How old should my child be to go to the beach without a parent?
Q. How old should my child be to go to the beach without a parent?
Q. But my daughter is a very mature 12-year-old. Couldn’t she babysit little kids at the beach?
A. She shouldn’t do so by herself unless she is 18.
Q. But my 14-year-old son’s friends are all there without their parents.
A. You should wait until your son is 18, or go with him and his friends.
Q. I’ve given my 15-year-old a cell phone to call me in case of emergencies.
A. A cell phone is only good if it can be used. I’ll tell a story about that – 18 is the important age.
Q. My 16-year-old can drive herself and her friends to the beach. Isn’t she old enough?
A. No, she is not yet 18.
Why is this so important?
At any age under 18, your child may not make a medical decision about him or herself. Your consent is necessary for advanced medical care.
What are examples of advanced medical care? Ambulance transportation to a hospital, administration of medicines, consent for X-rays or other scans, and even the decision for further medical evaluation, all need to be approved by the patient’s parent if that teenager is a minor.
First, consider cases in which a teenager is left at the beach with friends or alone. The trusty cell-phone is assumed to be the connection to a parent or guardian.
Unfortunately, there have been instances in which lifeguards have rescued teenagers with serious injuries from the water. Guess what? The cell phone didn’t come out of the water with the teenager. And guards don’t carry cell phones in rescues, either.
One time, lifeguards stabilized a young teen with a possible back injury and recommended he go to a hospital for further evaluation. While the lifeguards were stabilizing that patient, no caring friend came to that teen’s side. This patient could only tell the guards one phone number to call. Using radios, the guards asked the EMS dispatcher to try calling the phone number — a huge favor to ask! Over and over, no one answered at that number.
The ambulance arrived. Lifeguards and emergency medical technicians (EMTs) kept the teen stable, and all of them waited. Still, no friend joined this teenager, and nobody answered the phone that was called. The young minor was not going to be transported without a parent or guardian’s consent. It was almost an hour before the parent answered that phone and agreed to let the EMTs take the teenager by ambulance for X-rays.
Next, take the situation of the 12-year-old babysitter. Babysitting classes teach basic first aid and some steps to take in a medical emergency. But a babysitter who is a minor her or himself is limited to what she or he can do to give or even permit advanced care.
The American Red Cross offers a “Parental Consent and Contact Card” (found at www.redcross.org) that states the parent’s consent for advanced medical treatment and includes that parent’s and another guardian’s contact information. This document can help the Emergency Medical System (EMS) personnel start to give care while calling the patient’s parent. Will your babysitter have this in the beach bag?
Other unexpected dangers exist at the beach, and the babysitting class may not have discussed them. There may be an instance where either the babysitter, or a child in her care, suffers from something as common as heat exhaustion. That’s when a person hasn’t had enough to drink and/or eat, overexerts him or herself in the heat of the day, and may faint.
Consider, also, a rusty fish hook caught deep in the flesh of a foot. A loss of consciousness and a deep puncture wound are beyond what a babysitter can treat without professional medical help.
And who should be contacted when the babysitter — herself a minor — is the one needing care? Do the children in her care know how to call the babysitter’s parents? Who will look after them in such a scary time?
Remember, teenagers and other children younger than 18, as well as a cell phone out of reach, cannot take the place of adult parents or guardians in a medical emergency. The lifeguards and other EMS personnel will thank you for being an attentive and responsible parent or guardian when you are there for your child.
Dana Schaefer has been a local ocean rescue lifeguard for 15 years. Do you have a question for a lifeguard? Ask her at email@example.com.