As the weather warms up just enough for kids to jump in the pool, a new national poll suggests some parents may underestimate drowning risks.
Most parents surveyed in the poll felt uncomfortable letting their child swim unsupervised in a lake or the ocean, however, more than one-third were OK with letting their child swim without adult supervision in a home, hotel or neighborhood pool, according to a report from the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health.
“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,” says poll co-director and Mott pediatrician Dr. Gary L. Freed. “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.”
About 1,000 American children die every year from unintentional drowning, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Many more are injured while in the water and need emergency care. Drowning is the second-leading cause of injury-related death in kids ages 1 to 15.
Among parents who say their child can swim independently, 45 percent would allow the child to be in a pool unsupervised, compared with 14 percent 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 says.
“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.”
The report, based on responses from more than 1,500 parents of children ages 6 to 18, also found that a child’s likelihood of taking swim lessons and swimming independently differed based on the race and ethnicity of the parent.
Sixty percent of parents polled wish their child were a better swimmer and around three fourths report their child can swim independently. However, this varied by race and ethnicity, with 80 percent of white parents saying their child can swim independently, compared to 66 percent of Hispanic and 49 percent of black parents.
More than half of white parents (55 percent) also say their child has taken swimming lessons, compared with only 39 of Hispanic and 37 percent of black parents. The most common reasons parents say their child has not taken swim lessons are that their child learned to swim without them, lessons cost too much, the time or location of lessons was not convenient, lessons are not a priority and that classes are not available in their area.
Racial differences in the proportion of parents who reported children took swimming lessons in the Mott poll mirror national drowning data. Black children drown in pools at 5.5 times the rate of white children, according to the CDC. Black parents in this poll were much less likely to report their children had swimming lessons than white parents.
Freed recommends parents check with their local parks and recreation programs to see what types of swim programs are available in their areas.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends swimming lessons after a child turns 4. Children under the age of 4 cannot voluntarily hold their breath for significant amounts of time, according to the AAP.
The AAP also recommends parents keep infants and toddlers within an arm’s length of an adult when near the water to prevent drowning. And, although swim programs for infants and preschool children are common, parents should not think their kids are safe from drowning if they’ve taken swim lessons.
+ Read more about summer safety precautions.