Keep Your Kids Safe This Summer

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The Scary Side of Summer: Eight Hidden Dangers to Watch Out for When School Is Out of Session

This time of year danger is the last thing on most of our minds. It shouldn’t be. Parenting expert and author Dr. Maryln Appelbaum identifies some of summer’s hidden perils and explains how to head them off at the pass.

Ahh, summer. Here come those lazy days of free time, mall trips, hanging out with friends, summer camp shenanigans, and blissful beach trips. As school winds down and the thermometer begins its sweltering climb, most parents are in the throes of making summer plans for their children. With Tyler heading to soccer camp and Megan signed up for summer camp at the YMCA, you may feel good about the upcoming season. But don’t let summer’s carefree reputation fool you, says parenting and education expert Dr. Maryln Appelbaum–the season is filled with hidden dangers.

“Most parents get so focused on keeping their children busy during the summer months they forget to be diligent about keeping them safe,” explains Appelbaum, parenting expert and owner of The Appelbaum Training Institute, which has trained over one million teachers and child care providers throughout America and the world. “Of course, there is a fine line between being careful and being overprotective–but don’t let the freedom of summer lull you into a false sense of complacency. Especially if your children are attending summer programs or sports camps, it’s important to be realistic about the trouble they could get into.”

According to Appelbaum there are a few specific safety issues to look out for where your kids are concerned this summer. And while there is only so much you can do from your end of things, they believe opening the lines of communication with your children about their safety will make all the difference in the world.

Of course, before you have a sit-down with your kids, you need to carefully think through the potential dangers. Read on for Appelbaum’s checklist to get you started:

The changing of the guard. During the school year you get to know the teachers and leaders who take care of your children very, very well. Your trust in them gets stronger as the year progresses, and as the relationship develops, you feel confident that they have your child’s best interests at heart. In the summer, you may not have that luxury. Kids often transition from one activity to the next in a matter of days, and the people to whom you are entrusting your children’s safety change right along with them. Plus, many summer activities are overseen by young people who may not necessarily have the maturity or experience to keep kids safe.

Appelbaum says that it’s a known fact that sexual pedophiles gravitate toward jobs involving children. With very little experience needed to be a camp counselor, your child can be at risk.

“It is so important for parents to be conscious of the people they are handing their kids over to every day,” warns Appelbaum. “Do not just assume that because someone is employed by a summer program that you should trust them, no questions asked. Before each new transition, do your research. Ask around–even if it means calling the program and asking for references and qualifications of their employees. There are fewer systems of checks and balances for these programs, and if parents don’t hold them accountable, who will?”

Overnight stays. With school out of session and early mornings a distant memory, kids are eager to pack their sleeping bags and stay up all night at a friend’s house. Or perhaps they are ready to head off to sleep-away summer camps for days, and even weeks, at a time. Staying overnight away from home is a big step for kids, and it can often be a scary prospect for parents. When your kids are staying under someone else’s roof (or tent!), you can’t control their surroundings like you can at home to ensure their safety. And even more distressing, you may not be certain that you know the adults or “teens” in charge well enough to entrust your child’s safety to them.

“Now is the time to stop worrying about being polite and put on your detective hat,” says Appelbaum. “Don’t hesitate to ask as many questions as it takes until you feel satisfied about your child’s safety. Ask for background checks or references for camp counselors; call other parents you know and trust to inquire about the parents in charge of this weekend’s sleepover–anything to get the information you need. And as uncomfortable as it may be for you, sit your children down and talk to them about the difference between a ‘good touch’ and a ‘bad touch’ and that it is okay to tell an adult ‘no.’ You just can’t afford to risk it.”

Swimming. Summer and swimming are as inseparable as peanut butter and jelly. Almost any day camp or summer camp your kids participate in will involve some type of water-based activity. And while junior may shy away from the pool when he’s with you, it will be a different story when all his friends dive in, and it’s up to you to make sure he’s ready to take the plunge. That’s why, if your child is a land lover and hasn’t quite taken to the water yet, now is the time to change it.

“If you have a child who isn’t a strong swimmer, or one who is uncomfortable around the water, enroll him in swimming lessons today,” warns Appelbaum. “You cannot be totally dependent on the camp counselors and lifeguards to keep your child safe in the water. There will be a lot of children in the water for them to watch over–and unlike you, they won’t be focused solely on your child–so it’s your responsibility to make sure he or she is a strong and confident swimmer.”

Sunburn. It seems like everywhere you turn there are warnings about sun exposure and recommendations for SPF–and there is a reason. You’d have to be living under a rock to be unaware of the increased exposure we have to the sun’s dangerous UV rays, and the long-lasting damaging effects it can have. However, you may not realize how much sun exposure your kids are getting during their days at summer camps. Just because Timmy is going to science camp doesn’t mean he won’t be outside at some point during the day.

“Make lathering on a layer of sunscreen part of your child’s morning routine,” suggests Appelbaum. “Talk about the importance of keeping skin safe, and encourage children to reapply throughout the day, particularly if they are going to be playing sports or swimming. It is also well within your rights to make a special requests of any counselors or supervisors to ensure your child stays coated in SPF throughout the day.”

Injuries. Enrolling kids in outdoor activities and sports camps ups the injury ante considerably and you should be prepared for what hurts may come through your door each evening. Pay close attention to even the smallest injuries. Cuts and scrapes can become infected, and even minor sprains that go untreated can become inflamed and more serious. By taking care to treat the injuries (even the minor ones) from their onset, you decrease the risk of long-lasting effects and increase the fun your kids can have for the rest of the summer.

“When treating an injury means the difference between sitting on the sidelines and playing with their pals, kids may not always be completely honest,” says Appelbaum. “If you notice limping or any other symptom, question your child closely. Ask coaches and counselors to keep you in the know. And keep your medicine cabinet stocked with bandages and antibacterial ointment, ice packs and aspirin–and make your kids take a break when they need time to heal.”

Dehydration. Remember those summers as a kid when the days were long and you were having so much fun that you couldn’t bear to go inside and rest, even for a minute? And when you were ready to take a breather, nothing tasted better than an ice-cold glass of lemonade, Kool-Aid, or fizzy soda? You’ve probably also blocked out all those times that your mom fussed at you to sit in the shade and traded your sugary refreshment for water as well. Kids don’t understand the importance of staying hydrated, or the very real dangers of summer heat. It’s up to you to make sure that they are ready to wet their whistle in the mid-afternoon sun.

“Water isn’t the beverage of choice for most children, so you have to make it more appealing,” explains Appelbaum. “At the beginning of the summer, take your children out shopping to pick out their own special water bottle. Make sure that you send them out with it each day, no matter if they are headed to soccer camp or next door to play. Children are very susceptible to dehydration in the hot summer months, so making a point to keep them drinking throughout the day should be a big priority.”

Free time. Some of the biggest joys of summer revolve around what kids don’t have to do: no homework, no band practice, no SCHOOL. But the resulting vacuum of unoccupied time forces kids to find other ways to fill it, which means more work for parents on the watchdog front. If your kids are eager to grab the remote, or the laptop, XBOX, or cell phone, it means that you will have to be at the top of your guardian game. Along with the glories of technology come the dangers of your children being exposed to things you can’t control: websites and online predators, mature television shows, and violent video games. Appelbaum says that preventive action is a must.

“Make a list of potential techno-dangers and create a plan of action,” she suggests. “Install software on your computer that limits the Internet sites your children are allowed to access. Use parental monitors on your televisions to limit their exposure to inappropriate shows and movies. And if you’ve allowed your kids to have a cell phone, particularly one with texting capabilities, set up some strict ground rules and monitor their usage each day. Check their texting log every morning and evening. It’s a reality of modern life that kids can get into serious trouble even when they’re right in the next room.”

Peer pressure. Summer comes with less structure and more freedom, especially for older kids, and along with that freedom comes more opportunity to get into trouble. Perhaps your child is with a whole different set of friends (whose parents you may not know), and chances are good that even the most reputable summer camp or day camp program has one or two “rebels” in its midst who want to break the rules. And no matter how careful you’ve been to teach your child the difference between right and wrong, you can never underestimate the power of peer pressure.

“Kids can be very, very sneaky,” asserts Appelbaum. “They can smuggle drugs into even the strictest religious-based camp. They can slip out at night to meet kids of the opposite sex. They can take and encourage all sorts of risks–from diving into shallow rivers to experimenting with behaviors as deadly as the choking game. So don’t assume that your child is around only ‘safe’ peers. Talk to children frankly about the temptations and pressures they might face and make sure they know how to deal with them. Role play situations that can occur and talk about the choices that children have if any of those scenarios occur.”

Of course, all the precautions in the world can’t replace that small inner voice of parental instinct, says Appelbaum.

“If something doesn’t feel quite right, it probably isn’t,” she notes. “Trust your parental radar. You can keep it honed by staying in close contact with all the caregivers in your children’s life, getting to know their friends, carefully watching their behavior, and always, always, always keeping the lines of communication open. There’s no better safety net for your children than you–and you can and will make this the best, safest summer your family has ever had.”

About Dr. Appelbaum:

Maryln Appelbaum is well-known internationally as an outstanding authority on children, education, and families. She has master’s degrees in both psychology and education and completed her doctoral studies in both education and psychology. She has worked as a teacher, an administrator, and a therapist and has been a consultant throughout the United States. She has written more than 30 “how-to” books geared exclusively for educators and parents. She has been interviewed on television and radio talk shows and has been quoted in newspapers including U.S.A. Today.

She owns a seminar training company, Appelbaum Training Institute, with her son, Marty Appelbaum, and they and their speakers train educators all over the world.

Maryln’s influence impacts the entire globe with her thoughts for the day that go out to thousands of educators via e-mail daily all over the world. Her strategies have been implemented in schools across the world successfully. There is not a day that goes by that someone does not contact her at Appelbaum Training Institute to tell her “thank you.” Those “thank yous” come from teachers, administrators, parents, and students whose lives have been impacted by Maryln.

Her books and her talks are strategy-based. She does not believe in a “one-size-fits-all” solution, and instead provides multiple strategies to reflect the diversity in both learners and teachers. She believes there is a way to help every child succeed. She is enthusiastic, dynamic, dedicated, and caring, a one-of-a-kind difference maker for the world.

About Appelbaum Training Institute:

Martin and Maryln formed the Appelbaum Training Institute in 1989. A.T.I. has become our nation’s most successful company that provides teacher training.

The organization has grown to meet the ever-expanding needs of the child care and teaching community. As each state developed expanding regulations for their child care providers, the Appelbaums met those regulatory needs. New child care staff seminars and child care management seminars were developed. Self-instructional materials that gave Continuing Education Units were written to meet the requirements and regulations for teachers. New cities and states were entered into the training circle. Books, audio tapes, and child care resources were developed and are continually being expanded to serve the needs of the educational community.

Soon, the organization added seminars and in-services for elementary, middle, and high school teachers. These seminars became so popular that the Appelbaums had to hire other speakers to assist in reaching all their requests to provide seminars. The primary focus of these seminars is topics that teachers all want: discipline and guidance, inclusion, guided reading, and other relevant topics.

During any given week, the organization provides dozens of seminars throughout the United States and Canada. They have provided seminars, workshops, in-services, and self-instructional materials for more than one million individuals in the United States, as well as abroad.

For more information, please visit www.atiseminars.org.