We’re parents. We worry because we love. Or at least that’s what we tell ourselves. But the truth is, most of the time we worry because we’re misinformed and have no idea what actually represents a threat to our children. The top three concerns of American parents in 2010 were terrorists, school snipers, and kidnapping by strangers. Needless to say, those were not the top killers of children (car accidents, suicide, and homicide not committed by strangers or snipers).
Here’s a list of terrifying summer dangers that parents really need to stop worrying about:
In The Pool: “Dry Drowning”
Dry drowning isn’t actually a thing. But that doesn’t mean parents aren’t absolutely terrified of it. A few months ago, CNN reported that a child died of “dry drowning” after he was knocked down by a wave. He was fine for 24 hours, but then developed vomiting and diarrhea for several days and, by the time he made it to the ER, it was too late. Since water was found in his lungs and around his heart, everyone concluded he had died of “secondary drowning”. Basically, the water had entered his body when he was hit by the wave and, days later, came back to kill him.
But “dry drowning” or “secondary drowning”—two imprecise medical terms that mean nothing from a scientific perspective—is almost certainly not what killed this child. “Patients who ultimately develop symptoms from nonfatal drowning will do so by 8 hours after the event,” Dr. Amy Levine writes in Emergency Physicians Monthly. As for this child, who was fine for 24 hours “this sounds more like a virus than anything else,” Levine writes. “Fluid in the lungs can occur from drowning but fluid around the heart sounds more like a viral myocarditis. His brief submersion in water certainly had nothing to do with his unfortunate outcome.” Levine suggests reassuring worried parents. “If their child has no symptoms within eight hours of a submersion event, then whatever comes later is due to something else.”
Instead, try worrying about literal drowning. CDC data suggests ten people die from drowning in swimming pools each day, and that 20 percent of these victims are children under the age of 14.
At The Beach: Shark Attacks
Sharks just don’t attack beach-goers all that often. There’s a steady stream of about 70-80 unprovoked shark attacks per year, but very few of them occur in shallow water near the shoreline, where your kids are probably swimming. But fatal shark attacks are basically unheard of—there have been only six fatalities in the U.S. since 2010, none of them involved children and all of them involved activities conducted further from shore (such as surfing and kayaking). As long as your kids swim in groups, stay near the shoreline, and don’t actively chase down sharks, they should be fine.
Instead, try worrying about skin cancer. Ninety percent of the 5.4 million non-melanoma skin cancer cases in the U.S. each year are associated with exposure to the sun. Applying sunscreen often and appropriately can prevent this.
On The Playground: Strangers
It’s the most primal fear on the playground or in your backyard—if you look away for an instant, a stranger could snatch up your child. But according to The Washington Post, children taken by strangers or acquaintances represent only one-hundredth of one percent of all missing children (about 115 children per year). The vast majority are abducted by family members or run away and get lost or injured. The odds of a stranger stealing your kid from the swing set is remote.
Instead, try worrying about trampolines. More than one million people visited emergency departments for trampoline-related injuries between 2002 and 2011, with nearly 300,000 involving broken bones.
On Family Vacations: Terrorism
Your odds of being killed by a foreign-born terrorist are about one in 46,000 (and, not to get political or anything, but your odds of being killed by a refugee terrorist are one in 46 million and your odds of being killed by an illegal immigrant terrorist are one in 130 million). Even when traveling abroad, your family is pretty darn safe. In any given European country, the odds of you or a loved one dying in a terrorist attack is about 1 in one million.
Instead, try worrying about seatbelt safety. Especially on vacation, when rental cars lack seatbelts or appropriate car seats. Motor vehicle incidents remain the leading cause of death among children in the United States.
Back To School: Vaccines
Although it should be obvious that there is no link whatsoever between vaccines and autism, parents are still hesitant about vaccinating their kids. One of the reasons may be that vaccines do cause some serious injuries and occasional deaths, due to allergic reactions and rare neurologic complications. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention maintain a complete list of conditions presumed to be caused by vaccines. But it is crucial to remember that even the most “dangerous” vaccines hurt less than 0.0001 percent of patients — or one in every 10,000 people.
Instead, try worrying about not vaccinating your kids. Vaccines save 2.5 million lives per year, and the World Health Organization estimates the measles vaccine alone has saved 17 million lives. Just get your kids their shots.
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