Published on Wednesday, 30 November -0001 00:00
I was asked by a friend, a renowned advocate for child safety, to share some thoughts on the subject as we begin a new year and try to freshen up our approach to old problems. I pondered his request for some time, reluctant to recite the same platitudes everyone knows. I'm sure, "Look both ways before crossing the street," was not exactly what he had in mind. So I thought I'd take a slightly different point of view on the subject, in the hopes that a fresh look will result in greater awareness.
Helmets and seat belts
This is one of those obvious pearls of wisdom that can never be repeated enough. Basically, any child using ANY kind of conveyance that involves wheels should be wearing a helmet. This includes bicycles, scooters, skate boards, and even roller skates. If it is in an enclosed vehicle, like a car, they need to be placed in seat belts or age- and size-appropriate car seat. It is that simple. There is no exception. To drive this point home, I only need to read our local papers, which recently included a story about a young college student thrown off her scooter, not wearing a helmet and now permanently brain damaged; or the one about the SUV filled with teenage girls that lost control: The driver was killed and the other three were seriously injured. None had on seat belts. Everyday lives could be saved if people followed this simple rule.
Believe me, I know the challenges parents face. Each time my daughter, who is also a college student who darts around campus on a scooter, tells me that she doesn't wear a helmet because it looks dorky, I cringe, but I insist that she wear one. And of course she does, at least while I'm watching ....
Kids must never swim unattended
This is also a big one with me, perhaps because I live in Florida where water is ubiquitous. I have taken care of far too many drowning children in my career and I would be ecstatic if I never saw another one. Despite all our advances in brain resuscitation and respiratory care, the statistics for kids who are pulled from a body of water and brought to the hospital with no heartbeat are dismal. There are only two things that insure survival in drowning scenarios. One is good waterside CPR and emergency care and the other is prevention. Even more than early swimming classes, nothing prevents drowning like adult supervision. There can be no short cuts here.
Wash your hands
This sounds much too simple right? In fact, it is simple and incredibly affective. It has been proven time and time again in hospitals, and the same findings hold true in your home, that nothing prevents the spread of respiratory and gastrointestinal viruses better than good hand washing. By "good hand washing" I mean rubbing your hands with soap (anti-bacterial soap not required) under running water long enough to sing the "ABC" song to yourself, or maybe a rousing chorus of "Happy Birthday to You". Slowing the spread of these mostly seasonal viruses is the best thing you can do to prevent hospitalizations, missed school and work and the risk of serious, and potentially deadly, diseases like pneumonia and severe dehydration. My wife always made our kids wash their hands the minute they got home from school. As for me, I am sometimes forced to shower and change clothes before I can get near the kids, especially after leaving a pediatric ward full of respiratory viruses. I have no doubt this practice has kept illness to minimum in our family.
Play outside every day
Really? I can hear you saying this to yourselves right about now. How does playing outside keep kids safe? Well folks, we are facing a new enemy to our children. The epidemic of childhood obesity is forcing kids to face diseases they used to not worry about until their 40s or beyond, like diabetes, high blood pressure, joint problems, gall bladder disease, coronary artery disease and even stroke. For the first time in human history this generation may have a shorter life expectancy than their parents, all due to childhood obesity. There are many causes for this, of course, but everyone agrees that children are not as active as they were 30 and 40 years ago, when everyone played outside after school. Set aside an hour each day to get them out and active. You may save their childhood and their lives.
Eat dinner together, as a family
This one really surprises you, right? How can sitting around a table together, sharing food and conversation, keep kids safe? Well, the reality for kids in middle and high school particularly, is that most of the bad things that can happen to them are the result of choices they make. Drinking, drugs, premature sex, careless driving, suicide and truancy are all involved in most of the top causes of childhood death and injury. Keeping the lines of communication open, making clear what family values and expectations are important to you, can prevent an astounding number of bad decisions. Make this a priority. When communication is unforced and relaxed it is much more honest. Your kids will come to look forward to this time together. They really do want and need your input into the challenges they face everyday. Like every other human skill, communication gets better with practice. Learn to talk to your kids, and they will learn too.
Incorporate these simple concepts into your family's life this year, and I guarantee they will be safer, happier and live longer. You owe it to them, and to you!
Dr. Monaco is the director of the pediatric intensive care unit at Brandon Regional Hospital, Fla. He has been recognized as one of the "Best Doctors in America" (2003-2004), an honor awarded to only 4 percent of the nation's doctors. The author of Slim & Fit Kids, Raising Healthy Children in a Fast Food World, Dr. Monaco has also contributed to numerous medical publications and presentations on various pediatric topics. He is a board member for the Keenan's Kids Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to child safety, www.keenanskidsfoundation.com.