Posted by: Karen Fowler
A trip to the beach can be the highlight of a child's summer. Unfortunately, beaches have many dangers that can quickly ruin an otherwise perfect day. At the beach, the potential for danger is all around in the form of harmful UV rays, stinging creatures, and people with bad intentions - even the picnic basket may harbor illness-causing bacteria. To ensure that kids return with fond memories of the event, parents and caretakers must keep them safe. Minimize most of these concerns by planning for the trip and using common sense.
Sun Safety
While the intense sunlight of the beach is part of the appeal, care is necessary to avoid painful and damaging sunburns. Always use a high-quality sunscreen on any skin not covered in clothing. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends using broad-spectrum sunscreens with an SPF of 15 or more. Additionally, the FDA suggests limiting sun exposure between the hours of 10:00 am and 2:00 pm. It is important to reapply sunscreen frequently, at least once every two hours, and use a variety that does not wash off in the water. Do not forget about your young companion's eyes - outfit them in UV-blocking sunglasses which will not only protect them from dangerous, invisible rays, but will offer some protection from sand blowing in their eyes. Be sure that children do not overheat in the sun, and ensure that they drink plenty of water while playing at the beach.
Water Safety
While the very idea of sharks is enough to keep some people from entering the water, the statistics indicate that smaller, less dramatic creatures are more likely to cause a problem. Stingrays often rest while half-buried in the sand; if accidentally stepped on, they may defend themselves with long, venomous barbs on their tails. To avoid this possibility, teach youngsters to shuffle or slide their feet as they walk. This will reduce the risk of stepping on one, and encourage the stingrays to swim away. Jellyfish float through the water column and while they are not aggressive, incidental contact can result in stings. Jellyfish can be hard to see, so pay attention to lifeguard warnings and local reports; avoid swimming at beaches where they are common. While nefarious sea creatures dominate the minds of parents and caretakers, the ocean itself causes most beach related injuries and deaths. Always keep the children in your care close by, even if they are good swimmers; an injury, large wave or rip current can quickly overwhelm even the best swimmers. Teach your children to escape rip currents by swimming parallel with the beach until out of the current's grip, and then swim back to shore. Approved, properly fitted life preservers offer an additional layer of protection. Often, beaches use flags to indicate the current safety conditions of the beach. Learn the flags of the beaches in your area and heed their advice.
Sand Safety
While drowning and stinging or biting marine creatures are potential dangers, youngsters face some of the beach's greatest threats before they even get to the water. Sand castles and similar projects are great fun and are one of the safest activities of the beach, but teach children not to kick or throw sand. If sand gets in their eyes, wash it out with lots of cool, fresh water - salt water may sting.
Foodborne illness can occur anywhere, so be sure to use good food handling and transportation practices. Always prepare foods for the beach that will not spoil without refrigeration, and be sure your child washes his hands with soap and water before eating.
Sadly, other people may represent the greatest danger at the beach. Never allow children to wander out of your sight, whether they are playing on the beach or in the water. Teach children what to do if a stranger approaches them, and avoid playing in isolated areas. Teach and implement the buddy system whenever taking a group of children to the beach. This provides protection from strangers, but it also helps children if they become injured - the other child can go for help. When first arriving at the beach, identify a highly visible landmark as an emergency meeting place in case they become lost or unable to find their adult. A lifeguard stand makes a perfect location and most lifeguards receive training to help lost children locate their guardians.