I took my kids to the beach yesterday. It was fun to watch them play and enjoy the waves and the sand. It’s even more fun to watch because they have seen waves all of two times in their lives, and their enthusiasm was impressive. I also saw that they are totally unaware that there are dangers associated with the beach. I was raised in Southern California within a mile of the ocean. I had forgotten that there was a time when I, too, was taught how to stay safe at a beach. As soon as we touched the sand my kids took of towards the water. Luckily my parenting instincts kicked in when I caught them running head long into the ocean without stopping to watch what the waves were doing. Yes, kids need to be taught about beach safety. The beach should be fun, and there is no need to scare kids, but there is also no excuse for not giving them a class and rules ahead of time.
I am not scared to stand in the surf as it rolls into the beach and then watch it pull sand over my feet on its way back out to sea. I weigh 165 pounds. My kids weigh 52 and 42 pounds, and backwash can be scary and dangerous. Depending on the grade of the beach backwash from waves can be anywhere from barely perceptible to strong enough to wash someone off their feet. I remember being a little kid and feeling like I was getting sucked out to sea with every backwash. I even remember once clutching the sand to prevent myself from being dragged away by the ocean. Yes, it’s scary for little kids, and we should be aware that even in knee deep water kids can be in danger.
Rip currents are probably the biggest danger in the water apart from crashing waves. They are dangerous because people don’t know how to identify them and how to get out of them when trapped. People can drown from exhaustion trying to escape them. If adults are powerless against these currents just think how a kid feels. The strongest rip currents are formed when the surf is high and moving fast. But, don’t be fooled. They frequently extend all the way to the beach. Even kids playing in calm water can be pulled away from the shore by them. Kids who are not strong swimmers need a parent within arm’s reach even in shallow water.
Everybody remembers Steve Irwin. The man was impaled by a stingray barb and died almost instantly. Now, it might be useful to know that stingrays like shallow sandy water and frequently hang out near beaches. I have an uncle who stepped on one once. The story goes that his foot swelled up to the size of a football (which may or may not be an exaggeration). Another dangerous little critter is the jellyfish. Here in the United States we do not have the box jellyfish, but we do have many common varieties that can make life quite uncomfortable. I swam directly into a Jellyfish when I was about 10 years old. It was not a pleasant experience. It’s also an old wives tale that peeing on the sting does any good. Sharks are always dangerous when encountered near a beach. It is fortunate then that incidents of shark attacks are few and far between. The beach is a natural ecosystem and there are animals looking for food and shelter. Just watch out for them and nobody will probably get hurt.
Dogs and People and Pollution
There are some beaches that allow dogs. On those beaches it is probably not a great idea to go rummaging around too much in the sand. Recent studies have been done on e-coli at beaches. Dogs whose owners don’t pick up after them and owners who don’t pick up after themselves do a great deal of harm to marine life and other beach goers. Lots of us have heard rumors of the oceans becoming a polluted mess. It’s true, they are becoming a mess, and that mess has to wash up on shore eventually. It used to be that the biggest danger in swallowing ocean water was being grossed out by the taste. Now, with an increasing population who seem unaware of their environmental stupidity, we have to worry about deadly diseases and floating dog poop. Great! Some beaches do a very good job of patrolling for litter and harmful contaminants. Others do not. FYI.
I should mention, at least briefly, that a first aid kit is a good idea to have handy. When beach related injuries occur, and there is no lifeguard station nearby, it is wise to have some supplies to treat injury. Some beaches are remote enough that getting help could be difficult. Have some supplies ready. Also know what to do in case of bee stings, Jellyfish stings, cuts from coral, or sunburn. And, if there is no lifeguard on duty parents should be CPR certified (I am). It’s surprising how quickly things can go wrong when untrained people insert themselves into nature.
Kids need vigilant parents in order to be reasonably safe at the beach. The ocean is not like a community pool. Waves are powerful, currents are strong, and there are animals with which we share space. Being ignorant of any three of those factors is folly. In addition to natural perils there is also manmade pollution to contend with. The beach is not simply a place to go on the weekend. It is an ecosystem unto itself that deserves respect. It should be fun. We bring a picnic and boogie boards. We use sun screen and hats, too. I stay within arm’s reach of my kids and I watch out for tell tale signs of rip currents. I do most of the worrying so my kids can be as stress free as possible. But, while I am being cautious, the kids should also be learning something about their surroundings. They don’t need to be fretful or worry like me. They just need to be aware. I haven’t even mentioned the dangers associated with territorial surfers!