Source: Indys Child Parenting Magazine

Summer Safety
Keeping children safe during summer play

by Rebecca Todd

June 01, 2011

School is out, the sun is high in the sky and the kids are ready to take on summer! To children, summer means playgrounds, swimming and fun in the sun. To parents it means all that and more; including potential safety hazards.

The best way to keep your children safe this summer is to arm yourself with knowledge. Know your child’s surroundings and be aware of potential hazards, but also know what needs to be done when emergencies arise.

The Buzz on Bug Bites

Where there’s heat, humidity, rain and foliage, you will inevitably find winged and crawling critters. They may be small, but they can carry some big dangers. The list of diseases that can be carried by summer-loving bugs is frightening in its lengthiness. The most common culprits are mosquitoes and ticks.

Where there’s humidity, there will be mosquitoes. Their bites are an irritation, but they can also be dangerous. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), West Nile Virus is the most common mosquito-related disease in the Midwest. In 2009, there were over 300 cases documented in Indiana. Symptoms of the disease can range from mild to severe. Mild symptoms, affecting up to 20 percent of the people infected with West Nile, can include fever, headache, body aches, nausea, vomiting, swollen lymph nodes and a skin rash on the chest, stomach and back. The disease can also become much more severe in some cases, however most infected people show very few symptoms at all.

My family and I took a short walk in the woods last weekend and after only a half hour we found our first tick of the season. After a frantic search, we discovered four more! Brief conversations with other hikers led us to the conclusion that ticks may be on the rampage this summer.

Ticks are actually arachnids, related to spiders, that thrive in humid, woody or grassy environments. They survive by attaching themselves to an animal or human while feasting on their host’s blood. Unfortunately, they can also pass along various diseases, the most common of which is Lyme disease.

More cases of Lyme disease are reported than any other bug-borne disease in the United States. According to the CDC there were almost 29,000 confirmed cases and 6,277 probable cases of Lyme disease in the U.S. in 2008; most of these cases are reported from the Northeast and upper Midwest.

Lyme disease is bacteria that can be fought with antibiotics. Typical symptoms include fever, headache, fatigue, and skin rash.

Prevention is the key to avoiding bug bites. Always apply insect repellent containing DEET to clothes and exposed skin when going outside. Apply the insect repellent containing permethrin to prevent ticks from attaching and always check for ticks after being outside and remove them promptly. Wearing long sleeves and pants will also help.

Testing the Waters

The most common and most terrifying safety hazard for children in the summer is water. According to Safe Kids USA, a nationwide network of organizations working to prevent childhood injury, drowning is the second leading cause of unintentional death among children ages 1 to 4 years and children 10 to 14 years. For infants less than 1 year, drowning is the third leading cause of death. In addition, an average of 3,600 annual injuries occur to children due to near-drowning incidents.

Unfortunately, the dangers for children are growing because of the increase in foreclosed or abandoned homes where pools are left uncared for and unprotected.

In May of 2008, 5-year-old Sheyenne Jenkins was playing outside with her brother. Sheyenne disappeared for only a moment, but that moment is all it took to lead to tragedy.

Sheyenne was found unconscious in a neighbor’s pool. The house had been abandoned and the fence and pool cover that had once protected the pool, were in disrepair.

Unfortunately, the system in most states, including Indiana, has no laws concerning who is responsible in a situation like this. Three years later, the previous owner, the mortgage company, and the town where the accident occurred, are all denying responsibility. “We’re still in the lawsuit,” said Secrena Erwin, Sheyenne’s mother.

The pool was completely open because Indiana doesn’t have a fence law. Even after what happened to little Sheyenne, the laws still haven’t changed.

“[When a house is foreclosed] the clean up team must now immediately fix the pool if one is present. That’s the only thing that has changed,” she said.

Still, it took 3 months after Sheyenne’s death to get the pool covered (however, the cover has since fallen in again).

“Indiana still doesn’t have a fence law,” said Secrena. “It’s unbelievable.”

Observance is vitally important in protecting your child from these situations. “Be aware of your surroundings, but also be aware of what’s going on with your neighbors,” advised Secrena. “If you see an open pool, call your homeowners association or whoever you have to call. Keep calling until the situation is fixed.”

Lisa Moy concurs that diligence is key to keeping your kids safe in the water. “My Grandfather’s philosophy of teaching a child to swim was to throw them in water over their heads and say ‘swim or drown’,” said Lisa, a mother of three who grew up in rural Indiana.

As a result from her Grandfather’s ways, Lisa developed a strong fear of the water. Therefore, when she had kids of her own, she was determined to make sure they were safe in the water. She hovered in fear as her children learned to swim and as they eventually decided to swim competitively. Still, she remained paranoid, but her paranoia actually paid off.

“One time during practice I noticed my child struggling and he was in the middle of the deepest part of the pool. The young coaches hadn’t noticed,” said Lisa. “I was glad to be the paranoid mother hovering over the fence. I had to yell to them he was having problems and they raced out to assist him. I still cringe to think what might have happened if I had not been watching so closely.”

Stony Creek Swim Center has been offering quality swim instructions for 22 years. Lessons are available for children as young as 6 months through adult. For more information or to register for classes, contact (317) 773-7399.

This summer, all Indy Parks are offering free water safety classes each day for a half hour before the pool opens through June 3. Those who attend the classes are invited to swim for free for the entire day. Children under 9 must be accompanied by an adult. Visit for more information.

Back Away from Big Bangs

Fireworks are often a special part of summer celebrations that are often eagerly anticipated by little ones. The sparkly lights and big bangs can often draw the attention of naturally curious children. However, thousands of people end up in emergency rooms every year with firework-related injuries.

According to the National Fire Prevention Association (NFPA), two out of every five (40 percent) people injured by fireworks were under the age of 15, and the risk of firework injuries was highest for teens ages 15-19 and children 5-9, both with at least 2.5 times the risk for the general population. Most often it is the sparklers, fountains, and other novelties that are legal and available for sale everywhere that are the culprits.

Indiana law prohibits the sale and use of fireworks to anyone under the age of 18. However, obviously considering the statistics, this law is not always obeyed.

The Indiana Department of Homeland Security recommends that, as a rule, children should never be allowed to play with, handle or light fireworks of any kind. In fact, fire safety officials agree that the safest way to prevent firework-related injuries is to leave the work to the professionals. Visit a fireworks display presented by those trained to perform them with safety personnel standing by. And always make sure you and your children are far enough away to enjoy the show without the chance of injury.

Beat the Heat

You can’t avoid the heat in summer, especially when you’re a rambunctious young one with energy to burn. Therefore, sunburn and dehydration are constant summer fears.

With skin cancer concerns on the rise, it’s a good idea to make sunscreen a daily drill for your young sun worshippers. Although skin cancer is not commonly diagnosed in children, the majority of sun exposure happens during childhood.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends babies less than 6 months should be dressed in lightweight long pants and long sleeve shirts and wear brimmed hats when exposed to the sun. For babies this age, applying a minimal amount of sunscreen, 15 SPF or higher, is also recommended.

For older children hats and sunglasses are recommended by the AAP. Sunscreen of at least 15 SPF or greater and staying out of the sun as much as possible during the peak hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. are also suggested. Also, don’t forget to reapply!

Sunscreen should be reapplied every two hours and after swimming or sweating. Making sunscreen a daily habit for your children will help to ensure they continue healthy practices into their adult lives.

In addition to sunburn, dehydration is always a summer concern for the young ones, and because of their small size and innate activeness, children are especially prone. Knowing the early signs of dehydration or heat stress is essential to keeping kids healthy in the heat. These signs may include thirst, fatigue, and irritability. If you note these signs, get your child to a cool place and administer fluids, avoiding sugary drinks or sodas. Cool cloths may also help.

Additionally, one doesn’t usually consider dehydration to be a concern while engaging in summer water fun, but cool water can often mask the effects of the sun. Always remember to stay hydrated during all types of summer activities, even swimming.

Summer fun doesn’t have to be accompanied by constant fears over safety issues. However, knowing the dangers and staying ahead of the game is the best way to have piece of mind and ensure a safe and happy summer for everyone.