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Parents as important as lifeguards in drowning prevention

Summer break sends millions of kids to neighborhood pools, making now a good time to think about maximizing safety. While drowning remains a leading cause of death among young people, most incidents can be prevented with proper communication and behavior between parents and children.

According to Jill White, a leading aquatic safety advocate and author of StarGuard: Best Practices for Lifeguards 3rd Edition (Human Kinetics 2006), the following behaviors most commonly contribute to drowning at pool facilities:

  • Lack of adult supervision for children and unsupervised group outings
  • Breath-holding contests
  • Bobbing or wading into deeper water, then being unable to lift the mouth or nose out of the water or choking on water
  • Being a nonswimmer in deep water without a life jacket
  • Slipping off of a flotation device such as noodle or raft
  • Having a seizure, heart attack or other medical condition while in the water
  • Not resting and becoming exhausted
  • Being under the influence of alcohol or drugs

Medical conditions may not be avoided, but other behaviors can be addressed. White says parents need to take their kids’ swimming participation seriously. She points to education on safe water practices, swim lessons, the buddy system, parental supervision, following the posted rules, and always being "water aware" as key steps toward drowning prevention.

"Lifeguards are not baby-sitters," White warns. "Parents and guardians should not leave children unattended, and preschool children and nonswimmers should be directly supervised-within touching distance-by a responsible adult."

White also warns about group outings, such as parties and day-camp trips to aquatic facilities where parents assume their children are properly supervised. "Often group leaders or party hosts inappropriately view the trip to the pool as a chance to relax and turn over responsibility to the lifeguards," she says, warning that hosts also may be unaware of kids’ swimming ability and not understand the need to make sure nonswimmers wear life jackets.

"The energy level of the participants is often high, and peer pressure can encourage children to try activities that would not be allowed under parental supervision," White continues. "The group leaders or party hosts should understand that they are responsible for the direct supervision of the participants and should be required to maintain a reasonable leader-to-participant ratio."

For information about water safety practices at the pool you attend, speak with the aquatics director or manager on duty. Human Kinetics also produces resources for water safety, swimming instruction and performance and water exercise. Visit for details.


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