While enjoying the water can be part of the magic of summer for children, safety experts urge precautions to prevent drowning, which takes the lives of more than 1,000 children annually -- more than half in residential swimming pools.
Dr. Kim Quayle, a pediatric emergency physician at St. Louis Children's Hospital, says residential pools are potentially very dangerous to toddlers, who can fall in and drown during any brief lapse in supervision.
"The child can be unobserved for a short period of time, manage to get into the pool, and not be able to swim to the side to get out," says Dr. Quayle. "The key is to supervise young children when they’re around a pool."
Quayle adds that one-third of child drowning incidents occur at the home of a friend or relative. One precaution to look for, she continues, is whether the pool is separated from the back of the house by a fence and locked gate.
"Ideally a swimming pool should have four-sided fencing and not have one side of the fence be the house, where the child could wander out of the house and directly into the swimming pool", she continues. "The swimming pool should have a locked gate and have a fence that is not easy for a child to climb over."
Quayle also urges continuous adult supervision of children at hotel and motel pools, where a lifeguard may not be present. In addition to toddlers, Quayle says teenagers are the second highest risk group for drowning. She urges adults to supervise teens around any body of water and to forbid use of alcohol, which she says often is a factor in drowning of teens and young adults.
Of course, many youngsters will be enrolling in swimming lessons this summer. Quayle suggests that about age four to five is a good time. But even with lessons, she adds that parents must not consider that their child is "drown proof."
"Swimming lessons are helpful, although they don’t completely safeguard children from drowning. But it’s important to get children exposed to the water, to learn the safety rules around the water and then to really enjoy themselves."