it earlier, you’re going to be immune earlier.”

What Parents Need to Know About E-Cigarettes

What Parents Need to Know About E-Cigarettes

blue-vapor
blue-vapor

With the possible exception of vaccinations, there are few more polarizing health issues confronting the general public right now than the use of electronic cigarettes.

At the heart of the public health issue are two very simple facts.  First, e-cigarettes are relatively new. And second, their use has grown far faster than our understanding of how they affect the health of “vapers” and those around them.

The resulting uncertainty means that reasonable people have very different opinions about the risks—and opportunities—electronic cigarettes might present for public health. For the sake of discussion, we’ll summarize the positions taken by three different groups based on their starting premise and priorities.

Group 1: “Nicotine addiction is bad, and e-cigarettes are just another way to deliver nicotine. So why encourage it?”

Group 2: “E-cigarettes are certainly safer than traditional cigarettes and may help smokers quit. So why not back an alternative to tobacco?”

Group 3: “We don’t know what the health effects of e-cigarettes actually are, but we’d rather be safe than sorry. So why not regulate them tightly until we know more?”

First, some facts about traditional cigarettes.

Just to remind parents of the danger that smoking tobacco cigarettes poses to health, here are some excerpts from a January, 2013 study published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine, based on a U.S. National Health survey of 202,248 Americans:

  • “For participants who were 25 to 79 years of age, the rate of death from any cause among current smokers was about three times that among those who had never smoked.”
  • “The probability of surviving from 25 to 79 years of age was about twice as great in those who had never smoked as in current smokers.”
  • “Life expectancy was shortened by more than 10 years among the current smokers, as compared with those who had never smoked.”
  • “Cessation before the age of 40 years reduces the risk of death associated with continued smoking by about 90%.”

These figures support previous research that indicates that few things in modern life are as harmful to health as smoking tobacco cigarettes.

Second, some facts about electronic cigarettes.

  • E-cigarettes are not tobacco products and don’t produce smoke. Instead, they heat liquids to produce a vapor. This is why smoking e-cigarettes is sometimes referred to as “vaping.”
  • E-cigarettes may or may not contain nicotine, though many or most do. Unlike traditional cigarettes, they come in a wide variety of flavors.
  • The liquids used in e-cigarettes can vary a great deal in terms of both ingredients and consistency. There have been concerns that some liquids may contain harmful chemicals, either as a result of the “recipe” used in manufacturing or because of problems in quality control.
  • Some tobacco smokers have reported that e-cigarettes have helped them quit.

So what about e-cigarettes and your teenager?

The use of e-cigarettes among middle and high school students exploded between 2013 and 2014.  In 2013, 4.5% of high school students reported vaping at least once in the prior 30 days.  In 2014, 13.4% did. Comparable statistics for middle school students were 1.1% in 2013 and 3.9% in 2014. According to the 2014 National Youth Tobacco Survey, e-cigarette use has now surpassed current use of every other tobacco product overall, including traditional cigarettes. This means that if you have a child who is between the ages of 13 and 18, it is very likely that they know someone who vapes.

Some of the worry among public health officials and regulators stems from the idea that e-cigarettes may act as a “gateway drug” to real cigarettes or to something worse. They are also worried that traditional cigarette companies could accelerate the current trend by directing their marketing expertise at young people. The overarching concern is that this segment is both particularly attractive and particularly vulnerable.

Over the past few years, researchers have gained a better understanding of how the adolescent brain develops and how it responds to certain substances. One of the things they’ve learned is that teens’ ability to weigh risks and longer-term consequences is still forming. They have also discovered that even casual drug use can cause structural changes in a teenager’s rapidly developing brain that reduce cognitive ability in measurable ways. Of course, this is a nightmare scenario for most parents, who would prefer that their children not abuse any substance with the potential to cause harm or dependency.

Other parents, however, see e-cigarettes as simply the lesser of two evils. If they start with the presumption that their son or daughter is going to try a cigarette anyway, they would rather it be an e-cig than traditional tobacco, with its 79 carcinogens and all the negative second- and third-hand health effects.

As healthcare professionals, we encourage parents to help their children build good lifestyle habits that will serve them well as adults. While we recognize that parents have less and less direct control over teens’ choices as they grow and become more independent, we believe that it is very important to point them in the right direction and set a good example. Given that we don’t know everything we need to know about the health risks of e-cigarettes, parents should be very cautious about letting teenagers pick up this type of habit.

 

 

Trampoline Safety: What Parents Should Know

Trampoline Safety: What Parents Should Know

teen-male-on-trampoline
teen-male-on-trampoline

From a health and safety point of view, the best advice we could give parents who are considering letting their kids use trampolines at home is to don’t do it unless you are willing to supervise and attend your children while they play on a trampoline.

Since 1977, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has strongly recommended against the use of home trampolines by children. In 2009, the last year for which complete data is available, nearly 100,000 people suffered injuries from trampoline use that required a visit to the Emergency Room.

The most compelling reason for not allowing trampoline use in your home is the risk of permanent neurological damage. One study found that 1 out of every 200 trampoline mishaps resulted in this type of injury.  While the overall odds of this happening are small, the effect on a child’s life is potentially devastating.

According to the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS), 75% of all trampoline injuries occurred when there were two or more people on the trampoline at one time. NEISS data also show that 29% of trampoline injuries in kids 6–17 were dislocations or fractures. This percentage jumps to 48% in kids 5 and under. What this tells us is that the smaller kids are the most vulnerable.

If you do decide to allow your children to use a home trampoline, there are a few things you (and they) can do to help prevent some types of injuries.

  • Safety Net—Ensure that your trampoline includes a safety net. The AAP has stated that safety nets have not improved injury statistics, but this could be because such netting is rarely installed or used properly.
  • Ground Level—If at all possible, install your trampoline at ground level. This will require digging a hole in which to set up the trampoline. This way, if the safety netting slips or fails, the person using the trampoline won’t have as far to fall.
  • One at a Time—Never let more than one person on the trampoline at a time. Allowing multiple users only magnifies the risk and the energy with which users are catapulted upward.
  • Store—When the trampoline is not in use, disassemble it and place it in storage.
  • Repair—Never use a trampoline that is ripped or damaged.
  • Padding—Make sure the trampoline is properly padded, covering the springs and other hardware with a different color.
  • Center—Always jump in the center of the trampoline for greatest control.
  • Simple Jumps—Never attempt somersaults or other complex maneuvers. Such moves should only be attempted under the strict supervision of trained professionals and/or with special safety equipment to ensure maximum protection.
  • Supervision—Children should be actively supervised by an adult at all times. This means that the adult responsible should not be distracted or doing something else. The trampoline user should have their entire attention and the adult should be able to control the user. In other words, if the user does not obey the commands of the adult, the trampoline session should end immediately.

 

As healthcare professionals, our primary message here is a very simple one—and it bears repeating. When it comes to home trampoline use, the best thing you can do for your child’s safety is to wait until they are older before allowing it. The risks far outweigh the benefits.

 

Kids and Sports: The New Youth Athletics Landscape

Kids and Sports: The New Youth Athletics Landscape

little-bmxers
little-bmxers

Over the last twenty years, the landscape of youth sports has changed dramatically. It used to be that children would gather after school and choose (or invent) an activity or game to play until dinnertime. In this world of “free play,” the kids set the rules and managed themselves more or less independently. These days, though, it’s much more common for kids’ sports to be highly organized and stratified, with adults more heavily involved than they were even a generation ago.

The downsides of adult-led, year-round structure

Kids can sometimes be rough-and-tumble, and they can also be cruel. This means that free play can have its share of problems when seen through the eyes of adults who are most concerned about limiting safety and social risks. From their point of view, there are clear advantages to having a neutral adult coach providing instruction and “managing” play. Parents who view free play as an unstructured waste of time may also be drawn to what they see as the more targeted developmental benefits of organized sports, though for slightly different reasons.

It’s important to understand that this shift has come with a cost. Many child development experts now believe that adult-led, year-round structure has deprived children of important opportunities to practice innovation, independence and self-management—including social skills like cooperation and dispute resolution. They also believe it has deprived them of opportunities to learn where the boundary is between good-natured (even competitive) physical play and play that is rough enough to cause real harm. Learning where this boundary is requires live experimentation that entails some risk. This is how children learn how to read and respond to others and to different kinds of situations appropriately.

The up-or-out world of youth athletics

The shift to adult-led, year-round structure has also changed the nature of youth athletics, creating a two-tier system of “recreational” and “competitive” sports where recreation often gets short shrift. This can produce a high-pressure environment for many children, who automatically begin associating athletics with expectations of performance. This sort of environment has the potential to change the relationship between kids and sports in a few different ways. In some cases, it may encourage youngsters of 8 or 9 years (or their parents) to choose a single sport early in their “careers” and to commit to it for the entire year. Children who do not make this early all-or-nothing commitment (even very athletic ones) may find that their playing opportunities dwindle and that they’re stuck in the middle—somewhere between a competitive tier that may demand too much and a recreational one that may offer too little. In other cases, it may discourage children with less obvious talent or less drive to abandon sports altogether.

The impact on health and wellness

This isn’t about nostalgia. It’s about long-term musculoskeletal health and fitness. For earlier generations, sports were more seasonal and it was common for kids to play several different sports throughout the year. Since they didn’t specialize until later (if at all), they tended to become more well-rounded athletes and their physical development tended to be more balanced. And to the extent that different sports require different types of movement and emphasize different muscle groups, it was less likely for a young athlete to suffer overuse injuries. Today, physicians say they are seeing more juvenile athletes come in with repetitive stress injuries. For example, a recent study from the journal Radiology revealed that young baseball pitchers are at risk of an overuse injury of the shoulder known as acromial apophysiolysis, which can lead to long-term and even irreversible consequences as kids grow.

And what about children who opt-out of sports early because of performance pressure or burnout, or because they can’t “keep up” with peers who are developing before them? It may take these children years to rediscover sports. And they may miss out on exactly the types of physical activity that keep them fit and healthy unless they find some other alternatives.

A healthier, more balanced approach to athletics

Most medical doctors and chiropractic physicians would probably agree about the importance of variety when it comes to children’s musculoskeletal health and development. Even more broadly, variety is the key to achieving balanced physical, social and psychological growth. Plus, varying your activities is a great way to prevent boredom and increase enjoyment. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with competition or with working hard to excel at something, especially when it comes to sports and if it’s done for the love of the game. However, we adults should remember to let kids be kids, which means trying out different athletic activities, succeeding at some and failing at others, and learning to enjoy the process every step of the way.

Kids and Sports: The New Youth Athletics Landscape

Kids and Sports: The New Youth Athletics Landscape

?????????????Over the last twenty years, the landscape of youth sports has changed dramatically. It used to be that children would gather after school and choose (or invent) an activity or game to play until dinnertime. In this world of “free play,” the kids set the rules and managed themselves more or less independently. These days, though, it’s much more common for kids’ sports to be highly organized and stratified, with adults more heavily involved than they were even a generation ago.

The downsides of adult-led, year-round structure

Kids can sometimes be rough-and-tumble, and they can also be cruel. This means that free play can have its share of problems when seen through the eyes of adults who are most concerned about limiting safety and social risks. From their point of view, there are clear advantages to having a neutral adult coach providing instruction and “managing” play. Parents who view free play as an unstructured waste of time may also be drawn to what they see as the more targeted developmental benefits of organized sports, though for slightly different reasons.

It’s important to understand that this shift has come with a cost. Many child development experts now believe that adult-led, year-round structure has deprived children of important opportunities to practice innovation, independence and self-management—including social skills like cooperation and dispute resolution. They also believe it has deprived them of opportunities to learn where the boundary is between good-natured (even competitive) physical play and play that is rough enough to cause real harm. Learning where this boundary is requires live experimentation that entails some risk. This is how children learn how to read and respond to others and to different kinds of situations appropriately.

The up-or-out world of youth athletics

The shift to adult-led, year-round structure has also changed the nature of youth athletics, creating a two-tier system of “recreational” and “competitive” sports where recreation often gets short shrift. This can produce a high-pressure environment for many children, who automatically begin associating athletics with expectations of performance. This sort of environment has the potential to change the relationship between kids and sports in a few different ways. In some cases, it may encourage youngsters of 8 or 9 years (or their parents) to choose a single sport early in their “careers” and to commit to it for the entire year. Children who do not make this early all-or-nothing commitment (even very athletic ones) may find that their playing opportunities dwindle and that they’re stuck in the middle—somewhere between a competitive tier that may demand too much and a recreational one that may offer too little. In other cases, it may discourage children with less obvious talent or less drive to abandon sports altogether.

The impact on health and wellness

This isn’t about nostalgia. It’s about long-term musculoskeletal health and fitness. For earlier generations, sports were more seasonal and it was common for kids to play several different sports throughout the year. Since they didn’t specialize until later (if at all), they tended to become more well-rounded athletes and their physical development tended to be more balanced. And to the extent that different sports require different types of movement and emphasize different muscle groups, it was less likely for a young athlete to suffer overuse injuries. Today, physicians say they are seeing more juvenile athletes come in with repetitive stress injuries. For example, a recent study from the journal Radiology revealed that young baseball pitchers are at risk of an overuse injury of the shoulder known as acromial apophysiolysis, which can lead to long-term and even irreversible consequences as kids grow.

And what about children who opt-out of sports early because of performance pressure or burnout, or because they can’t “keep up” with peers who are developing before them? It may take these children years to rediscover sports. And they may miss out on exactly the types of physical activity that keep them fit and healthy unless they find some other alternatives.

A healthier, more balanced approach to athletics

Most medical doctors and chiropractic physicians would probably agree about the importance of variety when it comes to children’s musculoskeletal health and development. Even more broadly, variety is the key to achieving balanced physical, social and psychological growth. Plus, varying your activities is a great way to prevent boredom and increase enjoyment. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with competition or with working hard to excel at something, especially when it comes to sports and if it’s done for the love of the game. However, we adults should remember to let kids be kids, which means trying out different athletic activities, succeeding at some and failing at others, and learning to enjoy the process every step of the way.

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