Q: I have a big yard, a power mower with lots of safety features and an eager son. At what age can I put him to work?
A: We're all for children helping around the home, but we worry about the permanent injuries mowers can cause. Revolving mower blades are strong enough to crush or cut through bone with ease. Fingers, toes, hands or feet can be lost. Sharp objects can be sent flying into flesh. Children have been run over by large mowers. It takes sense, strength and skill to mow safely.
You haven't said how old your son is, but we're guessing that if he is young enough to volunteer to mow, he's probably too young to do it! In general, we do not recommend that children operate any mower before age 14. We believe they should wait till they are licensed drivers to operate a riding mower or tractor.
When your son is old enough to mow, be certain he knows the rules. No one, including children, should ever ride as a passenger or play on a mower or tractor. Older children and adults should keep clear of an operating mower, and small children should not even be allowed in the yard when a mower is in use. Only adults should operate mowers on steep grades. Objects like sticks and stones, toys and pieces of wire or glass should be picked up, not mowed over. They can fly out from underneath the blades and strike someone. Sturdy leather shoes and even goggles are good ideas.
Dr. Wilson is director of general pediatrics at Johns Hopkins Children's Center; Dr. Joffe is director of adolescent medicine.