Newsflash (or Not): Indoor Play Centers Are Gross (But How Gross Are They?)

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We were recently invited to a playdate at a local fast food place with one of those play centers; we declined. I have many reasons, but if you ask my sons, they will tell you that indoor playplaces are “dirty and germy.” I fully admit to passing that information on to them so that I wasn’t the bad guy saying “no” every single time. I made this decision long before I had kids and watched a child throw up the food he had just eaten as he slid down one of the slides. I may be a killjoy with a side of germaphobia, but it turns out I’m right: They’re gross.

Tunnel to the Future

On the front page of the New York Times today, Dr. Erin Carr-Jordan’s story of exposing playland cleanliness -- or, shall we say, uncleanliness -- made me fist pump in the air. Not because I like germs -- or fecal matter! -- but because I felt that same sweet vindication after years of telling my kids “no” and being met with whines and pouts.

After you read the article, you should probably watch the video and see some of the gross-factor stuff with your own eyes. When you watch this video and see the grime, the trash and the old food inside this play center, please be aware that this was after Dr. Carr-Jordan had been complaining for over a month.

So how gross are they? In addition to discarded (used...) band-aids, there’s a great mix of staph, possibility of gonorrhea and meningitis and some of those aforementioned fecal contaminates. Mmm. When I think of how some parents let their kids take a bite of food, run into the playplace for a quick slide and come back to the table to take another bite, I kind of gag. Nothing makes a fast food hamburger taste better than fecal contaminates!

People have mixed opinions on the germy state of playplaces, of course. I mean, the scientific argument that exposure to germs makes it easier to fight off said germs is a true fact. But... well, let’s see what people are saying.

  • Laura Grace Weldon at GeekMom shares her thoughts about germ exposure and our over-reliance on hand sanitizers.

    Personally, I’m pretty laid back about how the whole Big Bad Germ thing despite today’s hand sanitizer obsession. Studies have shown that raising children in overly clean conditions may be linked to an increase in asthma, allergies, and other conditions. That’s because without sufficient exposure to viruses and bacteria, children may not develop healthy immune function. Their bodies then overreact with extreme immune responses to normal stimuli in the environment such as pollen, food, or dust. Ironically, more time playing outdoors has been shown to build healthy immunity.

  • Jen at Buried With Children wrote about making friends at indoor playplaces this summer -- before the news broke about the true ick-factor.

    I don’t know how you feel about mall play area’s but I don’t really have a problem with them.

    Sure they are dirty little cesspools for germs and illness but I am all about challenging my kid’s immune system so its all good with me.

  • Momaconda wrote about the germy news -- stating that it was one good reason to have teenagers -- and offered some useful advice.

    --Tell your kids, when you go to the play places, 'cause you know you will, that they can EAT first, then play. Or, if it's taking forever, they can PLAY, then go to the bathroom with you and wash hands with soap and water (and you open the door, obviously), then EAT. But NO to grabbing a fry, running to play, coming back and grabbing burger, shoving in face, then running to play. That's what they want to do, but that's the line. As soon as they're in about 3rd grade they'll understand.

And really, all three of these are good points to share: germs, for the most part, aren’t horrible and we probably can use this recent news to teach our children about the importance of soap and water and good hygiene practices.

But really, I just can’t get past the used band-aid.

Dr. Carr-Jordan launched a website -- Kids Play Safe and a Facebook page -- to get news out about the need to clean up the places our kids play. Check them out before you take a trip to an indoor playground next time.

Do you frequent indoor playplaces? What are your hand-washing routines? Have you ever crawled inside before your kids did to have a look-around? Will you now?


Family Section Editor Jenna Hatfield (@FireMom) blogs at Stop, Drop and Blog and The Chronicles of Munchkin Land. She is a writer, editor and photographer.

Photo Credit: jantik.

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