Summer for young people should offer fun, friendship and good memories, and what could be more fun than a cool and refreshing swim? Unfortunately, every summer brings news that a member of our community, usually a young person, has drowned. Why is this the case and what do we need to know before we go in the water?
According to the World Health Organization, drowning is the third leading cause of accidental death worldwide, widely affecting children and adolescents. Men are particularly at risk, with a death rate twice that of women.
There are other disparities. Drowning rate for Young blacks aged 5 to 19 are 5.5 times more numerous than whites in the same age group, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Household income can also be a factor: almost 80% of children in households with incomes below $50,000 have little or no swimming skills, according to the data.
The male brain, on the other hand, is certainly worth examining. Young men in particular are more likely to take risks, such as swimming alone or in isolated waters not permitted for recreational activities. Males of all ages succumb to predictable notions of invincibility and bravado.
The point here is not to blame the drowning victims or their families, but rather to generate discussion. It is not they who are tragically deaf, it is society as a whole that does not give drowning the urgency it demands.
Adults, that’s where you come in. First, we need to know what drowning looks like. Contrary to the popular notion that someone is thrashing madly in the water, experts agree that it usually happens silently.
It can happen quickly, in as little as a minute. A swimmer with an open mouth, breathless, head bobbing in and out of the water needs immediate help. Hair blocking the eyes or forehead, trying to swim in a specific direction but with no progress are other danger signs.
Security experts agree on a few key suggestions:
-Don’t go swimming alone;
– learn CPR;
-avoid alcohol before swimming and boating;
– add fences, alarms and cameras to residential pools; and
– swim only in designated waters. Isolated locations present hazards such as rocks, debris, currents and extreme depths that are not always anticipated.
Above all, encourage swimming lessons. The YMCA, Boys and Girls Clubs, and Fayetteville-Cumberland County Parks and Recreation Pools are the best places to start.
In a word, supervise. Supervise the inexperienced swimmer. Supervise the experienced. Along with adult supervision, encourage all swimmers to be mindful of each other.
Fifty years ago this summer, I lost a dear member of my family to drowning. Surviving family members tend to torture themselves: “If only I hadn’t looked away. . . If only, if only…”
We keep wondering how far our best efforts go before fate takes over, but, as mere humans, our best efforts are all we have.
News stories alone cannot express the loss felt by the families and communities affected by the drowning. The individual stories are, in effect, chapters in a national tragedy, but we as a society reflexively dismiss them as an unfortunate consequence of an otherwise careless season.
My wish is that young people can enjoy their summers and let go, if only temporarily, of cares and worries, while taking care of themselves and others. Our job as adults is to foster the perfect balance between having fun and being safe.
Youth is quite fleeting, let’s keep its energy and innocence as long as we can.
David Bozeman lives in Fayetteville.