Those of us who work with young people – and who have children ourselves – are worriers. We worry the kids may be in car wrecks on the way to 4-H events. We worry about what bacteria may be growing in the banana pudding at family reunions. We worry mosquito or tick bites may lead to painful illnesses. We worry about sunscreens and playgrounds and bathtubs. Concern comes with responsibility. But we also realize children must develop independence and autonomy, and we can’t hover over them for the rest of their lives.
There is much to be said for the old admonition to "bring up a child in the way that he (or she) should go." Since simply telling a child to "Be careful!" is a waste of breath, we adults should teach sensible safety through the models we set and through the good-sense guidelines we give to children. For example, we know seatbelts prevent critical injuries, but if we don’t wear them ourselves, we are demonstrating a dangerous standard for kids. With kids "do as I say, not as I do" has never carried much weight.
Summer time is not without its own safety issues. Although we in Alabama are blessed to have a long season for outdoor activities, our active lifestyle carries its own special risks. That requires a special vigilance for 4-H leaders, parents and anyone else who has a responsibility for young people.
Safety on the Road
Alabama has the second-highest rate of fatal crashes involving a teen driver – something that should scare every parent and make them a little angry. Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for U.S. teens, accounting for 36 percent of all deaths in this age group. In 2004, 4,767 teens ages 16 to 19 died of injuries caused by motor vehicle crashes. The risk of motor vehicle crashes is higher among 16 to 19-year-olds than other age groups. Per mile driven, teen drivers ages 16 to 19 are four times more likely than older drivers to crash.
Within the past decade or so, an incredible monster has been unleashed on American drivers: the cell phone. Research shows motorists who talk on handheld or hands-free cellular phones are as impaired as drunken drivers. There are daily news reports of kids causing fatalities because they are on the phone and are not focusing on the task of driving. Again, if it’s okay for Mom to talk (or text!) on the phone, why shouldn’t it be okay for me? Maybe the question should be "If I shouldn’t talk on the phone while driving, then why should Mom or Dad?" If that was the case, there would be more people giving turn signals and fewer people wrecking cars.
More than 70 million Americans enjoy recreational boating each year. Annual boat registrations have increased steadily from just over 10 million in 1988 to 12.7 million in 2006. During this same time period, boating-related fatalities have decreased, due in part to increased use of life jackets or personal flotation devices.
Young people in 4-H activities are required to wear life jackets – no ifs, ands or buts about it. Every year we see heart-breaking stories of Alabama kids dying in boating accidents. Nine out of ten people who drown are not wearing life jackets, so such loss of life is especially tragic. And the statistics show alcohol involvement is the leading factor in fatal boating accidents, contributing to about one in five reported boating deaths.
Staying Safe in the Kitchen
Foodborne diseases cause approximately 76 million illnesses, 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths in the United States each year. Sure, we are made aware of things like Salmonella, Listeria and Toxoplasma when a food processor does something stupid, but there are more illnesses because Granddad didn’t wash his hands before grilling the hamburgers or because little Susie didn’t put the tuna salad back into the refrigerator.
Wash your hands with hot soapy water before and after handling food. Thoroughly wash your countertops, and your pots, pans and utensils. Marinate foods in the refrigerator. Use a meat thermometer. Keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot.
Safe in Every Season
Safety may not be the first thing on your mind when you, your family and friends head outdoors to swim, picnic or do the wonderful things we all enjoy during summertime. But some things, like good driving techniques and food safety, are important all year long.
Amy Payne Burgess is an 4-H Regional Extension Agent for DeKalb, Marshall and Cherokee Counties.