In the past month it has been impossible to get away from two tragic parenting stories. First there was the 3-year old who slipped into the gorilla enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo and now the 2-year old who was dragged underwater by an alligator at Disney’s Grand Floridian resort.
First things first, one child has died and the parents are grieving a sudden, incomprehensible loss. Another child is likely scarred for life after suffering the kind of trauma incurred from being dragged around a moat by a 400-pound gorilla. My heart goes out to these parents.
I won’t lie, as the parent of a 3-year old who I often refer to as a flight risk, I followed both stories. Then I quickly became sickened at the mounting response on social media either defending or shaming the zoo and Disney, and of course, blaming or defending the parents of these children. You’ve seen them too, the tweets, the open letters to the parents of the child at the Cincinnati Zoo, the parents of the child at Disney, parents the author has never met nor likely ever will. There are even open letters to Harambe the Gorilla and give it time, I am sure someone will even pen one to the alligator in the Seven Seas Lagoon. The two cents from anyone with a Facebook or Twitter account quickly choked my news feed. What have we become?
We have become a parenting culture that has lost the forest for the trees.
Zoo incidents, especially those involving gorillas are quite rare. According to National Geographic, “Primates in accredited U.S. zoos have injured humans on 15 separate occasions since 1990, accounting for less than a seventh of total human injuries. Primates have not been involved in a lethal U.S. zoo accident in the last 26 years.” Alligator attacks on children are also rare. According to this Tribune article, “There have been 23 fatalities caused by wild alligators in Florida since 1973, according to data compiled by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission…Eight children, ages 2 to 16, are among the fatalities.”
Yet these two stores have dominated the parenting discussion. The online chorus chants, “Build safer zoo enclosures, post better signs,and above all, do a better job of watching your children!”
My parenting friends, gorillas and alligators are not going to kill your children. These were horrible one-off accidents. But the following 5 threats are much more likely to. I have focused on the dangers that we as parents have the most control over to prevent or even eliminate, dangers that collectively kill or harm thousands of children each year.
Therefore, I must ask, where are the open letters to the parents of these more common tragedies?
1. Drowning deaths. Sadly, drowning remains a leading cause of death for children younger than 5. According to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission, each year an average of 240 children under 5 drown in pools. Additionally, 110 children drown in places like bathtubs, among other areas. What to do about it? Make sure your child learns to swim. If they can’t swim, make sure they are closely supervised in and around water. Practice these pool safety tips. Learn the signs of drowning and pay attention to silent signals.
2. Vaccine-preventable illnesses. Birth to 5 is the age group most susceptible to complications from diseases like measles, whooping cough, flu and pneumonia. All of these are vaccine-preventable. However, these diseases still circulate even though vaccines are safe, effective and most definitely do not cause autism. Remember the Chicago-area measles outbreak last year and the fear held by parents of children too young to be vaccinated? That is because measles is particularly dangerous for young children. Many parents think the flu vaccine is not necessary. Wrong. Even in the year like last year in which the flu shot wasn’t the best match there was cross-protection provided to lessen the chance of a serious case. The CDC tracks pediatric flu deaths each season and during the past two flu seasons, flu killed 148 and 76 children and hospitalized thousands more.
3. Accidents in the home. These can take a variety of forms, such as poisonings, choking, and trauma from furniture, falls and other hazards. True, there are a million ways a toddler can get hurt at home but there are a few simple prevention tips that can go a long way, tips you may have heard time and time again but are worth repeating. Lock up all household chemicals and medications and keep out of the child’s reach. For children under 5, make sure foods like hot dogs, grapes and other large, hard to chew foods are cut lengthwise and into small pieces. Instruct children never to pick or eat berries off shrubs or the ground or anything that looks like a mushroom on the lawn. Make sure any kind of furniture prone to toppling over like taller dressers and TVs are securely strapped to a wall.
4. Leaving a child in a car on a hot day. Every summer we hear about the horrible stories of children dying or hospitalized after being left in the car. This is actually a year-round risk in some locations like California or Florida and there are of course locations where heat waves do happen in the winter. According to noheatstroke.org, there have been 673 heat stroke deaths of children in cars from 1998 to the present including 24 in 2015 and already 12 year to date in 2016. Per the CDC, when the outside temperature ranges from 80 to 100 degrees, the interior of a car can quickly reach between 130 and 172 degrees. Mark my words, sadly this summer you will hear more stories about children dying in cars. Each one is completely preventable. Make sure you and other caregivers always check the car before leaving it. It’s that simple.
5. Gun-related incidents. While some children up to age 5 are tragically lost to gun violence, many more die from gun related accidents, accidents which are completely preventable. This International Business Times article cites a statistic that “nearly 1.7 million children under the age of 18 live in homes in which guns are stored either loaded or not locked away”. That is 1.7 million opportunities for tragedy. Per that same article, there were 265 accidental gun shootings in children during 2015 and 83 of those were fatal. What to do? Not having a firearm in the home with young children eliminates this threat but if there is a gun in the home, there are numerous safety guides out there, including this one from Project Child SAFE.org which contains 10 firearm safety tips. Also, if you are sending your child to another home for a playdate, don’t be afraid to ask the parents if there is a gun in the home and the steps they take to ensure the children do not have access.
Thank you for reading. You may also like this post about how flu vaccines are just important as other childhood vaccines.
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