For families with children, summer comes with lazy days of unstructured play. But dangers lurk amid the fun. Emergency room physicians have been warning about the types of activities that are most likely to result in a visit. Not surprisingly, water and sun play a role.

But moms and dads can let their children enjoy summer without becoming helicopter parents. Here’s what to keep in mind to keep children safe, and what the most potentially dangerous activities are.

Unsupervised play around water

Drowning is the biggest killer of children between the ages of 1 and 4, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Drowning happens quickly and silently. Even if children aren’t swimming, if a pool is nearby, young children need to be supervised at all times. 

Parties or other group gatherings are particularly risky because, oftentimes, adults assume that someone is watching the children. And because everyone thinks someone else is keeping an eye on the kids, no one ends up watching the kids. To make sure this doesn’t happen, the CDC recommends designating an adult to supervise children when they’re anywhere near water — even a bathtub. 

Swimming in the ocean

No, it’s not the sharks you have to worry about. Shark attacks killed only one American last year, according to CBS. Rip currents, on the other hand, take about 100 lives a year. And researchers say that up to a third of rip-current deaths occur because people have gone into the ocean to save someone else. 

So children and adults alike need to respect the power of the ocean, and know how to recognize and navigate a rip current.

Most public beaches have a flag system that indicates how rough the water is (red: high hazard; yellow: medium hazard; green: low hazard). Nonetheless, even if it’s a “green flag day,” you still have to take precautions when your little ones are going into the ocean. As is the case with pools, children have to be closely monitored — and make sure they know how to swim.

“The biggest thing that you can do (to protect) younger kids is get them in swim lessons,” Dr. Brent Kaziny, Texas Children’s Hospital’s medical director of emergency management, told Today.com.

But even children who know how to swim still need to be supervised when they’re in or around water. 

Sunburns

Getting a sunburn as a child can increase one’s risk for skin cancer later. And sunburns can also be severe, leading to a condition called sun poisoning

Babies 6 months of age and younger shouldn’t take any direct sunlight, physicians say. Children — and adults — who are going to be in the sun should take precautions by wearing long-sleeved, rash-guard shirts, applying sunscreen and wearing a hat. Follow the motto ubiquitous in Australia, where locals grapple with both the sun and heat: “Slip, slop, slap” — slip on a shirt, slop on sunscreen, slap on a hat. In 2007, the country updated this decades-old slogan to include seek (as in seek shade) and slide (as in slide on sunglasses). 

And, of course, being mindful about sun exposure isn’t just about preventing sunburns. Parents also need to be extremely careful about the heat in order to prevent heat exhaustion and heat stroke in children.

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Bike riding sans helmet

Bike accidents spike during the summer, when children are more likely to be outside, Dr. Caitlin Farrell, a Boston Children’s Hospital doctor specializing in pediatric emergency medicine, told Today.com. 

While injuries from bike accidents can be minor, they can also be serious, like traumatic brain injury. Helmets can help prevent such serious injuries. “When kids fall and hit their head or injure their brain ... these can be devastating injuries (with) a lifetime consequence,” said Farrell, who added that wearing helmets saves lives.

While a lot of today’s adults didn’t grow up wearing helmets — and so donning one now sometimes feels odd or unnatural — we should nonetheless model helmet-wearing behavior for our children.

Playing with fireworks

Letting your children play with explosives is a bad idea. Don’t do it. Not on July Fourth, not any time, experts say.

And that precaution also extends to sparklers, which many parents believe to be safe. “Parents need to recognize that sparklers can get up to temperatures of over 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s essentially like a welding torch type of heat,” Kaziny told Today.com. 

Not only can fireworks lead to serious burns, face and eye injuries, and loss of fingers or hands, people sometimes die from firework related injuries. In 2022, 11 people died from fireworks and over 10,000 were injured, according to the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission. Additionally, 600 people were injured by sparklers.