How Old is Old Enough to Mow the Lawn?

12-year-old boy on a riding mower This 11-year-old is just practicing riding the lawn mower — the blade is disengaged. Image: Dug Belan/Flickr

There’s a reason we have children — so there’s someone else to unload the dishwasher and mow the lawn.

The American Academy of Pediatrics thinks your kids shouldn’t be driving a riding mower until they’re 16 years old, not because their rows won’t be even and they’ll miss patches, but because they’re too likely to get hurt.

The “no power mowing until you’re 16” suggestion isn’t flying in my neighborhood, but since we use a lawn service, I checked in with the most conservative mom on my block to get her take.

Her son — let’s call him Bob — started using the walk-behind power mower when he was 11 and graduated to the riding mower at age 12.

It wasn’t a decision based on age, but rather weight and height. Their mower has a sensor that turns off the blades when no one is sitting on the seat. When he was 11, Bob’s feet reached the pedals, but he was so light the mower wouldn’t turn on.

I suspect Bob’s parents are typical in that they considered not his age, but his judgment, strength, coordination, and maturity when deciding whether or not he could use the riding mower.

Bob’s a cheerful, quiet, obedient kid who’s already decided on a career in engineering.

If you’re the parent of one of those kids who jumped off the garage roof in kindergarten because he wanted to see if he can fly — and every block has one — I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t let him use the riding mower until he graduated from college.

His parents didn’t just toss Bob the mower key and head to the mall to do some shopping. Bob got a safety lecture. His dad watched him mow the first few times. And even though he’s now 16, Bob still isn’t allowed to mow when he’s home alone.

Bob’s yard is flat and level. If you’ve got a dangerous slope on yours, you’re probably scared to mow it yourself, so you’re not going to send a child out to mow it, right?

To be fair, I have to point out that 9,400 kids below age 18 injure themselves in lawn mower accidents in a typical year. Or as one researcher succinctly put it: “These are machines with sharp blades spinning at 160 miles per hour just inches away from our feet and hands.”

About a quarter of them are below age 5 (and I’m willing to concede that 5 is too young to mow). Those kids are usually injured by a parent who thinks the mower is an amusement park ride or a parent who backs over them while the kid is playing in the yard. Flying projectiles and injuries that occur when you’re servicing the lawn mower are also prevalent.

A Johns Hopkins University study found the most lawn mower-related injuries happen among those over 60 or under 15.

So maybe you shouldn’t let Mom and Dad mow the lawn either.

The study found lawn mower injuries peak after age 59. Those poor 60- to 69-year-olds have the highest rate of push-mower injuries and the 70-plus group has the highest injury rate for riding mowers.

If your parents are in the danger age range, good luck getting them to give you the keys to the mower. Let me know how that works out for you.

When did you let your kid start mowing the lawn? At what age did you start mowing?