Parents can avoid most summertime trips to the doctor’s office — or worse, the hospital — by following these simple safety precautions with their children.
When I think back on them now, my summers as a child were nothing but fun. Well, mostly fun. There was the time I almost drowned at the beach club, the time I got a fishhook caught in my hand, and, oh yeah, the time a car plowed into me while I was riding my bike.
Yet despite my status as the most accident-prone kid on the block — my parents were well educated in the perils of summer — none of those incidents proved too damaging.
Now that I’m a parent of three, I know that I was lucky indeed. But luck needn’t determine if your children enjoy a safe summer this year. Like the tenets of Scouting itself, preparation, supervision, and awareness play key roles in helping ensure they stay out of the doctor’s office or, worse, the hospital.
Although taking physical and emotional risks remains an unavoidable part of growing up, recent studies suggest that young people don’t always recognize the potential danger of an activity or behavior until they’re well into their teens. That means parents must keep their minds, eyes, and ears open whenever children head into hot-weather fun.
“Your 11-year-old can seem really smart and have a great vocabulary, but he still might not make the best decisions when it comes to risk and consequences,” says Dr. Michael J. Steiner, director of the general pediatric clinic at the North Carolina Children’s Hospital.
In fact, some data indicate that the part of the brain (prefrontal cortex) that judges risk does not develop until a youth is 17 to 20 years old — and is also the first to be impaired with alcohol or drug use. Up until that time, youngsters do not understand the concept of risk, hence the need for adult supervision.
Steiner, who categorizes most summertime trips to the doctor or emergency room as accident, exposure, or illness, says that parents often can avoid these occurrences if they fully understand that their offspring are not as wise as they might seem.
For example, using helmets, elbow pads, and kneepads will thwart most biking injuries. Hydration and good-hygiene techniques around the swimming pool and other common areas help avoid heatstroke and other illnesses. Do they use H20 for more than just something to splash around in?
Don’t go from couch to marathon
Young people just naturally feel the urge to create lots of fun memories during the summer. But remember that bodies that have sat in school desks all winter may take awhile to adjust to the rigors of summer activities. Children are more likely to injure themselves when they’re out of condition, according to Gilchrist.
Children should ramp up their physical skills gradually to get in shape.
“We want them to be more physically active, but you have to take injury prevention seriously,” says Gilchrist. “You can’t take it for granted.” Work with your children on simple safety measures, and you’ll have a better chance of not having the most accident-prone kid on the block.
Educate them well
For kids, summer always has meant getting outdoors: camping and hiking, boating, swimming, fishing, and all of the other fun stuff they don’t have the time or the good weather for during the rest of the year.
Making sure your children possess the skills required to engage in these activities will contribute enormously to their safety. (Go to www.scouting.org, “Scouting Safely,” to access the Sweet 16 of BSA Safety and the “Guide to Safe Scouting.”)
See that your kids can swim and handle themselves around the water, because aquatic activities are one of the most pleasurable, fun, and healthy ways to spend summer days.
The BSA recommends that its members enroll in Scouting, Red Cross, or YMCA swimming courses and become certified in water safety.
And when you merge proper training with proper conditioning and equipment, summertime sports become much less risky.
Do ‘the shoes fit’?
Dr. Julie Gilchrist, a pediatrician and authority on injury prevention with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, suggests parents work through a simple checklist to help tackle safety issues.
Start by questioning if your children have been appropriately trained for the specific activity. Many injuries occur when kids try something for the first time and don’t have the requisite mechanics or confidence. This issue has relevance to almost any activity — boating, swimming, or even golf.
Then, determine if they’re wearing, or using, the appropriate equipment for the activity, if the equipment fits correctly, and if it has been well maintained.
Most important, Gilchrist says: Ensure that your kids use the proper equipment every time they participate in the activity. The one occasion for which they aren’t correctly prepared could cause the most grief, she says.
David Abels is a freelance writer in Chapel Hill, N.C.