By Dave Ongie
Water is often beautiful, and for children, it can be the source for summer fun.
But water can also be dangerous, especially for young children. According to Dr. Seth Brown, the medical director of the emergency department at Niswonger Children’s Hospital, seven families in our region have been directly affected by drowning accidents.
Brown spoke to the media on Thursday morning in an effort to raise awareness among parents with small children of the danger water can pose. According to the Centers for Disease Control, drowning is the leading cause of death for children between 1 and 4 years old, and although most drowning accidents take place in open water such as rivers and lakes, such accidents can occur in wading pools or the bathtub if children are not supervised.
“Developmentally speaking, children – especially in that 1- to 4-year-old age range – are very inquisitive and they need a lot of supervision,” Brown said. “Unfortunately, the inquisitive nature of children and the love of water can sometimes lead to accident or death.”
There is a misconception that all drowning accidents are fatal, but Brown said that is not the case. Of the children who are treated in the emergency room following a drowning accident, more than half are hospitalized, and many of them experience brain damage that can affect them for the rest of their lives.
Brown is among those in pediatric medicine who are trying to reverse a disturbing rise in drowning accidents among children. Brown said the number of such accidents has been on the rise since 2013, and he noted that over 1,000 children died due to pediatric drowning events in the United States alone in 2016.
While there are many contributing factors to this trend, the rise of cellphone use in our society is certainly a culprit.
“Technology is wonderful,” Brown said. “We all use it, but unfortunately we’re seeing things like distracted driving. We’re all distracted from the time we get up to the time we go to bed, and unfortunately cellphones and social media do add to distraction. In this situation, when we’re talking about the safety of children around the water, we can have no room for error.”
Brown offered some advice to families who plan to spend time around a swimming pool, a lake or a river this summer to help keep children safe.
Keep your eyes on the prize.
Children are drawn to water and need to be supervised at all times. That goes double for toddlers who don’t yet know how to swim.
“When you are with children around any body of water, it’s very important to not be distracted,” Brown said. “Make sure one person has eyes on the children at all times. Children in the 1- to 4-year-old age range that haven’t learned how to swim yet, we want to make sure they have touch supervision, which means keeping them within an arm’s reach at all times. That means no cellphone use, no social media use, the adults shouldn’t be drinking alcohol while they are supervising children. All these things go a long way.”
Trust, but verify
Do you have a pool in the backyard? Are you camping near a lake? If so, be sure you have safeguards in place to keep your young child from becoming a statistic.
“They may wake up after swimming the day before and want to go swimming again,” Brown said. “Mom and dad may not know that, so their inquisitive nature might take them out the back door, back down to the pool when mom and dad might not expect them to be outside the house. So we always have trust, but verify. Makes sure the doors are locked, make sure the gates are closed around all pools in order to keep it safe for the children.”
Channel your inner lifeguard.
When watching children around the water, Brown said it’s wise to take a page out of the lifeguard manual.
“If you look at some of the best lifeguards, they are constantly scanning,” Brown said. “They aren’t distracted. They aren’t on their cellphones. And what do they do after about 15 minutes? They move locations so they don’t get distracted or bored themselves.”
With that in mind, Brown suggested using a “water watcher” card that can be downloaded and printed for free from www.safekids.org. When multiple adults are around, the card should be passed from one adult to another every 15 minutes to ensure there is always an adult actively watching out for the children.
“If I have this card, for the next 15 minutes, in an undistracted manner, I am watching over all the children. After that 15 minutes, it’s time for me to pass that card off to someone else to make sure there is complete supervision of the children at all times.”