by Joan M. Thomas
“Bring on those hazy, lazy, crazy days of summer…” goes the old Nat King Cole favorite. The delightful melody vocalized by the celebrated American crooner still creates vivid imaginings of “unforgettable” vacation times.
And we often associate those days with activities near or in a body of water. We envision swimming, boating, fishing, frolicking on the beach, and sunbathing.
Unfortunately, at summer’s end, some parents will connect water recreation with unpleasantness or even tragedy.
In order to ensure happier recollections, parenting children means taking active measures to protect their kids from drowning, recreational water illness, and sunburn.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, drownings rank behind only motor-vehicle accidents as the leading cause of death among youngsters in middle childhood. Yet so many of these deaths can be prevented.
“The best protection against drowning is close supervision by a competent adult,” says Linda Pourchot, association aquatics director for the YMCA of Greater St. Louis. Pourchot emphasizes that parents or other adults supervising a child playing in or near the water should never let down their guard. Under no circumstances should they leave briefly to do something like go indoors to answer the phone. “Drowning can occur in less than 20 seconds,” she explains.
Even a child who knows how to swim can tire easily. A child who’s just eaten can choke. Inexperience can lead to disaster. An adult who can swim can avert a tragedy.
Another important factor in water safety is use of a personal floatation device (PFD), commonly known as a life preserver.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warns that children should not use air-filled swimming aids such as water wings in place of PFDs.
Children and adults taking swimming classes at the YMCA get a handout that lists the five types of PFDs approved by the U.S. Coast Guard. Types I through III are most commonly recommended for swimming, boating and playing near the water. Type I is the typical life jacket that will turn most unconscious wearers face up in water. Type II, a vest, and Type III, a flotation aid, are less bulky, and do not impede movement, making children less reluctant to wear them. Pourchot insists that her young granddaughter wear a PFD all the time when at the lake.
Besides drowning or injury, the problem of recreational water illness—RWI—has gained national attention. Following the February 2005 formation of a National Task Force coordinated by the CDC, the week preceding Memorial Day was designated National Recreational Water Illness Prevention Week.
The most common such illness is diarrhea caused by swallowing water containing bacteria, parasites, and viruses. Although chlorine in public and private swimming pools destroys these pests, it takes some time to kill a powerful parasite like Cryptosporidum. “Crypto” and other pathogenic microorganisms get into the water from the feces of infected animals or people. So swimming in untreated natural water bodies like rivers and lakes increases the risk. “Crypto is the most dangerous,” says Pourchot. And children are more susceptible than healthy adults.
The CDC’s list of points for helping to prevent the spread of RWIs when using public swimming pools includes these tips:
Refrain from swimming when you have diarrhea.
Avoid swallowing pool water or even getting it in your mouth.
Shower before swimming and wash your hands after using the toilet or changing diapers. Wash your children thoroughly with soap and water before taking them into the poo.
Take children on bathroom breaks often. Don’t wait until they tell you they need to go—that may be too late.
Change diapers in a bathroom and not at poolside.
In addition to protecting children from water hazards, the CDC and the YMCA urge parents to prevent overexposure to the harmful rays of the sun. The Y’s sun safety pamphlet states, “Severe sunburn in childhood may be related to the development of skin cancer in later years.”
Sunburn is especially a hazard when you’re near water, as the reflections from the water intensify the sun’s rays.
Children should always wear sunscreen when outdoors. The CDC recommends sunscreen with at least SPF 15 and both UVA and UVB protection. And, sunscreen should be re-applied after swimming.
For more information
These are just the main points of water safety. More detailed guidelines are available on the American Academy of Pediatrics’ website has water safety tips on its website. For details about RWIs, go to the CDC’s “Healthy Swimming” website. The Family Resource Center at St. Louis Children’s Hospital can send custom packets of information directly to your home; just call 314-454-2350. Those who take swimming classes at the YMCA will receive some helpful handouts on swimming safety, including information on PFDs.
By taking the necessary precautions, kids and parents can love the water and all the amusements it provides. Moreover, during the frigid winter months, they will look back only with pleasure on those hazy, lazy, crazy days.
The author of three books, freelance writer and historian Joan M. Thomas also enjoys writing feature stories and essays on current topics. Born in Carroll, Iowa, she now lives in St. Louis, Missouri, with her husband, Bob, and canine pal, Sasha.
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