Keep kids water safe this summer

Staff Writer
Brownwood Bulletin
Courtney Parrott

Texas A&M AgriLife experts provide tips on child water safety

With temperatures hitting triple digits and more children anxious to be outside, swimming pools, lakes, beaches and water parks will be seeing more activity as water-related recreational opportunities again become more available.

But along with social distancing and taking other safety precautions related to COVID-19, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service experts say people need to remember the importance of water safety, especially for younger children.

Children depend on adults for protection, instruction

According to Safe Kids Worldwide, drowning is the leading cause of unintentional and preventable death in children ages 1-4. Children in this age range are more likely to drown in a pool, while children 5 years old and older are more likely to drown in open water, such as a lake, creek or river. The risk of drowning in open water increases with age.

Whether at a pool or in open water, children should always be within arm’s reach and wearing personal flotation devices.

Brad Urbanczyk, assistant director of environmental health and safety supporting Texas A&M AgriLife, College Station, said whether it’s a backyard pool or the ocean, parents can help ensure their children are protected by following some basic safety tips:

— Always keep children within an arm’s reach. Pay close attention to a child’s whereabouts if near water and avoid any personal distractions.

“It’s difficult not to be distracted, but when there’s a child around water, especially a toddler, bad things can happen in a matter of seconds,” Urbanczyk said. “It’s important to avoid any distractions, especially since a small child can drown in as little as an inch of water.”

— Give children swimming lessons as soon as they are ready. This is dependent on age, physical development and the frequency with which the child is expected to be in or around water.

“Parents can begin introducing their children to water as early as 6 months old,” he said.

— Teach children essential survival skills, such as floating to treading water, staying close to the shore, being able to return to the surface after getting in water over their head, turning in circles to find an exit, and how to properly exit the water.

Urbanczyk said it is especially important to teach children to swim with an adult, whether in a pool or open water.

“From the first time you teach your children to swim, make sure they know to never go near water unless an adult is with them,” he said. “Even older, more experienced swimmers should still swim with a partner to help ensure their safety, especially in open water.”

Young people who plan to swim in open water need to be taught about sharp or uneven surfaces, marine life, riptides, currents, undertow and other possible dangers that may cause drowning, he said.

Be aware of surroundings when swimming

Cari Snider, AgriLife Extension specialist and program director of the Texas 4-H Conference Center in Brownwood, said the center offers both pool and open water activities, making the teaching of safety a top priority.

“Those swimming in open water should only swim in designated areas and be aware of both water and weather conditions before getting in,” Snider said. “Be vigilant and watch the weather as you swim as it can be dangerous to swim while it’s raining or if there is a thunderstorm in the area. Also be aware of boats and other swimmers in the area.”

Snider also recommended small children wear a personal flotation device if in open water as boat traffic may cause wakes that are tall enough to submerge a smaller swimmer.

“Among the suggestions we have for those using public or community pools is that you choose one that offers adult supervision or has a trained lifeguard on duty,” Snider said. “Before letting them go into a public or community pool or even a home swimming pool, children should be taught how to exit a pool without using the ladder in case there’s a situation in which they need to exit the pool immediately.”

Children also need to know about the risks of being entangled in or trapped by a drain grate or suction outlet in a pool, she said.

“Regularly check to make sure drain covers are secure and have no cracks,” she said. “And replace flat drain covers with dome-shaped ones as children are less likely to get stuck in them. Other protective measures include anti-entrapment drain covers and a safety vacuum release system in the event someone becomes entrapped.”

Snider also said one of the best things a parent or guardian can do to help protect a child in the event of a water-related emergency is to learn CPR.

“A number of locations, including the Red Cross, hospitals, fire departments and recreation departments offer CPR training,” she said. “Learn CPR and have your children learn it as well. It will provide peace of mind and is a skill that could someday save a life.”

Parents, Talk to Your Teen About Safe Driving

The lock down from COVID-19 is gradually ending, online school is over, and summer is here. Many parents are seeing their teens doing more driving. Unfortunately, most parents are not aware that Memorial Day kicks off what is called “The 100 Deadliest Days for Teens,” when it comes to teen-vehicle-crashes.

According to the American Automobile Association (AAA) Foundation for Traffic Safety, the 100 days between Memorial Day and Labor Day is a time when there is an increase in fatal crashes involving teens. Data analysis from AAA showed that new teen drivers are three-times more likely than adults to be involved in fatal crashes.

Teen drivers are not only inexperienced, they are also more likely to take risks. According to the new AAA Foundation Traffic Safety Culture Index, about 72 percent of teen drivers age 16 to 18 admitted to having engaged in at least one of the following risky behaviors in the past 30 days:

• Driving 10 MPH over the speed limit on a residential street (47 percent)

• Driving 15 MPH over the speed limit on a freeway (40 percent)

• Texting (35 percent)

• Red-light running (32 percent)

• Aggressive driving (31 percent)

• Drowsy driving (25 percent)

• Driving without a seatbelt (17 percent)

Over the summer months, the mixture of inexperienced drivers and more opportunities to be driving is a deadly combination. Parents have more influence over their teens than they may think. In fact, leading experts believe parents play a key role in preventing teen car crashes and deaths.

Teens with parents who set rules, monitor their driving, and are supportive are half as likely to crash and twice as likely to use seat belts than teens with less involved parents. Parents should set good examples and get involved with their teens and stay involved to make sure they follow good driving habits. Distractions, including other teens in the vehicle, speeding, nighttime driving, and lack of seat belt use are all factors that play a role in fatal teen crashes. Most of these are regulated by the Graduated Driver License Law (GDL), which parents should become familiar with in order to protect teen drivers in the beginning stages of their driving.

The GDL law is designed to prevent cell phone use, limit the number of teen passengers that can legally ride with a novice driver, and also limit nighttime driving. The law provides parents with the controls to help keep their teen drivers safe. Many parents, however, are not aware of the provisions of this law — which is in force while the teen has a learner’s permit, as well as a provisional license.

A study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety shows that distracted driving was a factor in nearly 6 out of 10 moderate-to-severe teen crashes. This is much higher than the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) previous estimate for which distraction is involved in 14 percent of teen crashes. While cell phone use is an obvious danger for teen drivers, the study surprisingly showed that the leading distraction for the teens was not cell phone use, but interacting with other passengers in the vehicle.

Cell phone use came in as the second most common distraction. Research shows that the risk for fatal crashes goes up in direct relation to the number of teens in a car. The likelihood of teen drivers engaging in risky behavior triples when traveling with multiple passengers.

Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Passenger Safety and Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Community Health Educator, Courtney Parrott from Brown County, reminds parents to talk to their teens about safe driving and to follow these guidelines from the NHTSA.

The NHTSA reminds parents to:

• Learn about the GDL law and the restrictions placed on their teen's license

• Require seat belt use always

• Talk to their teen about the dangers of drug and alcohol use. Remind them that it is illegal to drink under the age of 21 — his or her blood alcohol concentration (BAC) should always be at .00

• Be a good role model. Remember: Teenage children look to their parents as a role model driver, so practice safe driving at all times. Parents should set aside time to take their teen on practice driving sessions. Teenage drivers’ learning starts at home.

• Do not rely solely on a driver's education class to teach your teen to drive. Remember: Driver's education should be used as just part of a GDL system.

Bottom line as a parent: It is imperative to know the dangers that teen driving poses. Parents have more influence on their teen than they may think. Be a good example and get involved in their driving habits in the beginning, and stay involved throughout their teen years.