Okay, maybe I exaggerate. But only barely.
We have new next-door neighbors. The parents are delightful and their 6-year-old son, whom I'll call Luke, is very sweet. He's the same age as my younger daughter, so they, and my 9-year-old daughter, play together constantly. Best of all, they mostly play outside. Along with other kids in the neighborhood, the children are now always on their bikes or scooters, or our previously pathetically underused backyard swingset, or playing hide & seek, and so on. It's like my kids have developed a whole new appreciation for playing outside, and my husband and I couldn't be happier.
But my heart sank this past Saturday when my oldest daughter burst into the house, exclaiming, "Luke's dad is putting up a huge trampoline!"
See, I have a strict no-trampoline policy. I simply cannot get on board with trampolines. As the health director here, I help spread the word of the American Academy of Pediatrics, which actively discourages kids using at-home trampolines. Nearly 100,000 kids end up in the ER each year due to trampoline accidents. (My own nephew broke his sternum on one.) And between one-third and one-half of those injuries occurred while adults were supervising. In our June issue, which we just shipped, we published a tweet from pediatrician Jaime Friedman, M.D., who said, "Trampolines are an orthopedic fracture machine." Knowing all of this, how could I ever forgive myself if my children got hurt on one?
So I had the hideous job of telling my girls that they would never be stepping so much as one toe on the trampoline currently being erected 20 feet from our yard. (My husband agrees with my policy, but I don't know that he would've enforced it if I didn't feel so strongly.) They were crushed, naturally -- and in the case of my older daughter, also furious. Who could blame them? It sucked for all of us, including Luke, who had to have been excited to share this cool new thing with his friends. Somehow we got through Saturday, and we were out of town on Sunday, but I can only hide from this elephant in the yard for so long, and I need to be prepared for all the pushback and attitude and negotiating that's coming my way. I turned to two of Parents' trusted advisors for help.
Robin Berman, M.D., associate professor of psychiatry at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and author of Permission to Parent: How to Raise Your Child With Love and Limits, tried to find the bright side: "Your policy is pretty rock-solid, so this is going to be such a teachable moment for your girls," she said. "It's going to be an opportunity for them to grow a muscle of resiliency. They'll learn what it's like to have to say no when everybody else is doing something they want to do -- and that's not necessarily a bad skill to have in life."
My first order of business, said Dr. Berman, is to make sure my kids know that I understand how they feel. "You'll need a massive amount of empathy to diffuse their big emotions," she explained. I did tell my girls that day, "I'm not saying trampolines aren't fun -- I'm saying they're not safe," but I need to go much farther than that, with stuff like, "I so get that you want to jump on that trampoline. It looks like so much fun, I know it does. And it stinks that you can't go on. I bet you'd jump on it all day if you could." And I can't play up the scare tactics too much, said Dr. Berman, because they'll only shut down and stop listening to me.
Next, I have to get ready to be loathed. "Think, 'Hate me now, thank me later,'" said Dr. Berman (this is actually what Permission to Parent is called in the U.K.). "You'll need to tolerate being the bad guy because you're doing what you believe is right for your children." But I should also be okay with being thrown under the bus by my kids. This advice comes from Eileen Kennedy-Moore, Ph.D., clinical psychologist in Princeton, New Jersey, and creator of an online course for parents called Raising Socially and Emotionally Healthy Kids. I can let my daughters know that if they need an excuse, it's okay to tell the other kids in the neighborhood that I'm such a mean mom, or that I treat them like babies, or, if they're feeling charitable, that I have to have this rule because of my job as a health editor.
I really appreciated Dr. Kennedy-Moore's advice to brainstorm scenarios with my girls. What are they going to do the next time they're all outside and Luke heads to the trampoline? Would they want to go ride bikes instead? Maybe they'd be up for playing Olympic judges, and score Luke on his jumping skills? (I like that one, but am I crazy to think it has any chance of working?! "Hey, kids, you could have fun watching your friend on the trampoline!") The point, said Dr. Kennedy-Moore, is to talk through the possibilities in advance. And I have to warn my children that it'll be hardest in the beginning, when the trampoline is new and all the kids will want to try it out.
Speaking of "all the kids," Dr. Kennedy-Moore asked if I could find another family who sees this issue the way I do. "Research shows that it's easier to stick to our guns when we have at least one ally," she said, not to mention how nice it would be for my girls to not be the only ones on the sidelines. She added that I have to make sure my daughters know that they can't make Luke feel badly about going on the trampoline or tell him it's not safe. She speaks from experience, having raised her own four children vegetarian: "I've hammered it into my kids: You cannot be rude about this. You can't criticize other people's decisions."
Both Dr. Berman and Dr. Kennedy-Moore said that it'd be nice to have a quick conversation with Luke's parents to let them know where I stand, and to make sure they know I feel strongly about it, without coming across as judgmental (in other words, I don't need to list my reasons for not allowing my kids on their trampoline). Dr. Kennedy-Moore took it one step further and thinks I should invite them over for a family game night, to maintain the nice relationship we've started and to show my children that we like them even if I disagree with them in this instance.
The experts agreed I have a long road ahead of me. But I'm going to remember what Dr. Berman said, keeping with the trampoline metaphor: "Your girls are going to soar to great heights, and might even bounce higher, when they're older and facing peer pressure, having already handled this difficult situation." I'll take it. Wish me luck!
Kara Corridan isn't totally risk-averse. See her essay, "Worry Doesn't Equal Love."
Photo via Shutterstock.