Every year in November, child health and welfare advocates organize resources and spend the month raising awareness about childhood safety. Most of the information shared during Child Safety Protection Month is directed toward infants, toddlers, and school age children. Safety experts offer helpful tips and advice about things like crib safety, kitchen safety, and bathroom safety. Meaning, really, all the things you worry about when you’re the parent of a little tyke.
For information and tips on keep young kids safe around the house – and in public places like swimming pools – read this article here. We recommend parents of older kids read it too. There are some good reminders there, like keeping medication safe and away from kids, storing hazardous cleaning chemicals properly, and other basic common-sense things everyone can brush up on.
All that’s important information.
But when we began to do a little research for this post, we realized that safety is something parents need to keep in mind throughout adolescence, as well.
Because accidents are the leading cause of death for people age 18 and under.
That probably got your attention.
Accidental Death and Injury in the U.S.
We’re not saying that to be alarmist, or to scare you, or to get you to click a link and sign up for something that costs money. We’re saying it because data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says it in black and white.
Click this link to read the CDC Child Safety page.
We’ll summarize the key data points, starting with the overall numbers for children and adolescents, age 0-18:
- Around 9,000 deaths from accidental/preventable injury occur each year
- One child dies every hour from accidental/preventable injury
- One in five child deaths are the result of accidental/ preventable injury
Now we’ll break those numbers down by accident type:
- Car Crashes: 4.564
- Suffocation: 1,160
- Drowning: 983
- Poisoning: 824
- Fires/Burns: 391
- Falls: 151
The primary reason to pay attention to these numbers is because although it’s true that accidents do happen, and no life is accident- or injury-free, many accidents – and therefore many fatalities caused by accidents – are preventable.
Keep Your Teens Safe
Adolescents are neither toddlers nor school kids, and they should not be treated like them. All parents of teens know most of them hate being treated like babies.
Despite how mature and adult-like teenagers may act, they are not adults.
The teen brain is not fully developed, which can create safety risks. Without diving deep into developmental neurobiology – you can do that by reading our article What Parents Should Know About Teenager’s Brains – we’ll just say that the part of the brain that assesses risk and modifies behavior based on that assessment doesn’t finish developing until around age 25.
That’s why teens do impulsive things that seem absurd to adults, and totally logical to them.
That’s also why parents need to protect their teens. Poor decision-making increases the chance of accidents, which increases the chance of accidental injuries. Which, in some cases – over 9,000 a year, in fact – can lead to death.
So, what kind of things can you do to protect your teen, while simultaneously allowing them to live a full life, make mistakes, and learn hard lessons on their own?
We’ll offer a list based on the types of accidents that cause the most harm to adolescents. For each item below, think through what your teen knows about the risk area.
Have you taught them about these things yourself, or have they learned them elsewhere?
For instance, you may not have taught your teen to swim, but they’ve been on the swim team for years. And last summer they earned a lifeguarding certificate – so you can cross “swimming safety” off your list.
Identify any gaps in your teen’s knowledge that may exist, and work to fill them with accurate and practical information that gives them the best chance of making smart, safe choices.
Teen Safety: How to Mitigate Accident Risk
- Cars and Driving. Make sure you and your teen are one hundred percent clear on your expectations about driving and riding in cars with other people. Make firm rules, logical consequences, and follow through on them every time, no matter what.
- Swimming, Boating, and Water Recreation. Water awareness and water safety start at a young age, when children first learn to swim or first encounter water of any kind, outside of the bathtub. If you don’t come from a swimming or boating family, your teen needs to understand this simple equation: wherever there’s water, there’s a risk of drowning. And where there’s a boat – especially one with a motor – the risk of an accident that leads to drowning increases exponentially.
- Chemicals and Poison. It’s likely you’ve been on top of this for years, beginning with storing cleaning chemicals out of reach of children, childproofing kitchen and bathroom cabinets, and taking other similar household precautions. Now that your teen is actually using cleaning products to do their chores (hint hint), it’s time to make sure they know – without a doubt – that ingesting toxic chemicals is a serious health risk, and can result in severe, permanent disabilities, such as brain damage and blindness, and in some cases, death.
- Fires and Cooking. Some families start fire awareness early. Camping trips mean campfires and the basics of fire safety, including open fire cooking, are part of family culture. Other families don’t camp or have backyard firepits. It’s similar with cooking. In some families, kitchen rules and safe cooking habits happen because families spend time together in the kitchen, while other families don’t. For both fire and cooking, identify what kind of family you are, what your child knows, and fill in the gaps with practical knowledge.
It’s worth repeating that rules around safety issues should be crystal clear. Any consequences should be enforced every time exactly as described. These are, quite literally, matters of life and death. Loose rules or shifting lines can result in teens not taking safety seriously, which could lead to mistakes no one wants to think about.
Angus is a writer from Atlanta, GA who writes about behavioral health, adolescent development, education, and mindfulness practices like yoga, tai chi, and meditation.