There have been 4 teen drownings around here just in the last week. I’m left with a pit in my stomach that as the sun shines and our region heats up we lose children to preventable injuries at rapid-fire pace. This happens every year; drowning is the 2nd leading cause of injury-related death in childhood (and the #1 cause of injury death in toddlers between age 1 to 4). In general there are two groups of people who drown the most: toddlers and teens. The spaces and places (and circumstances) for typical drownings for those groups are different but the foundation is the same: water, especially cold water, is always lovely on a hot day but always poses unacknowledged dangers.
This really isn’t meant to be a finger-waggy post. This is meant to inform us all with refreshers to the opportunity we all have when living near water with children in our midst. Forward these reminders to anyone you can think of who may benefit. We may never know if we prevent a death but it sure is worth the effort to keep trying…
Drowning Statistics & Risks:
- Drowning is second leading cause of injury-related death in children in our country following motor-vehicle crashes. In general, the risks come from improper attention to the risks of water, improper supervision, and surprise (i.e. the current moves faster than expected, the water is colder, the child toddles into the pool while no one sees in a matter of seconds).
- Toddlers AND teens are the most likely groups of people to drown; risks are higher for boys than for girls. Toddlers drown because of improper supervision, teens tend to drown because of improper awareness of risks. In fact it’s also where you are that matters. Data has found, for example, that you’re at a 6-fold increase risk for drowning when visiting a friend’s home with a pool.
- Cold water, alcohol & drug use (for teens or supervising adults), and distractions increase risk for a drowning or near-drowning event.
Toddler Water Safety
- Drowning can occur rapidly, and often occurs quietly [read: quieter, faster, and closer than you may think]. Toddlers can wander off, slip into the water, and without a lot of noise drown — even when parents are around. Safe Kids USA suggests putting cell phones away while supervising kids in water. Be vigilant while inside, too. Young children are most likely to drown in the bathtub or after an accidental fall into the water. Don’t count on listening for signs of a struggle as the drowning response doesn’t often involve a lot of splashing, yelling, or arm-waving. Don’t be fooled with how the movies portray a near-drowning event.
- Toddlers need constant, distraction-free supervision when near any open water. That include a kiddie pool, a park with a lakefront, and swimming pools. Toddlers are more likely to drown in swimming pools than in lakes or streams. Take the supervising role seriously and turn off the phone and/or put the book down. In my opinion, no one under age 12 should be responsible to take care of children in the water.
- Consider swim lessons during toddlerhood and preschool. New research over the past five years has found that swimming lessons, started early, may confer some improved safety for children and water. However, swim lessons for toddlers never can be counted on! Children who have learned to swim still drown and toddlers will always be entirely dependent on when near or in the water.
Teen Water Safety
- Risk. Teens put themselves in situations of risk in ways adults do not (duh — we all remember being 15, yes?). Teens may overestimate their swimming abilities, jump or dive into bodies of unsafe water, and they may underestimate the risks of swimming in general. We have to remind them. Elizabeth Bennett, an educator at Seattle Children’s recently reminded me, “I’m not sure that they [teens] realize how risky their behavior is. For example, if they were to drive a car 100 miles an hour, they know that’s a risk. When they wade into a river to cool off, they may not.” Teens may simply not have any comprehension that swimming carries the risks it does.
- Circumstance. Teens may drown at higher rates because of the circumstances while swimming. If surrounded only by peers there can be bigger delays in activating/getting help or calling 911,there may be no life jackets around, and they may not understand when a friend is struggling in the water. Read more about Cutting the Risk of Drowning. And listen to Kevin tell this story about losing his brother and the need for life jackets.
- Alcohol. Teens also are at increased risk of drowning because of alcohol/drug use around water. In fact 1/2 of all drowning events in teen males have alcohol involved. Don’t stay quiet — we have to let teens know about this risk.