As children get older, the patterns change, but drowning remains a significant risk. And the most important messages for older children involve swimming lessons with water safety expertise as an essential life skill to be taught to all children; there are notable disparities in access to swimming lessons, and drowning rates are higher in minority populations. Adult supervision and never swimming alone are still essential, as are Coast Guard-approved life jackets, even for strong swimmers. Anyone involved in activities on water where there is current (tubing on a river, for example) should wear one of these life jackets.
“So few people are aware that drowning is a problem for big kids too,” said Ms Gage, who is a member of Families Unite to Prevent Drowning, which provides many family stories. “When an older person drowns, it’s usually in open water, and there’s usually a lot of victim blaming.” People are looking for an explanation that involves reckless behavior, she said, or drunkenness. In fact, she said, parents need to understand the importance of continuing to model safe behavior as their children get older. “Wear life jackets, just like you don’t get into a car without a seat belt,” she said. “Just because your child knows how to swim doesn’t mean your child is drownable.”
The risk of drowning increases greatly among adolescents, especially boys, and remains elevated into adulthood, and may be linked to risky behaviors. Ms. Gage said the only laws that regulate life jackets are related to boating — so people tend to assume life jackets aren’t necessary in other open water activities. And older children have also been affected by the circumstances of the Covid year, she said, with boat sales increasing and, again, with parents deeply stressed and sometimes less able to control.
Ms Hughes said many parents, who were willing to take extreme precautions all year round to avoid any chance of their children being exposed to Covid, may not realize that statistically, drowning kills more young children – in 2019, 864 children 18 and under in the US have died from drowning, compared to about 300 child deaths from Covid during the pandemic.
Ms Hughes said she was concerned parents were encouraging children to believe water was fun. And she said it’s not enough to simply warn them of the risks. Since I spoke with her two years ago, she has become a strong believer in the value of swimming lessons for young children.