Summertime is water time, especially in this year of record-setting heat. Whether splashing in a baby pool or swimming in Lake Michigan, getting wet can be the perfect way to cool off. However, these moments of perfection can twist into tragedy in the time it takes to type a few words on a phone.
Drowning is the second leading cause of unintentional, injury-related death in children ages one to 14 in the United States, according to the American Red Cross. And for each one of these drowning fatalities, five more children receive emergency care for injuries sustained while submerged underwater.
There are many proactive choices we can make to help young people enjoy the water while staying safe. Knowing the biggest drowning risk for each age group can help us focus our vigilance. For children under five, over 85% of water fatalities occur in home pools or hot tubs. For children ages, 5 to 17, natural bodies of water such as ponds and lakes are the most dangerous.
Once babies start to crawl, keeping them in sight can be a full-time job. Blocking toddler access to backyard pools and hot tubs is essential to preventing accidents. As the American Red Cross website says, “If a child is missing, check the water first.” During pool time with preschoolers and babies, we should dress them in flotation devices and stay within arm's length until they can swim independently.
Children should learn to swim. Area YMCA branches offer group, private, semi-private, and even backyard lessons for ages 6 months and up. Water-wary grown-ups can also gain confidence and ability in the YMCA’s specially designed adult swim lessons.
Still not sure if water competency is necessary? Consider where we live: in the St. Joseph River Valley and near the shores of Lake Michigan, with many farm ponds and streams in between. Being able to survive in water should be a top priority. Children get older, head off with their friends, and feel pressure to just “jump in” like everyone else. What will your child do?
So we know the big dangers, and we have become water competent. What else can we do? Appoint a designated watcher.
When children are playing in the water, designate one adult to keep an eye on the little ones. Do not assume that because there are many adults present, someone is paying attention. Consider splitting up the duty into 20-minute shifts per adult so that the others can relax. And remember, alcohol consumption significantly slows reaction time, and in drowning accidents, every second counts. Choose to remain vigilant and sober, even if there is a lifeguard present.
Three more essential preventative safety measures are: use the buddy system when swimming, get trained in CPR, and wear Coast Guard-approved life jackets when boating. Check out the excellent resources on www.redcross.org for all types of water settings, from pools to rivers. Our lives and the lives of our children are worth saving, proactively.