Sadly, during Memorial Day weekend, tragedy struck at Langley Pond in Aiken when a 14-year-old boy jumped off a bridge at dusk with his friend and drowned. For children between the ages of 1 and 19, drowning is the second leading cause of accidental death in the U.S. The highest rates are among African American boys 15-19 years of age and Caucasian boys 4 years old and younger. The higher rate among males is related to greater exposure to water, greater risk taking, overestimation of swimming ability and greater alcohol consumption.
Here are a few safety tips to prevent drowning:
- Since the majority of infant drownings occur in the bathtub, there should be constant supervision of children in the tub. Bath seats are no substitute for an adult presence. These seats can turn over, the child may be able to climb out of them or become entangled in the seat.
- All backyard pools require fencing around the pool, including inflatable and portable pools. Isolation of the pool with a fence close to the pool is better than perimeter fencing.
- Body entrapment in swimming pool drains can lead to drowning (for example, long hair can get sucked into a drain, with the child being unable to free herself). There are specific recommendations for prevention, including the use of anti-vortex drain covers.
- Consumption of alcohol can play a significant role in boating-related drownings, due to impaired judgment, as well as disorientation and hypothermia in the water.
- Most boating-related drownings occur in children who are not wearing life jackets or personal floatation devices (PFDs). Children less than 13 years old must wear PFDs according to federal law. Unfortunately, parents often state that, because they are close by, the children are “good swimmers,” or the PFDs are in the boat.
- Pool covers and pool alarms are no substitute for constant parental supervision of children around pools.
- A lifeguard should always be on duty when children swim at the beach, the lake or the pool. Not only are the lifeguards available for rescue, they also enforce water safety rules.
- Children with underlying medical conditions, such as epilepsy and developmental delay, are at higher risk for drowning.
When should children receive swimming lessons? The American Academy of Pediatrics cautiously states that lessons between 1 and 4 years of age may decrease drowning. They do not recommend that all children 4 years old and younger receive swimming lessons, but rely on parents to make this judgment call. Swimming lessons are no substitute for adult supervision and other safety measures.
*Weiss, J, The Committee on Injury, Violence, and Poison Prevention. Technical Report – Prevention of Drowning. Pediatrics 2010; 126(1), e1-e10
Alice Little Caldwell, MD
Assistant Professor of Pediatrics