Temperatures are on the rise, which has families flocking to pools, lakes, rivers and oceans to beat the sweltering heat.
While a cool dip may sound like the perfect summertime activity for a family, it can also be a dangerous one. More than 1,500 children and teens die every year in the U.S. from drowning. In Washington state alone, an average of 25 children and teens drown every year, higher than the national average.
Fortunately, most water related injuries and deaths are preventable, if proper safety measures are taken. One important hurdle to overcome, however, is deciphering the difference between drowning fact and myth.
One of the biggest and most endangering myths when it comes to drowning is that it’s loud. Watch any Hollywood blockbuster that portrays a drowning and the scene is filled with lots of splashing and screaming from a distressed swimmer.
Unfortunately, as Dr. Linda Quan, an emergency attending physician and drowning expert at Seattle Children’s Hospital explains, drowning is often silent, which makes it that much more dangerous.
“Most drowning occurs quickly and without much noise,” said Quan. “Victims typically don’t have the energy to scream for help or splash around. It can only take seconds for a child or teen to drown. It’s far from what Hollywood has depicted.”
Below, Quan explains the best ways to keep kids safe in and around water:
Never leave children alone in or near the water, even for a minute. Supervision is vital in preventing water-related injuries and drowning. Since it only takes seconds for a child to slip silently under the water, parents need to make sure there is always a lifeguard on duty, or another adult, or a parent watching attentively when children are in or around the water. Quan recommends assigning an adult “water watcher;” to prevent drownings at group gatherings. A water watcher is an adult who remains alcohol-free and actively watches the children in the water.
“Take turns watching children,” said Quan. “Most drowning occurs due to lack of supervision.”
Young children need to wear properly-fitting life jackets when playing in or near water and while on docks. To help reduce drowning, experts recommend that children, even experienced swimmers, wear life jackets. A life jacket, however, is no substitute for supervision.
Parents should model safe behavior, including wearing life jackets. According to a study from researchers at Seattle Children’s and the Harborview Injury Prevention & Research Center, children are more likely to wear life jackets if adults wear them too.
“Wearing a life jacket may prevent one in two drowning deaths, but as we have seen, life jackets are rarely used by most adults,” said Quan.
It’s important for adults to model safe behavior when boating or participating in water-related activities. Make sure life jackets fit a child and are comfortable to wear. Also, don’t substitute noodles or inflatables for life jackets. Life jackets are the only flotation aid you can rely on to keep kids safe, Quan said.
Teach children to swim. Enroll children in swimming classes at an early age to teach proper technique and to help prevent drowning. Upgrade their swimming skills each year. Studies show that learning to swim reduces a child’s risk of drowning by as much as 88 percent among young children aged 1 to 4 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Learning to swim safely includes knowing how to:
- Tread water
- Enter and exit water safely
- Swim on your front and back, turn and roll over
- Swim or float with clothes on
- Be safe in, on or near water
- Be confident under water
- Wear a life jacket the right way
- Look for and avoid risks and hazards
- Assess your own skill level
Never swim or go boating alone. Remember the safest places to swim are areas with lifeguards on duty.
Be aware of dangers when boating or swimming. Talk to children about possible dangers when swimming – swift water currents, submerged objects including rocks and tree branches and cold water. Unfortunately, cold water can kill. Many lakes and rivers, especially in the Northwest, are cold enough to cause cold water shock and hypothermia, even in the summer.
Alcohol and water are a dangerous combination. Good supervision means adults should not drink alcohol while watching children in or around water. It only takes a moment to lose track of a child. It’s also critical for boat operators to not drink and drive.
Know what to do in an emergency. Learn safe ways of rescuing others without putting yourself in danger. Learn child and adult CPR. Dial 911 in an emergency.