This spring has brought a rite of passage for my 12 year old son – he is now officially old enough to mow the lawn. Working in the injury field, I always get nervous when he passes these milestones as I see what happens when things go wrong. I also know how common the injuries are -- Every day in the U.S. 25 children and teens under 21 years of age are treated in hospital emergency departments for an injury from a lawn mower and these numbers go up dramatically during the summer months. These injuries can be serious including amputation (losing a limb), cuts, burns and broken bones. Despite my trepidation, we decided it was time.
We put on his sunscreen, got out the safety sunglasses that wrap-around and completely cover his eyes, made sure he was wearing tennis shoes and sent him out to get his first lesson from his dad. I watched as he taught him to first go around the yard and pick up any sticks, stones, or other things in the yard that could shoot out and cause harm. I watched as he taught him how to fill the gas tank and then put the gas back away before he started mowing. Then came the lesson on not ever reaching under the mower (with a hand or a foot) while it was running. I chuckled as I watched him learn how to pull the starter to get our push mower going, remembering the trouble I had with that when I first learned.
With the motor running, they looked around to make sure that none of the younger neighbor children were running around and then my husband sent him off to make his first cut in the pattern across our lawn. We both watched as our son went back and forth across the lawn. My husband encouraged him as he went along, stopping him to give him advice or teach something as needed.
Not only was it a nice father-son bonding experience but I knew that my son was taking another step toward becoming independent (not to mention taking another chore off of my husband’s growing “To Do” list). It was great to know that he could take this step and still be safe while he did it. Waiting until he was mature enough to handle the job and the good judgment to understand the potential risks, combined with taking a few extra steps of precaution made it a great experience for all of us.
To keep your kids safe while they learn to mow the lawn, follow these tips:
Make sure children are at least 12 years old before they use a push mower and 16 before operating a ride-on mower.
Remember that it is never safe for young children to ride on a riding lawn mower.
Wear safety goggles or protective sunglasses.
Pick up all sticks, rocks, and toys from the lawn before mowing.
Wear sturdy shoes, not sandals, flip flops or slides, to protect your feet.
Avoid mowing when the grass is wet.
Always move forward while mowing. If you must mow in reverse, make sure to look behind you before you start.
Tracy Mehan is the manager of translational research for the Center for Injury Research and Policy at the Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital.
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