Common Risk Areas
While summer is a time for fun and relaxation, it is — without a doubt — the most dangerous time of year for kids. “Kids are out of school, so they’re not in the safe haven of their classroom,” says Angela Mickalide, Ph.D, program director of the National SAFE KIDS Campaign. “They’re out and moving, and they want to go across the street to their friend’s house, ride their bikes to the playground, or go to the community pool. They’re exposed to more risks because of their mobility.”
A National SAFE KIDS Campaign study found that nearly half of all injury-related childhood deaths occur May through August, with July being the deadliest month. This summer, children will be rushed to emergency departments nearly 3 million times for serious injuries, and an estimated 2,550 children will lose their lives due to an unintentional injury.
We talked with Dr. Mickalide about what parents can do to keep kids safe.
rd.com: What are some of the risk areas?
Dr. Mickalide: Drowning is the greatest summertime risk. Two-thirds of all childhood drownings happen May through August. When it comes to bicycling, half of all deaths occur during that same time period. Forty-nine percent of falls from playground equipment and out of windows happen during the summer months. Kids are also out walking more, which means they’re more exposed to traffic. About 40% of pedestrian deaths and 40% of motor vehicle deaths occur May through August.
rd.com: What should parents tell kids as they head out to ride their bikes?
Dr. Mickalide: First, that they should wear helmets — and they need to wear them correctly. The helmet should be low on the head, not rocking back and forth or side to side. It should have a safety standards sticker on it from the ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials). Kids under the age of 10 should not be riding on the street. Older kids should ride in areas that are safe and designated for bicyclists, like bike lanes. Finally, kids should learn the rules of the road and obey all traffic rules.
rd.com: What if a child doesn’t want to wear a bike helmet or other safety gear?
Dr. Mickalide: Parents can say, “If I catch you not wearing it, then you can’t ride your bike.” The other approach is to explain to them the importance of wearing a bike helmet — that most bicycle injuries involve the head and that the helmet is a very effective tool in preventing injuries to the head and the brain.
Parents can also be role models for their kids. We know that parents who buckle up in cars, for example, are more likely to have kids who buckle up. Parents can make it a family partnership by enlisting the tweeners [pre-adolescents] to wear their helmets so that younger siblings will wear theirs.
Pool Safety and More
rd.com: What precautions should parents take at the town pool?
Dr. Mickalide: Never leave your children unsupervised, even if there’s a lifeguard. The lifeguard has a lot of responsibility, so the safest thing to do is to stay with your children to make sure they are not diving in water that’s less than nine feet deep, that they’re behaving appropriately in the pool, and they’re able to swim without any impediments.
rd.com: What about at backyard pools?
Dr. Mickalide: The same point with regard to supervision applies. Also, as a parent, you should learn CPR and keep rescue equipment, a telephone, and emergency numbers by the pool. Having the phone by the pool is helpful in two ways. First, if your kid has a near-drowning, you can call for help very quickly. The other is that you’re not tempted to run into the house when the phone rings. Drowning is silent and sudden and parents don’t realize how quickly it can happen.
If you are building a new pool, use four-sided fencing, which means that your home is separated from the pool by the fence. Your home should not be one of the four sides around the pool. If you already own a pool, consider retro-fitting your house with four-sided fencing. The fence should be at least five feet high with self-latching and self-closing gates. The same goes for a spa or whirlpool.
rd.com: What should parents be on the look-out for at backyard barbecues?
Dr. Mickalide: Keep kids away from the grill. If there’s playground equipment, be sure that there’s appropriate surfacing beneath it, such as mulch or fine sand. Make sure kids aren’t wearing necklaces or clothes with drawstrings, so they don’t strangulate themselves on the playground equipment or when they’re climbing a tree. You also need to be wary of potentially poisonous plants and pesticides. Ask the homeowners if the area has recently been sprayed so you can tell your children not to go near those areas. If there’s a wading pool and it’s not in use, you need to empty it out so that kids can’t stumble into it. Some people don’t realize that a wading pool could be as threatening to a toddler as a large pool.
rd.com: What precautions should parents take concerning cars?
Dr. Mickalide: First, you need to buckle up every time you ride. Make sure you read your child-seat owner’s manual as well as your motor-vehicle owner’s manual for directions on proper installation of the child seat. You should never leave your child alone in a motor vehicle because it gets very hot, very fast. Cracking of the windows does not help. You should also lock the doors when your cars are in the driveway and keep keys out of reach. Kids love to go in the cars and play both in the passenger compartment and in the trunk.
rd.com: What should parents tell kids about pedestrian behavior?
Dr. Mickalide: The general rule of thumb is that kids under 10 should not be crossing the street alone. Parents are letting kids cross the street too soon, and it’s one of the leading causes of death for children ages five to nine. Young children lack the ability to judge the speed and distance of the oncoming traffic. Parents need to be modeling and teaching proper pedestrian behavior. Cross at the corner and when you do cross, continue to look both ways because there will be new cars turning into your walkway or people that are speeding. Also, obey all the traffic signals.
rd.com: So is it safer for kids to just stay inside?
Dr. Mickalide: We want children out of the house — having fun, riding their bikes. Physical activity is fantastic! You just need to be armed with the right safety information. Recognizing that there are risks is half the battle.