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Parents and Kids Should Take Lessons to Avoid Drownings

Estimated read time: 4-5 minutes

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As families gear up for the swimming-pool season and trips to the lake, new research warns that many parents are too laid back about the risk of children drowning.

And so are the children.

Fifty-five percent of parents say they are "not at all worried'' or "not very worried'' about their child drowning, according to the National Safe Kids Campaign. The same percentage said there were circumstances when it would be acceptable for a child to swim unsupervised.

But drowning is the second-leading cause of death from unintentional injuries for children ages 1 to 14.

"I am concerned about any parent who thinks drowning is not a high risk for their children,'' said Michelle Jantz, professional aquatics program manager at the Kansas City chapter of the American Red Cross in Missouri.

The Safe Kids Campaign's review of drowning deaths in 2000 and 2001 found that 88 percent of children who drowned were under the supervision of another person. But parents who are supervising are often distracted by other activities, including talking to others and reading.

Swimming lessons are a given for many families, but 37 percent of parents said their children had never taken lessons. Jantz said a common problem is that youngsters start lessons but drop out. Jantz said she plans to visit area swimming programs to explore how to fix that.

"I want to find out what's going on,'' she said. "Are we teaching Kansas City kids to swim or not? Our goal is that every child learn how to swim and how to be safe around water.''

Lake safety is also a concern. The Safe Kids Campaign found that 50 percent of children ages 8 to 12 don't wear life jackets while riding on personal watercraft.

Dave Magee, a U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary volunteer who does safety patrols, said some boaters don't appreciate the importance of life vests. It's crucial to be wearing one, not merely have it close at hand. And life jackets must fit properly to do any good, he said.

"A lot of people don't wear the proper size jacket,'' Magee said. "Sometimes they'll give their child one that's really large. In the water it would just slide right off their head.''

Estimates are that 80 percent to 85 percent of boat-related drownings could be prevented if boaters wore approved, properly fitting life jackets.

"It's just like a safety belt in a car,'' Magee said. "Some people say, `I'm a good swimmer.' But what if you hit your head when you fall off a boat or a dock? What would you do then?''



Here are results and recommendations from recent research by the National Safe Kids Campaign.

The survey says:

Fifty-five percent of parents say there are some circumstances that make it acceptable for a child to swim unsupervised.

While supervising, parents are participating in various distracting behaviors, including talking to others (38 percent), reading (18 percent), eating (17 percent) and talking on the phone (11 percent).

The recommendation:

Adults should take turns as "water watcher'' so that children are constantly observed while they are in or near the water.

The survey says:

Sixty-one percent of parents who own pools or spas do not have isolation fencing that surrounds the pool or spa.

Forty-three percent do not have self-closing and self-latching gates.

The recommendation:

Installation and proper use of four-sided isolation fencing could prevent 50 percent to 90 percent of residential pool drownings.

The survey says:

Many children ages 8 to 12 say they never wear a life vest when riding on a personal watercraft (50 percent), participate in water sports (37 percent) or on a boat (16 percent).

One in five parents mistakenly believe that air-filled water wings can protect children from drowning.

The recommendation:

An estimated 85 percent of boat-related drownings could be prevented if all passengers wore properly fitted life vests.

The survey says:

Nearly three-quarters of drowning victims did not know how to swim. Seventy-three percent of victims ages 5 to 9 and 30 percent of victims ages 10 to 14 were non-swimmers.

Thirty-seven percent of parents said their children had never taken swimming lessons.

The recommendation:

Children should be enrolled in swimming lessons with a certified instructor by age 8.

For more water safety information, consult



Never leave children alone near water.

Tell children never to run, push or jump on others around water.

Learn infant and child CPR.

Children should wear U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jackets.

Inflatable inner tubes and water wings are not safety devices.

Children in baby bath seats and rings must be within arm's reach every second.

Teach children to swim after age 4.

Make sure children swim within designated swimming areas of rivers, lakes and oceans.


Always swim with a buddy.

Never run, push or jump on others around water.

Always wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket when you are in or near an open body of water, in a boat or when participating in water sports.

Inflatable inner tubes and water wings are not safety devices.

Learn how to swim.

Swim only within designated safe areas of rivers, lakes and oceans.

Never dive into a river, lake or ocean.

Source: National SAFE KIDS Campaign


(c) 2004, The Kansas City Star. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.

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