My wife grew up here in Lafayette, and has more than one story about teenage friends and acquaintances dying in boating accidents. With teenagers, of course there was alcohol involved. As a Pediatric Emergency Medicine doctor, I have seen more than my fair share of toddlers who drowned. The stories are all the same- there was a pool or pond or coolie or river in the yard, the parents lost track of the child for just a few minutes, and tragedy happened.
Drowning is the second leading cause of accidental child death, after car crashes. With kids, “accidental” is another way of saying “preventable.” As I hinted at above, there are two main groups of kids that drown: toddlers in bodies of water near the home, and teens in open water like lakes and rivers. We in Louisiana need to be extra careful because in case you haven’t heard, we have lots of water around here.
The best way to prevent toddler drowning is not to have a pool or pond on your property. Everyone loses track of their toddler sometime. It is just about impossible to prevent that. They are natural explorers, and poor listeners (they barely speak english yet!). They are going to get out and get into things- the street, the cleaning products under the sink, the backyard pool. If you don’t have a body of water to fall into, you eliminate that risk. If you already have one, the next best thing is to fence it in on all four sides. No back door patio access to the pool! Have a toddler-proof fence. That means a fence that can’t be climbed, with a lock too high for the toddler to reach. If you haven’t seen that kind of fence before, visit a local hotel. They will have one.
It isn’t helpful to just talk to your toddler about staying away from water. They aren’t good listeners. However, you can talk to your teenager. Despite what we all say about teens they do listen, particularly when we talk directly to them about their safety. But you have to talk to them early- age 10-12, about not drinking and boating, about not diving in shallow water, about swimming with buddies who are also safe and responsible. Talk to them nicely!- tell them you trust them to do the right thing, but as a parent you can’t help yourself to remind them to be safe. Take the eye-rolling and the “you’ve told me this a thousand times” in stride. Teens do this even when they are listening.
Drowning is preventable. Do your part. Secure that pool and talk to those teens. Let them get wet this summer, but safely.