Tips for keeping kids safe in South Florida as outdoor fun takes center stage.
Published: June 12, 2020
By: Jennifer Jhon
Summer in South Florida means long days of freedom for students without any school assignments to keep them sitting at their computers. And as pools and parks reopen across South Florida, the chance for fun in the sun lures many outdoors.
But parents need to recognize the hazards particular to summer and take steps to keep their kids safe.
With so much water in South Florida in backyard and community swimming pools, canals, lakes and beaches, water safety is paramount.
“Drowning prevention is one of our top initiatives,” said Tongelia Milton, the executive director of communications for the YMCA of South Florida. “We do a lot of work around that.”
According to the YMCA’s Water Safety Month website, Florida leads the nation with the most child drownings of all ages under 18 by more than double the next closest state. About 80 percent of those drownings involved children under the age of 5 who were out of sight or missing for less than five minutes.
The www.Floridahealth.gov website states that annually in Florida, enough children to fill three to four preschool classrooms drown before their fifth birthday.
The problem has only gotten worse with the shutdown that closed schools and forced many parents to work from home.
“So far in 2020 [as of May 15], there have been 22 fatal drownings, all under age 6, in the state,” Milton said.
In that time, there were 8 drownings and near-drownings in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, she said. “In any given year, we will have anywhere from 8 to 15. Given that there were that many in the first five months of the year, that’s significant.”
May was National Water Safety Month, and the YMCA used that month to highlight the Water Watcher program.
The program promotes constant, active adult supervision to prevent drownings. “There needs to be a designated person, especially when there are gatherings,” Milton said. “If everyone is watching the kids, no one is watching the kids.”
Especially in larger groups, she said, “make sure there is a designated person responsible for watching the kids, and they’re not distracted on their cell phone.” Above all, the Water Watcher needs to be diligent about paying attention to the kids and what’s happening with them.
Adult supervision is only one of three layers of drowning prevention, Milton said. The second is making sure you have proper barriers in place around pools, and alarms on windows and doors in homes. “A lot of times, you turn your back, and you don’t know where [the kids] are. They’ve gone out a door or something like that.”
The third layer is swim lessons, Milton said, “making sure your kids know how to swim, or at least know how to turn over and float until they can get to the side of a pool or someone can get to them.”
Parents can learn more about water safety and the YMCA’s free swim lessons for children at ymcasouthflorida.org/water-safety-month/.
With Florida’s daily dose of sunshine, bicycling is another popular pastime. And those bike helmets you see cyclists wearing aren’t just for looks — Florida law requires that all cyclists age 16 or younger wear a bike helmet while riding. The helmet must be properly fitted, must meet the federal safety standard for bicycle helmets, and must be fastened securely on the rider’s head.
Danielle Quinones, a Broward Sheriff’s deputy with the crime prevention unit for the city of Weston, stressed the importance of wearing a properly fitted helmet for protection. “I know I see all the time the kids without the helmets.”
She said she also sees parents riding far behind their children, which puts the kids at risk when they get to intersections in front of their parents. “When they go riding, make sure they have a clear view of their child in front of them,” she said.
Parents should also coach their children always to stop at the crosswalk. “Make sure it is clear before entering or making turns,” Quinones said.
Cyclists should follow the same rules as vehicles, she said. “Technically, they have to stop at a red light before making their turn.”
Also like vehicle drivers, bicyclists both young and old need to keep their attention on the road, “not on their cell phones,” Quinones said.
She encouraged families to stick to the sidewalk, however, and not ride in car lanes.
Although the sun sets later in the summer, families still sometimes ride their bikes in the evenings, which involves taking special care.
“If you’re riding at night in the dark, you have to have a light. You need to have bicycle lights front and rear,” she said. Cyclists riding at night should also wear reflective clothing, she cautioned.
Lights on the wheel spokes, as well as other types of decorations, are fine if it doesn’t impact the bicycle.
More important than bike bling, however, is bike safety, and the helmets are an important part of that. “That’s a big thing, the proper-fitting helmet,” Quinones said.
Besides summer’s usual concerns, such as sunburn and heat stroke, the pandemic presents another issue: How to have fun while social distancing.
Milton encouraged parents to look at modifying activities so their kids can participate safely.
Instead of playing basketball games where they would have contact, for instance, kids can challenge each other to drills they do with their own balls.
If families are considering summer camps, Milton said, “parents should consider looking at the ratios that whatever location they choose has for the kids. They should be looking at what their processes and procedures are for activities.”
At the YMCA, “they’ll still be doing activities and having fun, but there will be no contact with other kids. … The YMCA will also have temperature checks at drop-off and practice social distancing.”