As summer approaches, it means pool time for millions of adults and children. And as they venture to their favorite spots to swim, it is critical that adults give their undivided attention to their children in and out of the water. Ten people die every day from drowning in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drowning is the second leading cause of accidental death in children under the age of 14. In fact, a swimming pool is 14 times more likely than a car to be involved in the death of a child under four. As adults, we have a responsibility to safeguard our children.
Recently, I became a member of the YMCA of Greater Charlotte Board of Directors. Our Y has 32 swimming pools and three waterfronts. Its specially trained staff and strict safety guidelines work to ensure the highest level of safety as well as an enjoyable experience. Last summer, our Y’s lifeguards rescued 85 people who began to show distress in the water. All were pulled to safety. We are fortunate at the Y to have highly trained lifeguards who keep watch at all times. Tragically, many area pools are unguarded and not all adults provide the supervision they should. Approximately 75 percent of childhood drownings occur because of a lapse of adult supervision of less than five minutes. The Y’s aquatics experts will tell you that a lifeguard is never a reason for parents to “check out.” And yet, pool decks are full of parents reading, talking to friends and even sleeping. At any guarded pool, lifeguards and parents must work as a team to prevent drowning.
The Y recommends children and adults practice the following safety tips:
• Only swim with a lifeguard on duty.
• Adults should constantly watch their children (even experienced swimmers).
• Inexperienced or non-swimmers should wear a Coast Guard-approved life jacket.
• Parents or guardians of young children should be within an arm’s reach.
• Children and adults should not engage in breath-holding activities.
The most proactive thing we can do as parents is to make sure that our families receive life-saving instruction in swimming and water safety. For adults, it is never too late to learn to swim. Basic swimming skills and water safety practices save lives every day.
Swimming lessons not only teach safety, but are fun. They also encourage an active lifestyle and build confidence. For those who feel they cannot afford lessons, the Y offers financial assistance. Thanks to the generosity of our supporters, the Y also has provided free swim lessons to thousands of local children who are at the greatest risk of drowning. In other words, every child in our community has an opportunity to learn to swim if parents will act.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission says 137 children younger than 15 drowned in a pool or spa between Memorial Day and Labor Day in 2012. These numbers represent a serious yet preventable public health problem.
As chief of police, a Y board member and grandparent, I urge adults to pay closer attention. We have to be more aware of our children’s swimming ability and drowning risk. But most importantly, we must make a concerted effort to ensure that every child in our community learns to swim.
Rodney Monroe is the Charlotte-Mecklenburg police chief.
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