16 May 2017

Many parents underestimate kids' drowning risks

Almost 40% of parents in the study will allow their child to use a backyard, hotel or neighbourhood pool without adult supervision.


When the weather is warm, kids across the world clamour to dive into pools, but many may not have the swimming skills they need to safely splash around.

And many parents think their children are safe from drowning in pools, a new survey reveals.

While few American parents would allow their child to swim unsupervised in a lake (16%) or ocean (13%), 37% would allow their child to use a backyard, hotel or neighbourhood pool without adult supervision, according to the C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health at the University of Michigan.

A false sense of security

Nearly every day, a child drowns in South Africa and children under three years of age are most at risk. The home swimming pool is where most drownings, involving children between 1 and 4, take place. In adults, most drownings occur in males who are intoxicated. 

"Many families enjoy spending time around a pool or lake in the summer, but parents should be cautious of keeping children safe around the water," poll co-director and paediatrician Dr Gary Freed said in a university news release.

"Familiar places such as a backyard pool may provide a false sense of security, but we know that drowning can occur anywhere, often instantly and silently. We strongly advise parents to closely supervise kids at all times, even if they think their child is a good swimmer," he said.

Drowning is the second-leading cause of injury-related death in American children aged one to 15. Each year, about 1 000 youngsters die from unintentional drowning. About five times as many require emergency department treatment for non-fatal water-related injuries, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Life buoy


Kids drown even at shallow depths

The survey included more than 1 500 parents of children aged six to 18.

The most common reasons cited by parents for their children not taking swimming lessons were:

  • Their child learned to swim without them.
  • Lessons cost too much.
  • The time or location of lessons was not convenient.
  • Lessons were not a priority.
  • Classes were not available in their area.

Among parents who said their child can swim independently, 45% would permit the child to be in a pool unsupervised, compared with 14% of parents whose child cannot swim independently.

"Almost all of the parents we polled believe it is important for children to have basic swimming skills but surprisingly, one in seven would allow a child who is unable to swim independently to be in the water unsupervised," Freed said.

"Drownings can, and do, happen in private and hotel pools as well as in lakes and the ocean – even at shallow depths. Swimming lessons and proper supervision are critical to making sure kids are safe around the water," he said.

Immediate treatment if someone gets into trouble in the water:

  • Get the person out of the water. Do not try to rescue someone if it will severely endanger your life. Rather call for help, and try to reach the person from land with a pole or rope. Tie yourself to something secure on shore if you have to swim to the person.
  • Do the ABC’s. Check for foreign bodies in the airways, such as weed, but do not waste time by trying to drain swallowed water. If the person needs CPR, start immediately.
  • Once on shore or outside the pool, place the person in the recovery position if there are no spinal injuries. Keep the person warm.
  • If you suspect a spinal injury and CPR is not required, don't move the person to land. Keep them lying face up in the water until help arrives.
  • All near-drowning victims should be observed in hospital for 24 hours.

Read more:

Drowning: the silent death

Tips to prevent drowning

Shocking number of children drowning daily




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