Summer, a dangerous time for kids and teens

Robert Wright III will likely spend the rest of this summer with his left leg in a cast, unable to hone his skills on the baseball diamond.

In a freak accident recently, the 14-year-old pitcher collided with the third baseman in a tournament matchup, and an X-ray at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston revealed that he broke his leg in two places.

“He caught the ball and next thing I knew, he was on the ground,” his father recalled. “It was scary.”

In many ways, the 14-year-old pitcher was lucky.

Although summer break -- that time between May and August -- can be a fun and exhilarating time for children, experts say it remains the most dangerous time of the year, especially for those 14 and under.

According to Safe Kids Worldwide, falls like Wright’s, drownings, and injuries from pedestrian, motor vehicle and bicycle accidents all increase during the summer.

“In our 2007 report, research showed that unintentional injury remains the No. 1 killer of children in the U.S., with more than 2,000 children 14 and under dying each summer from injuries that could have been prevented,” said Angela D. Mickalide, director of research and programs.

Mickalide said that there are three main reasons why children are more at risk during the summer months. First, children are out and about and not under the relative protection of being at a school. Second, there are more daylight hours during the summer, meaning they have more time outside riding bikes, swimming, and doing many other activities. And third, more parents are working, which can lead to a lapse in supervision -- something that was not as likely a generation ago.

What Safe Kids' report doesn't mention is the growing use of prescription drugs, considered the second most abused illegal drug, behind marijuana, among young people ages 12-17.

"There are troubling signs that teens view abusing prescription drugs as safer than illegal drugs and parents are unaware of the problem," said Sue Rusche, president and CEO of National Families in Action, a nonprofit drug prevention organization in Atlanta.

What does that have to do with summer?

Studies show that that's when substance abuse increases among teens, and 70 percent of the teens get them from their family's medicine cabinet.

"It is a trend uniform across the country," said Rusche.

Although summer is a time when families go on vacation, safety should not take a vacation, said Beverly Losman, director of Safe Kids Georgia.

“Families must build child passenger safety into their travel plans regardless of where or how they travel,” said Losman. “Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among children ages 3 to 14 in the United States, and child passenger fatalities increase 20 percent above the monthly average in the summer.”

In addition, Losman said that motor vehicles pose many other dangers, including hyperthermia -- extreme temperature increases -- in a short amount of time on a summer day.

For instance, she said, two Georgia children died in June from heatstroke after being left in vehicles, and a total of 15 children have died nationally.

Unsupervised children often play in the vehicle trunk. Driveways and parking lots are especially hazardous for children at play, said Losman.

Losman noted that from 2001 to 2003, an estimated 7,475 children 14 and younger (or 2,492 per year) were treated in emergency rooms for injuries sustained after being struck while bicycling or walking in driveways, parking lots and other off-road settings. Fifty percent of these children were 1 to 4 years old.

Robert Wright said the numbers don’t surprise him.

“Every time I was hurt as a kid, it happened during the summer,” said the father of two from Lithonia.

While parents say their anxiety level is fairly constant when it comes to keeping their children safe, hearing about stories like the recent death of a 2-year-old left in a day care van in Clayton County does give them pause.

“I’m not freaked out, but I thought that was an extremely sad situation for everybody,” said Joyce Davis of Candler Park. “It was horrible for the parents and horrible for the day care workers.”

Davis said that her 5-year-old daughter is enrolled in two summer camps and is on a bus to and from swim practice and the movies.

“They’re going bowling on Friday,” she said. “All you can do is pray nothing goes wrong because it can happen to anyone.”

Stephanie Schuette of Roswell agreed.

“I think that really spoke to all of us,” said the mother of two.

Ruth Kitchen of Snellville said she got a scare recently when she had to rush her 15-year-old to the doctor because her heart was racing.

The cause, she said, was dehydration.

“My eyes just popped out,” she said. “It was a reminder that we need to stay hydrated during the summer months.”

Schuette, a school counselor, said that while she doesn’t worry as much about her elementary-age children because they are never unsupervised, even in the summer months, she knows that won’t last.

“When I talk to middle school parents ... unmonitored time in general is a great concern for those who have children old enough to be left alone,” she said. “The longer a kid is unmonitored, the greater the chances that they will be tempted to go beyond the boundaries set for them.”

Summer safety tips

  • Always wear your seat belt.
  • Make sure there is an adult around when you decide to go swimming.
  • Wear a life jacket when on a boat or participating in water sports.
  • Wear a helmet and other protective gear when riding bikes, scooters, in-line skates or skateboards.
  • Obey all traffic laws.

Source: National Safe Kids Campaign

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