Keeping kids safe at summer camp

As schools start to wrap up for the year, many children will head to camp for the summer. Whether it’s a day program or an overnight camp, summer camps allow kids the opportunity to make new friends, learn life skills, and unplug from technology.

When sending your child to summer camp, consider the following health and safety measures:

Ensure the basics

There should always be licensed medical professionals at a camp, such as a registered nurse or a trained medical staff member. The medical office should be equipped with basic first aid supplies to handle cuts, scrapes and other minor injuries. It’s also always helpful to know where the nearest hospital is in relation to the camp in case of an emergency.

Practice sun and heat safety

As kids will be doing plenty of outdoor activities, it’s important that they’re protected from the sun and summer heat. Broad-spectrum SPF 30 sunscreen should be applied before kids head off to camp in the mornings, and sunscreen should always be packed in camp bags because kids will need to reapply throughout the day – especially after swimming or sweating. Even on a cloudy day, it’s still possible to get a bad sunburn.

Along with the sun comes the heat. Make sure kids are staying hydrated with plenty of water to avoid dehydration. A child who complains of being lightheaded after playing in the heat that day should be told to take a break in the shade or in an air-conditioned environment.

Be cautious around water

Many camps have pools or lakes and offer kids the opportunity to swim and participate in water activities, such as boating or kayaking. Confirm that the camp has certified lifeguards on duty at each swimming location and that your child is in the right environment based on his or her swimming skill level. When boating in a lake or on a river, kids should always wear proper life jackets.

Defend from insect bites

Along with the outdoors come bug bites. If your child’s summer camp is in a wooded area, talk with the camp administrators to see if the area has been treated for ticks and other bugs. Consider insect repellent that contains DEET and make sure your child applies it before going on hikes or walking in wooded areas. Natural insect repellents are not effective.

Address the tough topics

Another important issue parents should address is talking to your child about what to do if an older child or camp counselor acts inappropriately.

Though sending children to summer camp is not considered a high-risk activity, as most child sexual abuse takes place with someone who is known or trusted by the family, parents should still talk to their children about private-part safety when they are very young — as soon as they are out of diapers.

When having the conversation, it’s important that parents use the same tone of voice as they would when telling their child to look both ways before crossing the street. This tone will let the child know that this is a safety lesson, which can lower the anxiety of the conversation for both parents and children.

Teach your child that if an adult looks at, touches, or shows a private part, the child needs to tell a parent or another trusted adult immediately. Reassure your child that you are there to help them with problems and that it is safe for them to bring problems to you.

In addition to these measures, some questions to consider asking the camp administration include:

  • How are camp staff screened?
  • Are camp staff trained on procedures to keep children safe?
  • Has the camp been treated for ticks and other bugs?
  • Is there a buddy system in place for swimming and other water activities?
  • What are procedures for applying sunscreen for young children?

With this information, we hope your children have a fun and safe summer!

Evan Weiner, MD, is fellowship director and medical director of transport at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children and a member of the Inquirer Health Advisory Panel. Marita Lind, MD, is director of the child protection program at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children.