For your children, summer means freedom—and outdoor pleasures. But warm-weather fun also has its hazards. So we asked an expert—Cecilia Jácome, M.D., director of Monmouth Medical Center’s Pediatric Emergency Department—for tips on keeping kids safe:
SUN SAFETY: BEYOND SUNBLOCK
Children are especially vulnerable to sunburn, and the riskiest period is between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. “Sometimes nothing will show when you’re at the beach, but redness, inflammation and discomfort will appear that evening,” says Dr. Jácome. Guard your children’s skin by having them alternate periods in the sun with time in the shade. They should also regularly apply a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher, and reapply at least every two hours and immediately after swimming.
Family members of every age should be sure to wear sunglasses that protect the eyes against the sun’s ultraviolet rays. And to avoid dehydration it’s important to increase fluid intake when you’re active outdoors, says Dr. Jácome. Don’t rely on kids’ thirst as a prompt, because children are easily distracted and the body can need fluid without necessarily feeling it. Also, be aware that a concentrated sweet drink can end up making kids thirstier: “The body demands more water because of the sugar,” the doctor warns.
A cool, refreshing dip is the perfect thing on a hot day, but the water can be dangerous.
“If children are going to be swimming at the beach, a pool or even a small backyard pond, they should always have adult supervision,” says Dr. Jácome. This doesn’t mean letting them dash in and out of your peripheral vision while you’re busy chatting or tending the barbecue. “If it’s a party where the adults are engaged in their own activities, someone should be delegated to watch more closely,” the doctor says. Parents can take turns on duty or, for larger gatherings, even consider hiring a certified lifeguard through the YMCA.
Dr. Jácome says caution is key at ocean beaches, where large waves and a powerful undertow can easily create problems even for grownups.
Kids should swim only with a buddy and only in lifeguard-supervised areas.
Storms are another hazard. Teach your kids that if they hear thunder or see lightning while in the water, they should get out immediately and seek shelter, staying away from trees, and shouldn’t go back into the water until at least 30 minutes after a storm.
BOATING AND FISHING HAZARDS
Swimming isn’t the only water activity that can spell trouble. Make sure your child wears a life jacket on boating excursions, keep kids well out of range when you’re fly-casting and don’t let young ones handle fishhooks.
Each year, Monmouth Medical Center’s pediatric E.R. sees a number of youngsters who get fishhooks stuck in the skin, which must be removed with a surgical clamp and cutter. “We have a special fishhook tray just for that purpose,” Dr. Jácome says.
TESTING THE LIMITS
Yes, backyard fireworks are illegal, but every Independence Day some teenagers still get their hands on them—and suffer injuries of the hands, face, eyes and other body parts. Many adolescents feel the need to break the rules in other ways too. Consider drinking and drugs: Dangerous in themselves, they dramatically raise the risk of injury when combined with summer activities like driving, boating, swimming or outdoor sports. Since teens are often on their own and out of view, Dr. Jácome concedes that keeping them from harm can be a more complex challenge than keeping water wings on your toddler.
“Sometimes when a young person is brought to the E.R. we find that when they were injured—or occasionally even assaulted—the parents had no idea where they were, or with whom,” says the doctor. One remedy is keeping the lines of communication open.
It’s a challenge to usher your older child to adulthood safely in a world of temptation and peer pressure.
Much comes down to the trust you establish.
“As an E.R. physician I often feel helpless about those things,” says Dr. Jácome. “Sewing up a laceration or prescribing antibiotics—that’s the easy part.”
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