One day the ambulance brought in a 13 year-old who had almost drowned in a local hotel pool. He was awake on arrival, but everyone had a good scare. The pool had a deep end but no lifeguard.
The boy could not swim, the parents told us, but enjoyed bobbing in the shallow end, going to the bottom and then pushing up out of the water. This time he had bobbed and bobbed is way into the deep end until he couldn’t bob up high enough to reach the surface. The boy remembers looking up and seeing his parents helplessly looking back down at him. They could not swim either.
All the parents could do was shout from above: “Get out of the pool!” I guess they could not make the connection that “can’t swim” means “can’t get himself out of the pool.” Eventually a more capable adult jumped in and hauled the boy out.
This story illustrates several points for swimming safety. Water is fun and inviting. If you don’t know how to swim, however, water is deadly when you get in (literally) over your head. Being safe means knowing how to swim. Summer is coming and it is time to sign your kids up for lessons. The Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts have excellent swimming programs. One of the first things a Boy Scout learns is not just how to swim, but how to swim safely. The lessons l learned at Scout Summer Camp stick with me today.
The first safety principal is swim at a pool with a lifeguard. Lifeguards have training to save drowning kids without endangering others. There are too many stories in the news about people who jump in to save a foundering child, and end up drowning too. It takes training and equipment to safely rescue a swimmer in trouble.
Next, swim with a buddy. That way if one gets in trouble, the other one is there to help. It is also just good sense to have someone account for you. Lastly, have flotation devices at the pool. If someone gets in trouble, throwing them a float to hang on to is better than offering your hand. You don’t want to get pulled into the water and taken to the bottom by a panicking victim.
There are two groups of kids that tend to drown more: toddlers in water at home, and teenagers in open water like lakes and rivers. The best way to prevent a toddler from drowning is not to have a pool or pond on your property. Everyone loses track of their little one sometime. It is impossible to prevent. They are natural explorers, and poor listeners (they barely speak English yet!). They are going to get out and into things- the street, the cleaning products, the backyard pool. If you don’t have a body of water at home to fall into, you eliminate the risk of them falling in and not being able to get back out- a pond doesn’t even have to be over the child’s head to be deadly!
If you already have a pool or pond, the next best thing is to fence it on all four sides. No back door access to the pool! The fence should be toddler proof. This 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 pool. They will have one.
Talking to your toddler only helps a little, but talking to your teenager works (somewhat) better. Despite what we all say about teens, they do listen, particularly when we talk directly to them about safety. It helps to talk to them earlier- at ages 10-12, about not drinking while swimming or boating, about not diving into 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 have to remind them to be safe. Take the eye rolling and “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 any water at home, get the kids swimming lessons, and talk to those teens. Let them get wet this summer, but safely!