The summer season brings fun activities to children of all ages. More children spend time outdoors, which often means they are swimming, relaxing, or cooling off in the water. The summer brings fun but, unfortunately, may bring water injuries and drownings. Children ages 1-4 have the highest risk of drowning. The risk decreases as children get older but rises again in the teen years. Adolescents are also among the highest rates of drowning in the country. Keep any eye out for our blog specific to drowning prevention for younger children coming out next week as well.
Understand the drowning risk for teens
Even teens who have completed swimming lessons and feel confident in their swimming skills are still at risk for water injuries and drowning. With growing independence, teens often enjoy hanging out with their friends, and this time may be spent away from adult supervision. Swimming is a popular teen activity and can pose serious risks if not practiced safely.
- Teenagers may overestimate their abilities, underestimate dangerous situations, and feel invincible. This is because the part of the brain that controls complex decision-making and rational thoughts still develops in the teen years and is not fully developed until the mid-’20s. Therefore, this age group is at a higher risk of overestimating their abilities in the water and underestimating the danger that may be involved in an activity.
- Less controlled bodies of water and participation in activities that require more skill. Teens may often participate in water recreation such as water skiing, paddle boarding, and surfing. These types of activities often require skills that are more advanced than swimming. In addition, these activities often occur outside swimming pools and in less controlled bodies of water such as lakes, rivers, ponds, and even the ocean. The presence of large waves, fast currents, large boats, and fishermen can create dangerous situations for teens.
- Peer pressure is also a risk factor that comes into play. Teenagers may feel the need to keep up with others or show that they have more advanced skills than they have.
- Alcohol use and swimming don’t mix. Among adolescents and young adults, alcohol use is involved in nearly seventy percent of water recreation relation deaths. Alcohol, amongst other substances, can impair judgment and coordination and increase risky behavior.
Precautions you can take to decrease the risk of drowning
- Hone your swimming skills. It may sound simple, but knowing how to float and tread water can save your life in a dangerous situation. If you or your teen don’t know how to swim it is never too late to learn! Swimming and water safety lessons are the most effective first steps to drowning prevention.
- Never swim alone. Teach your teen to make a buddy system with a competent swimmer.
- Learn CPR. Knowing CPR can help save someone’s life in the time it takes for paramedics to arrive. St. Louis Children’s Hospital offers Friends & Family CPR classes for those looking to learn life-saving CPR skills.
- Wear a life jacket. Life jackets can decrease the risk of drowning in swimming pools and natural bodies of water. They can be used by people of all ages and swimming ability. Do not rely on air-filled toys or foam devices, as they are not safety devices.
- Swim in areas where there is a lifeguard on duty. If a lifeguard is unavailable, designate a responsible adult who can supervise closely. If supervising children while swimming, try to avoid distractions, as drowning can often be silent.
- Feet First! Teach your teen that the first time they enter a body of water, they should do it feet first. It is very important to know how deep the water is before you dive in, and if you are swimming in a natural body of water, there may be hazards such as rocks and tree branches that can cause serious and sometimes permanent injuries such as brain and spinal cord injuries.
- Know the risks of natural bodies of water. If swimming in a natural body of water, avoid swimming in areas with high tides, fast currents, large boats, and fishermen.
Safety Stop at St. Louis Children’s Hospital provides information to help keep your children and family safe with five convenient locations available for appointment across the St. Louis region.
Have fun, and stay safe!