Tips for teens, parents on staying safe during summer months and activities

Pediatricians share their summer and back-to-school safety tips for parents and teens.

TeenHeat2"Many teens practice and play sports while temperatures are still near triple digits. It's key for them to stay hydrated and safe."During hot summer months, children, adolescents and teenagers spend a lot more time outside. Whether it is at the beach or pool, on the sports field, at a concert, at a summer job, or helping around the house and in the yard, children ages 12 to 18 often are not mindful of their immediate needs, like rehydrating, reapplying sunscreen or general sun safety. 

Tamera Coyne-Beasley, M.D., director of the University of Alabama at Birmingham Division of Adolescent Medicine within the Department of Pediatrics, and Nefertiti Durant, M.D., associate professor in UAB’s Division of Adolescent Medicine, share their tips on keeping youth hydrated, safe and having fun during the summer season and during back-to-school activities. 

Q: How do adolescents know they are overheating?

A: “It is important for the child or adolescent and parents to know the signs and symptoms of overheating that can happen quickly,” Coyne-Beasley said. Signs include:

  • Increased thirst
  • Fainting, weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle cramps
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Irritability
  • Headaches
  • Sweating
  • Cool/clammy skin
  • Increased body temperature

Whether out at the lake or pool, on the sports field during practice, or just out for a walk in the neighborhood, Coyne-Beasley notes, it is important to recognize that, if one’s body temperature is 105 degrees Fahrenheit or greater, this is a heatstroke — a life-threatening emergency.

Other tips include:

  • Wear loose, light-colored clothing while outdoors
  • On hot days, limit vigorous outdoor activity to before noon and after 6 p.m.

Q: What can teens do to stay hydrated?

A: “We always want the child or adolescent to know that staying hydrated is the key way to prevent overheating from occurring in the first place,” Coyne-Beasley said. “Parents often need to be the ones reminding their child or adolescent to drink adequate fluids before and during activity even if they are not immediately thirsty. They should also supply them with appropriate food and beverages.”

According to the American College of Sports Medicine, active people should drink at least 16 to 20 ounces of fluid one to two hours before an outdoor activity to avoid dehydration. After that, they should consume 6 to 12 ounces of fluid for every 10 to 15 minutes outside. When the activity finishes, a person should continue to drink to replace what has been lost, typically at least another 16 to 24 ounces or two to three cups of liquid. A good indicator is that light or almost clear urine means that a person is well-hydrated, while mild to darker-colored yellow urine means that a person is dehydrated. 

“When it comes to hydration, water is all you need if you are planning to be active in a low- or moderate-intensity activity, such as walking, for only an hour or less,” she explained. “If your child or adolescent plans to be exercising longer than that — particularly in the sun for more than a few hours — hydrating with a sports drink that can replace water and electrolytes like sodium and potassium (which are lost through perspiration) can help too.”

Other tips include:

  • If a child or adolescent feels overheated, they should stop, rest and hydrate right away
  • Provide the child or adolescent with a refillable water bottle to maximize adequate hydration
  • Keep an extra pitcher of water in the refrigerator and add fresh lemons, limes, cucumber or mint, or other fruits for a dash of flavor 

Q: How can I remind my teen to use sunscreen when outside during the summer and sports practices?

“Convincing children or adolescents to wear sunscreen can be a challenge, but it’s important to emphasize that, in the long term, exposure to the sun can cause cancer,” Coyne-Beasley suggested. “However, what may be more impactful is reminding them that failure to wear sunscreen daily may result acutely in sunburn, which is more immediate and painful.”

Both Durant and Coyne-Beasley recommend that children or adolescents always wear sunscreen to protect against sunburn and for long-term prevention of skin cancer. They recommend sunscreens with an SPF rating of 30 or higher. Sunscreen should be applied 15 to 20 minutes before going outside and be reapplied at least every two hours to maximize prevention of sunburn. When adolescents are swimming, sunscreen should be applied more frequently than every two hours, even if it is waterproof.

TeenHeat3 "Teens can experience peer pressure, so its important for parents to have open conversations with their children about parties, safe driving and how to handle tough conversations."Q: Knowing that teens can often sneak alcohol into drinks, how can parents regulate safety in this arena?

A: “Parents should have open conversations with their child or adolescent about the dangers of alcohol use and abuse, and they should remind them that, under the age of 21, the use of alcohol is not safe or legal,” Durant shared. “Being a resource can really help teens build trust with their parents and turn to them when they have concerns or questions.”

Durant and Coyne-Beasley encourage parents to speak with their children or adolescent about whether any of their friends drink alcohol and whether they have ever been offered or have drunk alcohol. Parents can warn about the dangers of drinking, how alcohol can potentially be spiked with drugs, and why they should not drink from a punch bowl or receive a drink from someone else. If a parent suspects that their child or adolescent is acutely sick from ingesting alcohol, they should get them to the emergency room for an evaluation. 

Both also recommend that parents know the parents of their child’s friends and have their phone numbers and addresses handy. If their child or adolescent is going to a party or a friend’s house, parents can plan to casually discuss in advance how they might say no to alcohol and even encourage or not allow their child to go to a party that is not chaperoned by adults.

“Another good reminder is that most children or adolescents obtain alcohol from their own homes,” Coyne-Beasley shared. “If you as a parent drink, do not leave alcohol accessible to your children in your home. Consider keeping it locked up or buying it in small quantities.”

Lastly, having conversations in advance with adolescents about drinking and driving safety is paramount.

“If your child or adolescent is at a party where alcohol is being consumed or they have consumed alcohol, they should call you to transport them home rather than ride with someone under the influence. Stress that you want them to be safe and not sorry,” Coyne-Beasley said. “Alternatively, set up an Uber account for them to use if they or their driver is ever drunk or they feel unsafe. They can use the Uber account with no questions asked.”

Q: Adolescents may take more risks around water during summer months. How can I remind my child to practice safety while also having fun?

A: “Children or adolescents can feel a sense of invincibility; but in reality, parents need to remind them that being safe is the most important thing to practice — regardless of what their friends are doing,” Coyne-Beasley noted. “Their friends may have different rules from their parents about water activities and safety, so it’s key to talk with your child or adolescent before they go to any body of water about what your family’s rules are.”

Some reminders that parents can share include:

  • Always swim with a friend so there is someone to get assistance in case of an emergency
  • Make sure to receive training on personal watercraft and watersports equipment prior to usage
  • Be sure to always wear a life jacket during watersports, even if you are an excellent swimmer
  • Inflatable water inner tubes, rafts and air mattresses should not be used as life jackets or personal flotation devices
  • Adults and adolescents should not engage in watersports or boating when under the influence of alcohol, drugs and some prescription medications
  • For diving, dive only in areas where diving is permissible. Pay attention to signs that say no diving
  • Check the weather for hazardous conditions before boating or participating in watersports
  • Always let someone know when and where you will be if you are boating, swimming or participating in watersports in open waters (e.g., lake, river or ocean)

Q: Any other tips that parents should remember as teens finish out summer activities and head back to school? 

A: Rates of suicide are increasing among adolescents and young adults. Most guns used in unintentional (accidental) deaths and suicides are found in the homes where young people live or visit. 

“On average in the United States, one in three homes has a gun. During the summer, young people may have more unsupervised time,” Coyne-Beasley cautioned. “If you own a gun, you should consider locking it, unloading it and locking the ammunition separate from the gun. You should also consider asking about the presence of firearms in places where your young people play and visit.”