Do you underestimate your child’s drowning risk?

Do you underestimate your child’s drowning risk?

As the summer heats up and time at the swimming pool becomes more popular, new study results show that parents might be underestimating their children’s risk of drowning.

In a national survey of more than 1,500 parents of children aged 6 to 18, more than one-third of the adults would allow their kids to be in a pool unsupervised.

Few reported that they would allow their child to swim unsupervised in a lake (16 percent) or ocean (13 percent). But, 37 percent of these parents would allow their child to use a backyard, hotel or neighborhood pool without adult supervision.

Notably, 14 percent of parents who said their children could not swim independently would still allow their kids to be in a pool without adult supervision.

“It’s critical that kids are closely monitored when they are around water, whether ‘natural’ or man-made,” says Dr. Shelanda Hayes, a family medicine physician on staff at Advocate South Suburban Hospital in Hazel Crest, Ill. “It seems that many parents just don’t recognize the very real potential for tragedy, even in a very familiar pool environment.”

Drowning is the second-leading cause of injury-related death in kids ages 1-15 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 1,000 American children die each year from unintentional drowning, and another 5,000 kids receive emergency care for near-fatal drowning.

“Kids move fast and can make unsafe decisions, and it can be easy for parents to be distracted – especially in the social environment that often surrounds a poolside scene,” says Dr. Hayes. “And drowning can happen very quickly, without any alert that it is occurring.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all children learn how to swim as part of a “layered” plan of drowning prevention that includes constant supervision and physical barriers to pools.

Related to this recommendation, the new research also revealed that race and ethnicity influenced whether a child took swimming lessons.

Nearly 60 percent of white parents said their child had taken swimming lessons, contrasting with 39 percent of Hispanic parents and 37 percent of black parents. Previous data show that black children are far more likely to drown in a pool than white children, the researchers said.

The most common reasons mentioned by parents for their children not taking swim lessons were: their child learned to swim without them; cost; convenience; lessons were not a priority; and classes were not available in their area.

“Swimming lessons are an important component of keeping kids safe around water,” says Dr. Hayes. “But, constant supervision around water absolutely needs to be a priority, particularly with younger children and kids who are not strong swimmers.”

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About the Author

Nate Llewellyn
Nate Llewellyn

Nate Llewellyn, health enews contributor, is a manager of public affairs at Advocate Medical Group. Nate began his career as a journalist and builds daily on his nearly 20 years of writing experience. He spends most of his free time following his wife to their two sons’ various activities.