Cutting the grass is a typical summer chore for many teens and adolescents; however, before you task your kids with mowing, pediatrician Dr. Pilar Bradshaw says it’s important to make sure they can handle the responsibility.

“It’s a great idea for kids to have chores, but it’s especially important with lawn mowers—which are a power tool and sometimes a motorized riding vehicle—that we be sure our kids are truly ready to be using one.”

When is a child old enough to operate a lawn mower?
In general, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children should be at least:

  • 12 years old to operate a walk-behind power mower or hand mower
  • 16 years old to operate a riding lawn mower

“In addition to being old enough and strong enough, the question really is, ‘Are they emotionally mature enough to use power equipment that could possibly hurt somebody?’ And then you need to have a conversation with your kids about how to prevent injuries from lawn mowers,” Dr. Bradshaw says.

Safety first
More than 16,000 children go to the emergency room for lawn mower-related injuries every year. Most injuries can be prevented by following a few simple safety tips:

  • Show your child how to operate a mower safely.
  • Be sure to supervise your child’s work until you are sure that they can handle it alone.
  • Clear the mowing area of any objects, such as twigs, stones and toys that could be picked up and thrown by the lawn mower blades. The mower’s engine produces enough power to catapult objects at over 200 miles per hour.
  • Make sure your mower is in good condition and protective guards, shields, the grass catcher and other safety equipment are placed properly.
  • Make sure that all other people, especially young children, are in the house and away from the yard.
  • Never allow kids to sit on your lap while you operate a riding lawn mower.
  • Do not pull the mower backward or mow in reverse unless absolutely necessary. If you must mow in reverse, look for children or objects behind you.
  • Make sure anyone operating a mower is wearing proper clothing and safety protection.

“They need to have sturdy closed-toe shoes, preferably long pants and goggles,” advises Dr. Bradshaw. “When parents are mowing the lawn, model that same behavior for your kids. Wear your eye protection and don’t mow your lawn in flip flops because it’s just not safe.”

Store your mower safely
Once mowing is finished, be sure to store your lawn mower away from children. A mower’s engine can remain at 240 degrees for up to 10-15 minutes after being shut off. This temperature can cause 2nd- or 3rd-degree burns.