With all the hype about the flu this past fall and winter, you may have been misled to think that flu is a leading cause of death in infants and children. While influenza may be the leading cause of death due to infectious disease in the U.S., it is far from the leading cause of death of infants and children. The leading cause of death for the age groups of 1-4 years, 5-14 years, and 15-24 years in the U.S. is accidents, and of these tragedies, automobile accidents make up the majority.
Isn’t this just a reflection of our excellent healthcare, you may ask? Possibly, but it also demonstrates an area of Public Health and Safety that needs to be addressed. As technology advances and more research is done, recommendations for keeping children safe have changed significantly. For example, most parents now know that the safest place for an infant is in a rear-facing carseat in the back seat of a car, but how many know that the latest research shows that rear-facing in the back seat is the safest position until the age of 2? Many pediatricians have yet to change their recommendations because the research is so new and the American Academy of Pediatrics has not yet had a chance to revise their current recommendation that children remain rear-facing until the age of 1 or weight of 20lbs.
Some parents are irritated by booster seat laws put in place by some state governments. No matter how you feel about government involvement, you cannot deny the fact that booster seats are the safest way for children under a certain height to travel, in order to be properly restrained by a car’s seatbelt. Proper child restraints save lives, period.
Car manufacturers have put a lot of emphasis on safety features in the past 2 decades, which has certainly helped, but may also give some parents a false sense of security when it comes to the safety of family members riding in the vehicle. Before you give in to your 10 year old who wants to sit in the front passenger seat or think, maybe just this once, I can put my infant in the front seat, think of the risk you are taking and whether that decision is worth the risk.
Beyond car safety, parents should take precautions with their kids near the water. Children should be taught to swim at a young age, but knowing how to swim should never make a lifejacket an unnecessary accessory when boating or even playing near a large body of water. Young children should always be supervised by an adult (who can swim) or lifeguard when playing near a pool, or water of any depth (whether it’s the wading pool in your backyard, or the Ocean).
Other safety precautions include wearing helmets when biking, rollerskating, skateboarding, etc. Your kids are more likely to wear their helmet if you set an example, so make it a family rule.
Talking to preteens, teenagers and even your college-aged child about the dangers of driving or riding with friends under the influence of drugs or alcohol is another conversation you must have. It is important to have a family plan and let your children know ahead of time that they can depend on you to get them home safely (you can deal with the poor decision after your child has gotten home safe and sound). If you aren’t sure how to start this conversation, consider asking for help from a school counselor or other trained professional.
Remember that your children learn from watching you. If you are a safety first kind of person, chances are your children will grow up the same. If safety doesn’t come naturally for you, that’s okay. Many grandparents today were raised before the time of seatbelts and yet, many of them have managed to adapt to the latest recommendations.
If you’re willing to do everything you can to keep your children healthy, then it shouldn’t take much more effort to keep them SAFE too!