When I was a kid trampolines didn’t have nets. And somehow we survived. In order to sustain a summer without broken bones you had to make sure you didn’t backflip onto the lawn and onto your head. When you poured dishwashing liquid onto the mat and turned the hose on, you had to be especially careful. There was no containment. Small bodies could easily go hurtling into space. Or a tree.
But falling off wasn’t the only risk imposed by this much-loved jumping device. The springs provided a kind of medieval torture zone that snapped at small fingers and uncovered genitals. You didn’t jump in the nude. Or if you did you only did it once.
We not only lived through unnetted flight, we also lived through exposed springs. Every kid from my generation experienced at least one genital-crunching landing that saw the soft flesh of the inner thigh pinched into one of the coils. Every family had at least one kid trapped in the springs by their balls.
The middle of the trampoline offered bouncing bliss. The edge offered broken bones and mangled flesh. It taught us that within most incredibly joyful pleasurable experiences, there is an element of danger. That was how you learnt to set limits. It wasn’t just learning to jump on a springy surface, any moron can do that; you had to learn the areas where it was safe and you developed the ability for self-care. You had to be aware that jumping near an edge leads to pain.
If you ignored this basic tenet of self-regulating, pretty soon fun turned into hospital and a long wait in the emergency department. When I was a kid this knowledge acted as a kind of ‘net’. It protected us, not with an actual barrier but with consequences. This made kids jump in the middle. They even took turns because too many kids on the tramp meant the skinniest little bugger was going to be catapulted into the neighbour’s garden. (Unless of course you were doing it on purpose.)
At a backyard party at my place the other day I watched a small child approach our backyard trampoline. We don’t have a net. Children must set their own boundaries on my play equipment. Small child scrambles up onto trampoline. Small child has one jump on the very edge of the equipment allowing its body to fly freely in the air. It is a child without limits.
It is clear as the child is airborne that it is of the netted generation. It has never had to redirect its flight before and so flies off onto its back. Small child lies winded in shock. Poor thing was bawling but it was okay. Small thing just learnt an important life lesson. The edge exists. You don’t want to fall off the edge.
The net exists so parents can zip children into the trampoline enclosure and drink chardonnay on the lawn, knowing the won’t have to drink-drive to the hospital in the next hour. I worry about this generation of kids growing up with no sense of an edge. How do you set your own limits if they’re artificially imposed?
For the long-term safety of all our children we need to remove the nets from trampolines. Sure, there will be longer queues of children with broken arms at ED but maybe fewer of them will fall to their death from balconies at Schoolies. Hardly anyone in my generation fell off balconies.
We either remove the nets from trampolines, or we start netting highrise balconies. This is how we protect people from danger: we assume they’re stupid and should not be allowed to take calculated risks, so we remove the risk. It seems counter-intuitive to me; surely if you teach people that risky behaviour isn’t risky, then you’ve just created even more stupid people. Stupid people who think that to reduce risk it’s the world that should change and not them. Nets are for volleyball or cricket, not trampolines or beaches. Take the nets away and learn to manage risk.