With summer just around the corner, more parents are teaching their children how to swim to keep them safe in the water. But, according to the New York Times, teaching your child how to swim may not be enough.
Parents should never assume their child is “drown-proof,” says Dr. Linda Quan. Quan is the professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington School of Medicine.
Even if your child is on the swim team, Quan says, accidents can happen. The second leading cause of death in children under the age of five is drowning.
Children who aren’t competent swimmers need to be kept at arm’s-length when in the pool. And parents can’t expect inflatable devices and floaties to protect their child when they’re not watching.
“Even if a child is a confident swimmer, never [let] them swim alone,” said Dr. Benjamin Hoffman, the medical director of the Tom Sargent Safety Center at Doernbecher Children’s Hospital. “[Make] sure there is always another competent swimmer or adult who can watch them.”
The American Red Cross also advises that adults don’t swim alone, either. Near-drowning experiences can occur from fatigue, panic, and alcohol consumption.
Swimming lessons for young children helps them learn how to swim, but doesn’t necessarily reduce the risk of drowning. That’s why the American Association of Pediatrics put out a police statement on drowning prevention in 2010. Swimming lessons, they said, can be protective as long as parents remain protective of their child in the water.
Quan says swimming lessons are beneficial because they help children become water competent. “Know about the water, knowing how to engage with the water, being able to swim, these are all pieces of water competency,” she says.
Quan also says that the ideal swimming lesson would teach children to do more than learn how to swim. For instance, swimming lessons taught at the YMCA and Red Cross offer to teach children how to practice swimming in their clothes and in a life jacket.
Teach your children to ask permission before going into the water and don’t let them out of sight. Drownings can happen when an adult is nearby because parents aren’t aware of what drowning looks like.
You want to be sure that you have the right equipment for those times when you’re not around. For example, some state laws require that homeowners have a fence with limited access around their pools. This helps keep curious kids and loose pets from getting hurt.
Additionally, of the 300,000 items the average American has in their house, make sure one of them is a Coast Guard-approved life jacket. Inflatables may not keep your child safe, but a Coast Guard-approved flotation device will.
Teenagers and toddlers are both at risk for drowning, Quan says. This is because both may go into the water without supervision. Toddlers can easily wander into water when left unsupervised and teenagers may go swimming with their friends without a lifeguard present.
Teenagers may also be less responsible when watching younger siblings in the water. Facebook has nearly 1.97 billion active users every month worldwide, so be sure your teenager knows how to supervise their siblings in the water like an adult would instead of being on their phone.
Be sure to ask your teenagers about their expeditions to water activities as well. You want to be sure everyone has a life jacket if they’re going out on a boat trip. You also want to be sure a lifeguard is present if they’re going to the beach.
The object is to keep your child safe while they enjoy the water. “Being in the water with your little kid is a terrific bonding experience,” Quan says. So while it’s important to keep your children safe, be sure you’re all having fun too.