The Rules of Water Safety for Teens

While teens may think they know everything, they’re probably not aware that the risk of drowning increases at this age – even among strong swimmers. Teenage boys are at higher risk than girls, with African American teenage boys at the highest level of risk.

“Teens are more likely to drown because of risk-taking behavior, and we know that peer pressure plays a role in that,” says Sarah Lazarus, DO, pediatric emergency department physician at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. She says teens may be pressured into swimming or boating at night—or under the influence of alcohol and drugs. Doing tricks or diving into water when they don’t know the depth may cause spinal-cord injuries.

Lifesaving tips for teen swimmers

For starters, encourage your teen to never swim alone and to stay away from intoxicating substances like alcohol. Here are some other tips to keep adolescents safe around water:

At the pool:

  • Even at this age, parental supervision is strongly recommended. Most teen drownings occur when there is no adult present.
  • Consider hiring a lifeguard for pool parties.

At the lake:

  • When boating, everyone should wear a U.S. Coast Guard­–approved life jacket, no matter how well they can swim.
  • Even if a teen has a boating license, a parent should always be present while boating.
  • Teens should wear helmets while doing water sports and/or wakeboarding tricks.
  • Designate a spotter (not the boat driver) during water sports.
  • Only engage in water sports when visibility is good. Do not participate in water sports at night.

Know the signs of drowning

Many water emergencies happen quickly and silently—in the time it takes to answer a text or go grab a towel. According to the American Red Cross, an active drowning victim may be vertical in the water but unable to move forward or tread water. A passive drowning victim is motionless and floating face-down on the bottom or near the surface of the water. While it’s important to know the signs, keep in mind that not all instances of drowning look the same.

What Is non-fatal drowning?

According to Dr. Lazarus, non-fatal drowning (formerly known as near drowning) is any kind of submersion that causes a child to choke, gasp or vomit. The child may need oxygen, rescue breaths or CPR—and there can be brain damage or respiratory issues. “This type of injury is so significant that even if it’s not fatal, it’s still considered a drowning,” she says. Children who experience non-fatal drowning need medical help as soon as possible.

Seconds count in preventing death or disability from drowning. Don’t hesitate to call 9-1-1. And consider enrolling yourself—and your teen—in CPR so you’re both equipped with the skills that can save a life.

Get your teen trained in CPR–they could save a life

CPR is a critically important lifesaving skill and is one that is relatively simple to teach. Remember, seconds count and the more quickly CPR is started, the better the chance of improved outcomes. Parents, caregivers, pool owners, older children and teens should learn CPR and keep a telephone and US Coast Guard-approved rescue equipment (life buoys, life jackets, etc.) poolside.

Water Safety for Teens.” American Academy of Pediatrics.
Would You Know What to Do?” American Red Cross.
Unintentional Drowning: Get the Facts” CDC.