two smiling children

With just weeks left before schools let out for the summer, doctors and safety experts at University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital are encouraging a "safety first" approach to outside activities.

"When you're talking about injury prevention for children, probably the biggest thing to keep in mind is supervision," says Charles Jennissen, MD, director of pediatric emergency medicine at UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital. "When things go wrong or when bad things happen, most commonly it occurs during a short period of decreased supervision."

Pam Hoogerwerf, Coordinator, Community Outreach and Injury Prevention at UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital, agrees.

"As kids are getting out of school they're going to have a lot more outside time," she says. "The first key for any caretaker -- whether it's an adult, a babysitter, or an older sibling -- is to know where that child is and what their surroundings are."

Summer safety comes not only in remembering to wear sunscreen and bicycle helmets, but in being aware of the potential dangers for children playing in the area and in avoiding developing bad habits.

Jennissen and Hoogerwerf offer some tips for summer safety:

  • All-terrain Vehicle (ATV) safety: The American Academy of Pediatrics doesn't recommend that anyone under the age of 16 ride an ATV, Jennissen says. However, he cautions that if you do allow a child to operate an ATV to make certain they are wearing a proper motorcycle helmet (not a bicycle helmet), that they do not drive on the road, that they ride a machine not too big for them (children 12-15 years should not be on an ATV with an engine size  larger than 90cc), and never allow passengers -- which is against the law in Iowa on both public and private land.
  • Playground safety: The hot sun can do more than burn tender skin -- it can create a dangerously heated surface on playground equipment, particularly structures made of metal. Hoogerwerf recommends the "five-second rule: " If an adult can’t keep a hand on the playground equipment for five full seconds it probably isn't safe for the child.
  • Sunburn: Teaching children good skin-care habits when they are young will help them maintain those habits when they're older and, hopefully, help prevent more serious consequences in the future. Sunburn isn't just a temporary discomfort, Hoogerwerf says, it can lead to an emergency room visit now and the potential for skin cancer later.
  • Lawn mower safety: Jennissen says parents create a bad habit and potentially dangerous situation when they take their small children along for a ride on the riding mower. Not only do a lot of serious injuries occur when a child slips off a lap, but every time the child sees the mower moving it's a signal for another ride. A child running up to a moving mower creates a hazardous situation where they may be run over.
  • Bicycle safety: Ensuring your child always wears a bicycle helmet is important, and so is making sure the helmet is the right fit, Hoogerwerf says. The helmet should be snug, but not so tight that it lifts up from the child's head on its own. The chin strap should be tight enough to allow no more than one finger between it and the chin.