5 things parents need to know about water parks, but probably don't

  • Water parks can provide tons of fun for families, but can also be a site of injury or illness. Following some simple precautions can help keep kids safe, says the American Academy of Pediatrics.

      Water parks can provide tons of fun for families, but can also be a site of injury or illness. Following some simple precautions can help keep kids safe, says the American Academy of Pediatrics. Rick West | Staff Photographer, 2008

By Noreen Stewart
American Academy of Pediatrics
Posted7/7/2019 7:30 AM

For many families, time at a water park is a ritual of summer.

There are 1,300 water parks in the United States, and 85 million people visit them each year. Water parks can be fun for the whole family, but they also can have drawbacks.


The American Academy of Pediatrics encourages parents to know what to look for at water parks to ensure the whole family has fun, stays safe and healthy.

1. Know the rules

In 2015, 4,200 people visited hospitals for injuries sustained in water parks, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

The most common injuries are scrapes, broken limbs, concussion or spinal injuries. Water slides are the number one cause of injuries at water parks. So, follow ride directions and ride feet forward if those are the instructions.

It's important to pay attention to the height and weight restrictions on rides. Riders who are too small can be thrown from the ride. Riders that exceed the maximums can get stuck in chutes or build up excessive speed and exit the ride going too fast.

Also, watch for the number of riders allowed. If signs say limited to two riders per ride, don't pile four on trying to break a record. Make sure your child understands the need to follow the rules and that they are in place for their safety.

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2. Know your swimmer

The Consumer Product Safety Commission states that in 2015, one drowning and at least three nonfatal drownings occurred at U.S. water parks.

While slides used incorrectly can lead to scrapes and breaks, other water park features carry drowning risks.

Wave pools can be dangerous for smaller children or weak swimmers. Wave pools can be chaotic with large numbers of people bobbing in the water. This can make it very difficult to spot a swimmer in trouble, who could look like just another swimmer enjoying the waves.

This makes close parental supervision all the more important. Parents are keeping an eye on their swimmer, while lifeguards are trying to watch a crowd.

3. Know what's in your water

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most people have about 0.14 grams of feces on their bottoms that can rinse off and contaminate water.


They also report that in one year, 58% percent of public pools tested positive for E. coli, a marker of fecal contamination. Crypto (short for Cryptosporidiuim) has a high tolerance to chlorine that enables this parasite to survive for long periods in chlorinated swimming pool water.

Both E. coli and Crypto can make swimmers very ill, sometimes leading to hospitalization.

Teach your child to never drink pool water. Be sure to take your child for bathroom breaks about once an hour and check swim diapers every 30-60 minutes.

Avoid sitting on water jets. And if your child is ill, especially with diarrhea, do not visit the water park.

Showering before swimming, especially if your child has been playing in other areas of the water park such as sandboxes, can help rinse bacteria from the skin and reduce contamination.

4. Know who is watching

Did you know that the federal government does not monitor or regulate fixed-site amusement parks (some of which contain water parks)?

In 1980, Congress handed over control of these parks to state and local governments. According to SaferParks.org, federal safety officials are not allowed to address safety problems at these parks, so a patchwork of local and state authorities bear the responsibility of safety oversight for its amusement park rides.

This means there is no consistent standard of regulation. Each state decides what level of regulation and monitoring they want to assume. Some are strict, but others elect for minimum involvement; making some parks self-regulated.

The AAP suggests looking into how the water park of your choice is monitored and regulated.

5. Think outside the pool

Whether it's an indoor or outdoor park, water shoes can be a good investment.

Pool deck surfaces can get slippery from a mix of water and sunscreen. Water shoes can give little feet extra traction and protect them from surfaces that can be rough such as pool bottoms.

Schedule in activity breaks throughout the day. Kids burn about 288 calories an hour playing in the pool. Playing in the water can tire young swimmers so it's important to exit the water periodically and rest. This is a good time recharge in the shade with a snack and a bathroom break.

A few more suggestions for a fun and safe day at the water park:

• Walk, don't run. Pool decks are slippery, and parks can get crowded.

• Get a map of the park and identify a meeting spot in case your family gets separated.

• Young children and new swimmers should wear personal flotation devices. If you don't have these, the parks often offer them, and staff can help you ensure the device is the right size and fitted correctly for your child.

Remember that lifeguards are just one layer of prevention against drowning. Close, attentive, capable supervision when your child is in or around water is essential.

Even when they wear life jackets, the AAP recommends that young children and those who cannot swim well have an adult who can swim within arm's reach providing touch supervision.

For more information on water safety and drowning prevention, visit HealthyChildren.org.

Children's health is an ongoing series. This week's article is courtey of the American Academy of Pediatrics in Itasca.

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