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Bounce houses

You might have figured anything with universal appeal to kids most likely was a menace in disguise or an accident waiting to happen. They seem to go hand in hand.

You see it at schoolyard playgrounds where dirt or even pavement have been replaced with rubber tire shards for softer landings. You see it on children's heads in the form of helmets when riding a bicycle or scooter. The good ol' days when kids got banged up, bruised and scraped on a regular basis just by being a kid are on the wane.

If something is determined to needlessly send too many children to the emergency room or even the morgue on occasion, corrective action is taken. Local, state and federal laws are used to ensure preventive steps are taken.

The latest scare? The inflatable bounce houses found at carnivals, fairs, community celebrations and, increasingly, right in the backyards of your neighborhood. Their popularity is evident by the young ones drawn in like magnets.

In today's day and age, something that fun must be something to worry about.

This week, the journal Pediatrics carried an article detailing the number of injuries bounce houses cause in the U.S. Not any old injury, but the kind that results in a visit to the emergency room. The statistics reveal 30 such visits take place every day, and the number is rising. Almost 11,000 hospital trips were required in 2010, up from less than 1,000 just 15 years earlier.

"I was surprised by the number, especially by the rapid increase in the number of injuries," said the study's lead author, Dr. Gary Smith, director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy.

The study concluded the rapid increase in injuries warrants guidelines for safer bounce house usage and improvements in the toy's design. We would hope tax dollars are not utilized to research how to implement these recommendations.

First of all, the Child Injury Prevention Alliance already offers safety tips for inflatable bouncers:

* Limit bouncer use to children 6 years of age and older.

* Only allow a bouncer to be used when an adult trained on safe bouncer use is present.

* The safest way to use a bouncer is to have only one child on it at a time.

* If more than one child will be on the bouncer at the same time, make sure that the children are about the same age and size (weight).

As for the design, manufacturers already prominently post safety warnings right on the product. If users don't heed them, there isn't much the bounce house maker can do.

Instead, we would offer two suggestions. The first is to place primary responsibility on the parent or guardian. They should be the ones making decisions about whether their child is able to handle a bounce house. We know, it almost sounds un-American to force parents to parent ... but so be it.

The second would be to realize it is impossible to dumb down every toy imaginable to the point where no threat of danger exists. Taking the bounce out of a bounce house seems to defeat the purpose.

We suppose a parent could decide simply to make their child wear a helmet all day long. Shin guards and elbow pads while you're at it.

Or, you could opt to allow the young ones to have some fun. The choice is up to you. Or at least should be.

Editorial by Patrick Lowry

plowry@dailynews.net