Summer is here, which means our kids are spending more time in the water. Swimming safety, though, should always be top of mind. We reached out to Colleen Kraft, M.D., a pediatrician at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and former president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, for some advice.
What should parents of younger children know about flotation devices if their kids are not swimmers yet?
The only recommended flotation device for kids is a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket. Swimmies, floaties, puddle jumpers, etc. are not considered life-saving devices. These toys can create a false sense of security. Parents can mistakenly believe their child is safe from drowning when they use these toys, and they may become lax in vigilantly watching their child while they are in the water.
Children who spend most of their time swimming with swimmies, floaties or puddle jumpers believe they are swimming unassisted since no one is holding them. They may develop the belief that they can stay above the water even without the help of these devices.
What are the do’s and don’ts of flotation devices?
- Do select a Coast Guard-approved life jacket for your child.
- Do weigh and measure the circumference of your child’s chest before purchasing one. Most life vests come in three ranges: for children 30 pounds and less, 30-50 pounds and 50-90 pounds.
- Do choose a life jacket that fits your child’s needs. A child who is navigating swimming for the first time needs a different life jacket than an experienced swimmer who is using the jacket on a kayak or boat.
- Do help your young child put on and take off their jacket until they can do this independently.
- Don’t use toys like swimmies, floaties or puddle jumpers when the purpose is to keep your child safe in the water.
- A flotation device is not a substitute for watching your child in the water. Continue to be an active supervisor for your children when they are swimming.
- Make sure your child learns to swim! And make sure, if you are a parent, that you know how to swim!
Should parents pick a certain color bathing suit for their child so they’re more visible in the water?
Bright colors, like pink, green or orange are easy to spot when your child is in the water. It can help an adult see where that child is during swimming.
What about tweens and teens? What should parents be aware of at this age?
It’s important to note that adolescents (15-19 years old) have the second-highest fatal drowning rate out of any age group. Only toddlers (ages 12-36 months) have a higher risk. Tweens and teens are more likely to overestimate their skills and underestimate dangerous situations. They may want to impress their peers and may try to keep up with them even if they don’t have the swim skills and experience.
The risk of alcohol or other substance use becomes a risk factor during adolescence. Tween and teen drowning risk increases in lakes, rivers and oceans. Older kids are more likely to drown in natural bodies of water, while younger children in the U.S. are more likely to drown in swimming pools. The rate of fatal drownings in natural water for adolescents 15-17 years of age is more than three times higher than for children 5-9 years old.
Any do’s and don’ts for tweens and teens?
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends families use layers of protection against drowning:
- Do make sure everyone learns how to swim!
- Do make sure your tween or teen knows to swim only where there are lifeguards on duty and to never swim alone. Urge them to use the buddy system, even when swimming with large groups of friends.
- Teach your teen to always enter feet first when entering a body of water for the first time. It is important to know the water’s depth beforehand.
- Avoid beaches with large waves, a powerful undertow or rip currents.
- Stay away from areas where there are boats and people fishing.
- Always wear life jackets when boating. Adolescents should always wear U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jackets whenever they are in or on boats, jet skis and other watercraft.
- Everyone, including parents, caregivers and older children and teens, should learn CPR and safe rescue techniques to respond when there is trouble in the water.
Enjoy the water and stay safe!
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